Category Archives: Torture

Finally, Justice in Chicago

Here in Chicago, a decades-long shandeh may finally be coming to an end: US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald announced today that former Police Commander Jon Burge (above) has been arrested and charged with two counts of obstruction of justice and one count of perjury for denying his department tortured suspects in their custody.

According to witness allegations, Burge led the torture of criminal suspects for two decades, coercing dozens of confessions with fists, kicks, radiator burns, guns to the mouth, bags over the head and electric shock to the genitals. Burge was suspended by the police department in 1991 and fired in 1993, but, amazingly, was never charged with a crime.

Just to compound the outrage, Burge had since retired to Florida to spend his golden years boating and fishing while the city of Chicago paid for his pension and legal fees.  While the statute of limitations has run out on the torture, there is some satisfaction in knowing that Burge could still be brought to justice for lying about it to prosecutors decades later.

In a press release, the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs called Burge’s arrest “a remarkable victory for all who have vigorously stayed the course in seeking justice for the victims of the torture,” adding:

We now call on the City of Chicago to cease it’s pension payments to Burge and it’s support for his legal defense. Justice is long overdue. We are gratified that action has finally been taken and the prosecution of Burge can commence. We applaud all who have worked so tirelessly to bring the Burge case to justice.

To learn more, check out this archive from the Chicago Tribune as well as these reports from the People’s Law Office, who have been doggedly seeking justice for Burge’s victims.

Stop Torture Now

June has been designated as “Torture Awareness Month” – a time set aside to shine a light on the growing use of torture by our own country as well as other nations around the world. To mark this occasion, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) and Rabbis for Human Rights – North America (RHR-NA) have mobilized more than 275 faith communities around the country to openly display banners in front of their houses of worship that convey one basic message: torture is a critical religious and moral issue for our nation.

There are 27 Jewish congregations displaying banners and I am proud to say that JRC is one of them (see above). JRC also recently joined the K’vod Habriot inititative of RHR-NA – a national network of Jewish communities and individuals committed to building a Jewish commitment to human rights. The K’vod Habriot Statement of Principles will give you some idea of the Jewish values behind this effort:

– “Every human being is created in the image of God” (“Bidmut Elohim asah oto”): It is incumbent on each of us to act in a way that affirms the fundamental dignity of every human being. Respect for each human being is the foundation of Jewish ethics.

– “[We must] do what is just and right.” (“La’asot Tzedek U’Mishpat): For a nation to have legitimacy, it must enforce a system of law that is fair, equitable, and just.

– “Do not oppress the stranger, orphan or widow.” (“Ger, Yatom, V’Almananah Al Tonu”): We have a duty to promote a society that cares for the economic well-being of all of its members, especially those who are most vulnerable.

– We believe that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights flows from these Jewish values, as well as from our own historical experience, especially that of the treatment of Jews during the Holocaust. Therefore, it is incumbent on us, as Jews, to defend the human rights of all who are oppressed.

I encourage you and/or your congregation to join K’vod Habriot and help us put human rights firmly on the agenda of the North American Jewish community. NCRAT is also organizing an anti-torture Statement of Conscience – I’d say that signing onto it would be a very appropriate way to mark Torture Awareness Month.

Crushed Spirit, Cruel Bondage

gitmo_torture.jpgFrom this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Va’era:

But when Moses told this to the Israelites, they would not listen to Moses, their spirits crushed by cruel bondage. (Exodus 6:9)

This short verse offers a profound insight into the psychological/spiritual disconnect that results from physical oppression. Here is a more contemporary rendering of these effects, described by ASTT (Advocates for Survivors of Torture and Trauma):

The effects of torture are wide-ranging, and may be multiple and long-term in nature. Physical effects may include brain damage, loss of vision or hearing, atrophy or paralysis of muscles, scarring, and injury to internal organs, including the reproductive organs. Survivors may experience chronic pain or find it difficult or impossible to undertake certain activities.

The psychological effects of torture can include major depression, anxiety, and the constellation of symptoms known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Survivors of torture and trauma may also experience feelings of shame, guilt, powerlessness or worthlessness, an inability to visualize the future, and difficulty connecting to other people…

For more information about how you can speak out against governments that currently practice the systematic crushing of spirit through cruel bondage, click here.

Anti-Torture Action Alert!

waterboarding_nr.jpgBelow is an important Action Alert from the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. Given the latest news out of DC regarding erased tapes and Justice Dept. intransigence, our advocacy on this issue is more critical than ever…

Two weeks ago, a joint House-Senate Conference Committee decided to include anti-torture provisions in the final version of the Intelligence Authorization Conference Report.  Last week, the House of Representatives adopted the conference report.  The roll call vote can be found hereThese new provisions, offered by Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA), would require all federal agencies engaged in the prosecution of the War on Terror to comply with the interrogation guidelines in the Army Field Manual. This legislation would effectively outlaw the Central Intelligence Agencies “enhanced interrogation techniques,” including the use of waterboarding

Over the last several years, the issue of United States sponsored torture has become increasingly prominent. Since the horrific photos of the treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib emerged in 2004, we have learned about the existence of secret CIA prisons and the use of controversial interrogation procedures. Such procedures include the use of waterboarding, a technique used during the Spanish Inquisition, that has been considered torture by the United States military since the Spanish-American War.

In 2005, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) offered an amendment to the Detainee Treatment Act which explicitly outlawed the use of “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.” Further it required all agencies within the Department of Defense to comply with the carefully constructed interrogation guidelines in the Army Field Manual. JCPA strongly supported Senator McCain’s efforts.  Now, it is important to expand the principle of the McCain Amendment to all federal agencies and ensure that all United States officers and personnel are complaining with our nation’s laws and international treaty obligations.

The anti-torture torture provisions in the Intelligence Authorization Conference Report would create a uniform standard that all federal agencies must abide by during the prosecution of the War on Terror. The United States Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation was carefully written to provide our intelligence agencies with solid guidance. The Army Field Manual guidelines allow interrogators to successfully extract useful and actionable intelligence while ensuring compliance with our national legal commitments. We face a moral and ethical imperative to stop United States sponsored torture.

Action Needed:

Contact your Senators and urge them to support the anti-torture provisions in the Intelligence Authorization Conference Report. The Senate is expected to consider this legislation THIS WEEK.  

If you have questions or need additional information, please contact Jared Feldman (202) 212-6036 or by email,