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Editorial: Clear up all cases tainted by torture claims

Former Chicago Police commande JBurge.  | Charles Rex Arbogast~AP file photo

Former Chicago Police commande Jon Burge. | Charles Rex Arbogast~AP file photo

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Updated: May 13, 2013 6:26AM

More than 100 men claim they’ve been languishing in prison because of statements extracted through torture by former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge and his Midnight Crew in the 1970s and 1980s. On Thursday, we got a step closer to finding whether some or all should be freed.

The process of investigating these men’s claims had ground to a halt for two reasons. The first was an inexplicable months-long delay in funding for a commission charged with getting to the bottom of these cases. The second was an unnecessary dispute over who would represent the government during any evidentiary hearings.

The first delay was cleared up two weeks ago when a $80,000 state check that had been promised last October finally showed up, reviving the special Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission, which had been in mothballs since June 30.

The second delay ended Thursday as Cook County Criminal Courts Chief Judge Paul Biebel Jr. said he will appoint a special prosecutor.

Back in the 1980s, judges and juries didn’t give much weight to claims of police torture, which then sounded outlandish. Since then, so much corroborating evidence has emerged it now seems likely torture did take place in at least some of these cases.

There are two efforts afoot to get to the bottom of this disgrace.

The first is the torture commission, which already has found five cases in which it concluded torture claims are credible. In May, it is scheduled to report its findings on about 10 more.

The other route is an effort by the MacArthur Justice Center and the People’s Law Office to wrap all the Burge cases into a class-action lawsuit and have evidentiary hearings in every one. Former Gov. James R. Thompson, former U.S. Attorneys Thomas Sullivan and Dan Webb, former Chicago Police Supt. Richard Brzeczek and others support that idea.

Thursday’s ruling was a step forward. But let’s speed things up. Delay after delay is simply inexcusable.

Correction: An earlier version of this editorial said the state check was for $160,000. The full grant is $160,000, but the check was for the first half of the amount.

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