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Editorial: Stop dragging out inquiry into police torture

JBurge | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

Jon Burge | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: March 23, 2013 6:23AM

By using electric shocks, merciless beatings and mock executions, Jon Burge’s old Midnight Crew at South Side detective headquarters could extract confessions in nothing flat.

Extracting justice for Burge’s victims has taken considerably longer. Burge, a former Chicago Police commander, wasn’t convicted until 2010, decades after allegations of torture emerged. And even today, some 100 men languish in prison while claiming torture-extracted confessions put them there.

That’s not right. These claims should have been investigated and settled long ago. More delay is inexcusable.

But more delay is exactly what we are getting. The most recent snag is a battle over who will represent the state’s side in five cases in which the special Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission found credible evidence of police torture and in a related class-action lawsuit.

Over the past decade, the state’s side of Burge-related cases has been handled by a special prosecutor, retired judge Stuart Nudelman, or the Illinois attorney general’s office. On Thursday, though, a hearing was held on whether to turn the cases over to the Cook County state’s attorney’s office.

Putting aside the inherent conflict in involving an office in cases that it was accused in the past of helping to cover up, this is a new detour that’s not necessary. If the state’s attorney’s office doesn’t withdraw on its own, Cook County Criminal Courts Chief Judge Paul Biebel Jr. should pull the curtain on this sideshow. We need to get on with the real business at hand: finding out whether any men remaining behind bars deserve to be freed.

That’s the goal of the TIRC cases and the class-action lawsuit, which is supported by a friend-of-the-court brief from former Gov. James R. Thompson, former U.S. Attorneys Thomas Sullivan and Dan Webb, former Chicago Police Supt. Richard Brzeczek and other top legal figures.

Last year, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that no convictions may rest even in part on statements obtained through torture. As delay follows delay, the justice system has not met that standard.

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