When the Chicago detective Richard Zuley arrived at Guantánamo Bay late in 2002, US military commanders touted him as the hero they had been looking for. Here was a Navy reserve lieutenant who had spent the last 25 years as a distinguished detective on the mean streets of Chicago , closing case after case – often due to his knack for getting confessions. But while Zuley’s brutal interrogation techniques – prolonged shackling, family threats, demands on suspects to implicate themselves and others – would get supercharged at Guantánamo for the war on terrorism, a Guardian investigation has uncovered that Zuley used similar tactics for years, behind closed police-station doors, on Chicago’s poor and non-white citizens. Multiple people in prison in Illinois insist they have been wrongly convicted on the basis of coerced confessions extracted by Zuley and his colleagues.
The Guardian examined thousands of court documents from Chicago and interviewed two dozen people with experience at Guantánamo and in the Chicago criminal-justice system. The results of its investigation suggests a continuum between Guantánamo interrogation rooms and Chicago police precincts. Zuley’s detective work, particularly when visited on Chicago’s minority communities, contains a dark foreshadowing of the United States’ post-9/11 descent into torture.
Allegations stemming from interviews and court documents, concerning Chicago suspects, suggest Zuley and his colleagues shackled suspects to walls for extended periods, threatened their family members, and perhaps even planted evidence on them. The point was to yield confessions, even while ignoring potentially exculpatory evidence.
Several of those techniques bear similarities to those used by Zuley when he took over the interrogation of Mohamedou Ould Slahi at Guantánamo, described in official government reports and a best-selling memoir as one of the most brutal ever conducted at the US wartime prison. serialised last month by the Guardian
A woman still in an Illinois prison who insists on her innocence, Benita Johnson, recalled Zuley and his team handcu"ng her to a wall for over 24 hours in 1995 until she would implicate herself and her ex-boyfriend in a murder, while Zuley threatened her with never seeing her children again. One of many awards in Zuley’s record – bearing the name of Chicago mayor Richard Daley – praises his help in interrogating the two suspects who ultimately “admitted participating in the crime”.
Nearly a decade later, Zuley – whose interrogation plan for Slahi received personal sign-off from then-defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld but has gone almost entirely unreported – would tell the detainee that the US had his mother in custody, US government investigations have documented, even while they avoid Zuley’s name. If Slahi didn’t start talking, Zuley said he would have her brought into Guantánamo’s all-male prison environment, which his lawyers consider a rape threat. Slahi began confessing to anything he could. Though prosecutors refused to bring charges once they learned what Zuley and his team had done, Slahi – like the Illinois woman Zuley interrogated that night, and others back on the mainland – remains behind bars.
“I’ve never seen anyone stoop to those levels,” Stuart Couch, a former Marine lieutenant colonel and military commissions prosecutor, said of Zuley’s interrogation of Slahi. “It’s unconscionable, from a perspective of a criminal prosecution – or an interrogation, for that matter.” Mark Fallon, deputy commander of the now-shuttered Criminal Investigative Task Force at Guantánamo, said Zuley’s interrogation of Slahi “was illegal, it was immoral, it was ineffective and it was unconstitutional.” It is unknown if Zuley interrogated other Guantánamo detainees.
The Chicago police department operates an off-the-books interrogation compound, rendering Americans unable to be found by family or attorneys while locked inside what lawyers say is the domestic equivalent of a CIA black site.
The facility, a nondescript warehouse on Chicago’s west side known as Homan Square, has long been the scene of secretive work by special police units. Interviews with local attorneys and one protester who spent the better part of a day shackled in Homan Square describe operations that deny access to basic constitutional rights.
Alleged police practices at Homan Square, according to those familiar with the facility who spoke out to the Guardian after its investigation into Chicago police abuse, include:
-Keeping arrestees out of official booking databases.
-Beating by police, resulting in head wounds.
-Shackling for prolonged periods.
-Denying attorneys access to the “secure” facility.
-Holding people without legal counsel for between 12 and 24 hours, including people as young as 15.
-At least one man was found unresponsive in a Homan Square “interview room” and later pronounced dead.