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Make Torture of US Citizens on US soil a crime under Title 18

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Torture of US Citizens on US Soil Not a Crime?

Would it surprise you to know that torture of US Citizens on US soil is not a crime under the US Federal Criminal Code?   But that is the truth in spite of the US signing and ratifying the UN Convention against Torture (CAT). Torture as a distinct crime done by governmental officials in the USA is not punishable under US law.  Torture would clearly be a violation of someone's constitutional rights, but there are no laws – either state or federal which address police torture.

This reality came into sharp focus when a former Chicago police commander, Jon Burge, did not face torture charges for alleged acts of brutality including a mock execution of a detainee, beatings to coerce confessions, using a cattle prod on one suspect’s genitals, and burning other prisoners on a hot radiator.  Mayor Daley, who was the prosecutor at that time, did not prosecute despite mounting evidence regarding Mr. Burge's systemic abuse of prisoners.  From the 1980’s till he was fired in 1993, Mr. Burge and other police officers allegedly tortured 110 men. Mistreatment or abuse of prisoners is considered battery by the current laws because in the state of Illinois there is no statute that criminalizes acts of torture by police officers.

Torture is prohibited by US Federal Law under Section 2340A of Title 18, United States Code.  This statute prohibits torture committed by public officials under color of law against persons within the public official's custody or control. Torture is defined to include acts specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering. But this statute applies only to acts of torture committed outside the United States.  Thus on US soil, torture by public officials on captive detainees is not prosecuted even though it is against the Convention Against Torture and is in violation of international law.

So within the state of Illinois the torture of detained human beings is not punishable, but there is legislation that criminalizes the torture of animals.  Under 510 ILCS 70/3.03 Sec. 3.03, Animal Torture is a Class 3 Felony; punishment for a violation includes probation or conditional discharge not to exceed 30 months, and a fine of up to $25,000.00 and incarceration from 2 to 5 years.  Thus animals in the state of Illinois have more protection under law against torture than do human beings – especially persons of color such as those prisoners tortured and mistreated by Mr. Burge. 

Human rights and civil rights advocates are calling for new trials for 23 men wrongfully convicted based on coerced confessions in Chicago.  Chicago’s leading civil rights agencies, like PUSH, NAACP and the Chicago Urban League joined with the Illinois Coalition Against Torture, and a broad coalition of community groups, to try to enact laws that criminalize police torture.  The Illinois Coalition Against Torture also wants to remove statutes of limitation that are currently preventing police torture victims from filing criminal charges.

US Congressman Danny K. Davis from Illinois had drafted H.R.5688: The Law Enforcement Torture Prevention Act of 2010 to amend title 18, United States Code, to provide a criminal penalty for torture committed by law enforcement officers and others acting under color of law.  This legislation which was intended to give torture victims the redress needed to bring their abusers to justice has not passed out of committee nor garnered adequate support to make it to the floor of the US House of Representatives.  There are only a few weeks left in the legislative session and thus this important legislation may need to be reintroduced again in the next session of Congress for any further action to be taken on this important human rights issue. 

Please support this important legislation by signing our petition and communicating with your US Congressman/woman.


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