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Aldermen Back Resolution Declaring Chicago A 'Torture-Free Zone'

Updated 01/12/11 - 3:48 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A City Council committee has endorsed a resolution that would declare Chicago a "Torture-Free Zone."

As WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports, the Committee on Human Relations held a hearing Thursday morning to discuss a resolution that would declare "the Mayor and the City Council of the City of Chicago stand firm against all forms of torture and inhuman treatment, and hereby proclaim Chicago to be a torture-free zone."

Even though there are existing laws against torture and a City Council resolution does not carry the weight of law, supporters said it is not simply symbolic. Activists say they hope the resolution will send a strong message of solidarity against a practice that, they believe, is all too routine in prisons and conflicts around the world.

Ald. Joe Moore (49th), who sponsored the measure, said the resolution is not theoretical, or about a foreign country.

With a history of police torture cases under former Police Cmdr. Jon Burge, Amnesty International regional director Debra Erenberg said a resolution against torture is not symbolic, even tsaying it still occurs.

"This resolution should not be controversial. Torture is already illegal under both international and domestic law. And, yet, it seems that we, as both a city and as a nation, need to relearn this lesson over and over again," Erenberg said.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports


Margaret Power with the Illinois Coalition Against Torture said it's vital to learn torture is destructive.

"It is destructive of those who are being tortured and it also destroys those who are doing the torture and, most of all, it also destroys a society that condones it," Power said.

She noted the city had notorious cases of police torture decades ago.

"Unfortunately, for many levels of the U.S. government, torture is policy," Power said.

Mary Johnson, whose son was tortured by officers under Burge, said "we were promised to be given fair trials. We were promised that we would be protected by the law and it ends up where we are actually the ones that are damaged by the law."

The Human Relations Committee voted in favor of the ordinance, sending it to the full City Council for consideration.

Moore introduced the resolution last November. The Illinois Coalition Against Torture said it has collected more than 3,500 signatures in support of the resolution.

The resolution would declare "the Mayor and the City Council of the City of Chicago voice their strong and unwavering support for all survivors of torture, and will hold all perpetrators accountable for their actions."

Further, the resolution would state the city "will not tolerate, support or allow torture to be practiced by its employees or residents. …[and] that all prisoners under city, state or federal governmental control are entitled to have their human rights respected, including their right to be free from torture."

If approved, Chicago would be the first city in the U.S. to formally oppose all forms of torture.

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