“Why do I have to read the most interesting American stories in the foreign press?” asked a reader, tweeting the link to a Guardian story on Homan Square, a secret police interrogation center discovered in Chicago. Yes, why, I asked myself. Why hasn’t this horror story been brought to the light by the powerful American media? Why can’t – or, perhaps, won’t – the homebred reporters dig into this kind of stories? And why, on the other hand, did the American journalists report on similar stories from a country thousands miles from Chicago?
On May 16, 2012, Jacob Church learned about Homan Square the hard way. The police infiltrated a group protesting against the Nato summit, arrested 11 people, and took them to the old isolated warehouse where they were held for 17 hours. Unable to contact the outside world, Church started to doubt that he would ever see the light of the day again.
Because of the cruel and unethical interrogation methods, Homan Square was soon compared to the “black sites” that the CIA created outside of U.S. for interrogations of presumed terrorists. The discovery of Homan Square cast shivers down backs in a country that is losing more and more democratic prestige with each passing day. How can Washington talk or negotiate human rights issues with the totalitarian China while ignoring homebred disasters like Homan Square?
Black jails – very similar to the American black sites – were discovered in China in 2009 by Human Rights Watch. While smaller and less organized than CIA safe houses, the improvised Chinese prisons represent an equally horrible institution with no respect for human rights. According to Al Jazeera International, most of the victims of these illegal and secret prisons in China are peasants. Hundreds of them. Dispossessed of their land and abused by local authorities, they come to Beijing to file complaints to the federal authorities. But instead of going to the court where they could get the protection of the law, many of these people disappear into black jails, erased from existence. After the dramatic Al Jazeera report in 2012, other news organizations began to file black jail stories from China. As a result, Beijing authorities made a symbolic gesture, arresting 10 individuals allegedly responsible for organizing China’s black jails. Since then, the reports on illegal detentions and black jails in China have almost ceased, undoubtedly because of much stricter control of the local and foreign media in China in the recent years. Knowing China, I do not believe that black jails were abolished, even after the reports in foreign media. But perhaps China’s lesson could be better implemented in America. If American journalist care about human rights in Russia, China and other authoritarian countries, why don’t they raise their voices about the black jails at home?