|Mexico cop in torture case fired: Training Videos in Leon, Gto.|
|Tuesday, 01 July 2008 13:23|
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Saturday, July 19, 2008
MEXICO CITY — A Mexican police chief was fired Friday following the release of two police training videos that show officers practicing torture techniques, local media reported.
Carlos Tornero, police chief in the central city of Leon, was fired at the recommendation of the Guanajuato state attorney general's office for human rights, the Reforma newspaper said, citing state Public Safety Secretary Alvar Cabeza de Vaca.
The head of police training, Javier Haro Esparza, was also fired, the newspaper said.
No one was available to confirm the report at Cabeza de Vaca's office on Friday night, and officials from Guanajuato's state government could not be reached for comment.
One of the videos, obtained two weeks ago by the newspaper El Heraldo de Leon, shows police appearing to squirt water up a man's nose, a torture technique once notorious among Mexican police. They then dunk his head in a hole that an unidentified voice on the video says is full of excrement and rats. In another video, an unidentified English-speaking trainer asks a police agent to roll in his own vomit.
The English-speaking man belonged to a private U.S. security company hired to help train the agents, ex-police chief Tornero had said. He claimed the videos showed sessions training officers from an elite police unit to withstand torture if they are kidnapped by organized crime groups.
The footage provoked an uproar across Mexico amid separate accusations of abuse by police and soldiers engaged in a nationwide battle to root out drug gangs.
The National Human Rights Commission has documented 634 cases of military abuse since President Felipe Calderon sent more than 20,000 soldiers to assist in the crackdown.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
U.S. Mercenary Company Implicated in Mexican Torture Videos
Laura Carlsen, Huffington Post
The videos leaked by the local paper El Heraldo de León hit the media just one day after President Bush signed into law a $400 million aid package to support President Felipe Calderon's war on drugs and organized crime. The tapes show graphic images of torture techniques used on victims who city officials claim were volunteers from the police force. In one, a debilitated victim is insulted and dragged through his own vomit. In another, a victim receives shots of mineral water up the nose and has his head forced into a pit of "rats and excrement."
It's old news that torture exists in Mexico. The videos were especially shocking in a society relatively inured to human rights violations for two reasons: they prove without a doubt that torture is not an anomaly in the country, but an institutionalized practice; and they reveal the role of foreign private security companies.
1) The graphic images led to public outcry throughout the country and made it into the international press. Compounding the outrage at the torture scenes, Leon officials responded by defending the training program and refusing to suspend it. As people across the country watched in horror, the mayor and police chief claimed the practices do not violate human rights and are necessary to fight organized crime.
When reminded that torture is prohibited under Mexican law, the officials backtracked and claimed they were teaching specialized police officers to withstand torture techniques rather than dish them out. But it's obvious watching the video that this is a Torture 101 course. Trainers bark orders at police officers on how to humiliate and "break" the victims.
What has many people worried is that the war on drugs launched by Felipe Calderon -- and explicitly endorsed and supported by the U.S. government through aid to the Mexican police and military -- is sending a message to Mexican security forces that "anything goes". These tactics are reprehensible, yet they are being presented as acceptable in the context of a war mentality.
2) The second point of concern is that the video clips show foreign private security companies teaching torture interrogation techniques to Mexican security forces. Kristin Bricker, an investigative reporter from the online newspaper NarcoNews, uncovered evidence that indicates the trainers are from a Miami-based private security company called "Risks, Incorporated."
The company, incorporated in London, boasts "Psychological torture is the main tactic used in professional interrogations, it works and leaves no physical marks. We do this interrogation technique and others on some courses to show how easy it is to break a hostage and we're being nice!"
The images raise serious questions about the direction of U.S. aid under Plan Mexico (Merida Initiative). The Plan includes an unspecified amount for contracts to U.S. private security companies. As the webpage of Risks Incorporated shows, these kind of courses are the dead opposite of human rights training.
We don't know if other companies carry out similar courses. But private security companies under contract from the State Department and the Dept. of defense have come under heavy fire since the massacre of 17 Iraqi civilians in which Blackwater employees were involved and the lawsuits against security firms for torture at Abu Ghraib. Even Department of Defense officials have complained that they have "quick trigger fingers," "act like cowboys" and "lack accountability." A military intelligence officer referred to them as "essentially mercenary forces" -- the term commonly used throughout Latin America to describe U.S. private security forces.
To make matters worse, these firms seem to operating in an international legal void. A CRS report to Congress states "It is possible that some contractors may remain outside the jurisdiction of U.S. courts, civil or military, for improper conduct in Iraq." This lack of legal accountability extends to their actions elsewhere as well. The UN Mercenaries Working Group has noted the lack of regulation worldwide of these growing forces.
In Mexico, despite legal reforms that no longer allow testimony obtained through torture as evidence, the practice is widespread. When we took testimonies in Chiapas, Oaxaca and Atenco in February as part of the International Civil Commission on Human Rights, I heard many cases of beatings, scaldings and sexual abuse in police custody. These cases, and these victims, remain beneath the radar of the press and public opinion, and were ignored by U.S. legislators quick to please Latino voters.
The Mexican government recognized only 72 cases for the entire period 2001-2006. When torture cases are prosecuted at all, they often wind up being prosecuted as lesser charges. According to its website, the Human Rights Commission has issued only three recommendations regarding torture since 1995. Many victims who have suffered torture at the hands of the authorities are understandably reluctant to report the violations to the same governments whose security forces or agencies were responsible for the incidents.
Mexican human rights groups report that violations have been on the rise in Mexico since the drug war sent over 25,000 soldiers out into the streets and emboldened police forces. In its annual report, the Fray Bartolome de las Casas Human Rights Center notes "a regression in respect and protection of fundamental rights." Since most of the aid from Congress goes to the police and military, with another large chunk for domestic spying operations, it's fairly easy to predict that instead of cleaning up Mexican security forces in their fight against organized crime, we will see the empowerment of impunity.
Women, indigenous peoples and opposition leaders are the most common targets. Since Plan Mexico also funds equipment for tracking Central American migrants in Mexico and further militarizing the Mexican border, it can be assumed that migrants will also be the victims of increased human rights violations.
Some Washington human rights groups have claimed that Plan Mexico will help Mexico reform and eliminate illegal practices such as torture. But the aid package funds the same forces that commit those atrocities with virtual impunity.
The problem for Mexico in reaching a higher level of respect for human rights is a political -- not a legal or economic -- problem. All indications show that the Calderon model of militarized control, supported by the Bush model of counter-terrorism security embodied in Plan Mexico, will only make it worse.
Laura Carlsen directs the Americas Program of the International Relations Center (IRC), based in Mexico City, Mexico, on line at AmericasPolicy.org.
© 2008 Huffington Post All rights reserved.
Videos of Violent Police Training Appear as Mexico Awaits U.S. Aid
By Manuel Roig-Franzia
MEXICO CITY, July 1 -- Videos showing Mexican police learning torture methods appeared on the Internet this week as the country, soon to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. anti-drug aid, is seeking to improve its human rights record.
The videos show officers in the city of Leon, about 150 miles northwest of Mexico City, forcing one of their colleagues to crawl through vomit and injecting carbonated water into the nose of another. An instructor, whose face can be seen in one video, barks out commands in English. Leon Police Chief Carlos Tornero told the Associated Press that the instructor is from a private U.S. security firm, but he declined to say which one.
"These are no more than training exercises for certain situations, but I want to stress that we are not showing people how to use these methods," Tornero said.
The videos -- first uncovered by a local newspaper, El Heraldo de León -- ran repeatedly Tuesday on television stations here and prompted huge headlines in daily newspapers. La Jornada, a left-leaning Mexico City newspaper, declared, "Law enforcement in León teaches police to torture."
Mexican and international human rights organizations expressed concern over the videos.
"This is troubling," said Sergio Aguayo, founder of the nonprofit Mexican Academy for Human Rights. "In the past, torture was usually hidden. Now they don't even bother."
The videos show officers from Leon's Special Tactics Group, known here by its Spanish-language initials, GET. In one video, a man who appears to be in extreme pain is shown kneeling in the dirt. An instructor -- a bearded man of medium build in a black T-shirt, jeans and sunglasses -- gives orders in English.
"Now get him to roll back into the puke," the instructor tells one of the trainees.
The man, dressed in camouflage, can be seen rolling toward the vomit. But he does not touch it.
"He missed it. Roll back," the instructor says.
"This punishment works," a trainee, whose face is not shown, can be heard saying in English.
In another video, an officer -- presumably playing the role of a witness -- can be heard panting and gasping in pain as other officers squirt carbonated water into his nose. The man is being held in a dark room, and his arms are bound as he lies in a hole in the floor. Officers curse at him and talk of torturing him with rats and fecal matter.
Residents in several states have accused Mexican soldiers of committing hundreds of human rights violations, including rape and unjustified shootings, during a crackdown on drug cartels. Activists say Mexicans frequently do not make human rights complaints against local police for fear of retribution.
In recent months, human rights concerns shaped negotiations between U.S. and Mexican lawmakers over a $400 million U.S. aid package designed to help Mexico fight drug cartels.
Mexican officials persuaded the U.S. Congress to remove some human rights conditions, but a provision prohibiting Mexico from using testimony derived from tortured witnesses remained in the final bill.
"The only thing that I thought when I saw those videos was 'Thank God the U.S. Congress attached some human rights conditions,' " said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director for New York-based Human Rights Watch.
The Guanajuato state human rights commission has launched an investigation into the police training methods in Leon, and state prosecutors have also said they will review the videos.
But local officials have defended the training methods.
Leon Mayor Vicente Guerrero told reporters that police need aggressive training methods to confront the threat of drug cartels suspected by law enforcement officials in more than 1,800 killings this year.
"Perhaps it looks inhuman to us," Guerrero told El Heraldo de León. "But it is part of a preparation method that is used all over the world."
© 2008 The Washington Post Company
Police 'torture' videos cause uproar in Mexico
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
MEXICO CITY: Videos showing Leon police practicing torture techniques on a fellow officer and dragging another through vomit at the instruction of a U.S. adviser created an uproar Tuesday in Mexico, which has struggled to eliminate torture in law enforcement.
Two of the videos — broadcast by national television networks and displayed on newspaper Internet sites — showed what Leon city Police Chief Carlos Tornero described as training for an elite unit that must face "real-life, high-stress situations," such as kidnapping and torture by organized crime groups.
But many Mexicans saw a sinister side, especially at a moment when police and soldiers across the country are struggling with scandals over alleged abuses.
"They are teaching police ... to torture!" read the headline in the Mexico City newspaper Reforma.
Human rights investigators in Guanajuato state, where Leon is located, are looking into the tapes, and the National Human Rights Commission also expressed concerned.
"It's very worrisome that there may be training courses that teach people to torture," said Raul Plascencia, one of the commission's top inspectors.
One of the videos, first obtained by the newspaper El Heraldo de Leon, shows police appearing to squirt water up a man's nose — a technique once notorious among Mexican police. Then they dunk his head in a hole said to be full of excrement and rats. The man gasps for air and moans repeatedly.
In another video, an unidentified English-speaking trainer has an exhausted agent roll into his own vomit. Other officers then drag him through the mess.
"These are no more than training exercises for certain situations, but I want to stress that we are not showing people how to use these methods," Tornero said.
He said the English-speaking man was part of a private U.S. security company helping to train the agents, but he refused to give details.
A third video transmitted by the Televisa network showed officers jumping on the ribs of a suspect curled into a fetal position in the bed of a pickup truck. Tornero said that the case, which occurred several months earlier, was under investigation and that the officers involved had disappeared.
Mexican police often find themselves in the midst of brutal battles between drug gangs. Officials say that 450 police, soldiers and prosecutors have lost their lives in the fight against organized crime since December 2006.
At the same time, several recent high-profile scandals over alleged thuggery and ineptness have reignited criticisms of police conduct. In Mexico City last month, 12 people died in a botched police raid on a disco.
The National Human Rights Commission has documented 634 cases of military abuse since President Felipe Calderon sent more than 20,000 soldiers across the nation to battle drug gangs.
And $400 million in drug-war aid for Mexico that was just signed into law by President George W. Bush doesn't require the U.S. to independently verify that the military has cleaned up its fight, as many American lawmakers and Mexican human rights groups had insisted.
The videos may seem shocking, but training police to withstand being captured is not unusual, said Robert McCue, the director of the private, U.S. firm IES Interactive Training, which provides computer-based training systems in Mexico.
"With the attacks on police and security forces in Mexico that have increased due to the drug cartel wars, I'm not surprised to see this specialized kind of training in resisting and surviving captivity and torture," he said.
Associated Press Writer E. Eduardo Castillo contributed to this story.
|Last Updated on Thursday, 09 April 2009 02:22|