Exactly one day after George Bush signed the first year of the $1.6 billion Plan Mexico into law–giving Mexican military and police US training, armament, and resources–videos surfaced showing Mexican police undergoing torture training in León, Guanajuato. The torture training is directed by a British man from an unidentified US private security company.
The videos show the English-speaking contractor directing and participating in the torture of members of the Special Tactical Group (GET in its Spanish initials) of the León municipal police force during a 160-hour training over twelve days in April 2006. Alvar Cabeza de Vaca, the Secretary of Public Security in León, says the participants volunteered to be tortured as part of the training.
In one video, the unidentified contractor drags a GET officer through a puddle of his own vomit as punishment for failure to complete a training exercise.
In a second video, GET officers squirt mineral water up the nose of another officer, a torture technique commonly utilized by Mexican police. The man’s head is also shoved into a hole which supposedly contains rats and feces:
Leon city Police Chief Carlos Tornero told the AP that the English-speaking man in the videos is a contractor from a private US security firm. Tornero refused to elaborate on the man’s identity, details about the US company, and who contracted the company.
The government’s response has been to defend the program, attack the media for reporting on the videos, and deny the illegality of torture. León mayor Vicente Guerrero Reynoso said that the training would continue and no public official would be punished for involvement in the torture training. He demanded that the media "be more responsible." Guerrero is a member of President Felipe Calderón’s right-wing National Action Party.
Alvar Cabeza de Vaca, Secretary of Public Security for León, said torture training for police is necessary: "It is essential to have a special group that responds to certain conditions. More and more we see the clear involvement, not only in León, but in the whole state, of organized crime, and there is a need to have these groups." Cabeza de Vaca seemed to be most preoccupied with how the videos became public. In response to a reporter’s question about why the municipal government offers illegal training that violates human rights, he responded, "Well, while it is not prohibited…in the end I don’t know how the video arrived [in the hands of the meda]. The trainer makes the recordings to observe and correct the teachings."
Mexico’s national daily La Jornada was quick to point out that torture is in fact prohibited, contrary to the public security chief’s assertions: "Torture is a crime in Guanajuato: in accordance with Article 264 of the state Penal Code, the public servant who ‘intentionally exercises violence against a person, be it in order to obtain information or constituting an illicit investigation method,’ faces a punishment of 2-10 years in prison."
The existence of a training led by a US defense contractor to teach Mexican police torture tactics in order to combat organized crime and the local government’s adamant defense of the program is particularly disturbing considering the US government’s recent approval of the $1.6 billion Plan Mexico, also known as the Merida Initiative. Plan Mexico is an aid package specifically designed to support President Felipe Calderón’s deadly battle against organized crime. It will fund more US training for Mexican police and military, in addition to providing them with riot gear, spy equipment, and military aircraft. Plan Mexico allows funds for the deployment of up to fifty US defense contractors to Mexico.
This is not the first time US defense contractors have directed torture in foreign countries. During the 2003-2004 Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal in Iraq, US soldiers claimed that defense contractors who ran the prison directed them to torture inmates. Four former Abu Ghraib inmates recently filed lawsuits against CACI International Inc. of Arlington, Va., and New York-based L-3 Communications Corp., formerly Titan Corp., for torturing them.
KRISTIN BRICKER is a freelance reporter living and working in Mexico. She is also part of the Rebel Imports collective, which sells fair trade textiles, coffee, and honey from Zapatista cooperatives. She can be reached through her website.