By Manuel Roig-Franzia | 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.”