U.S. denies training police after video of harsh tactics surfaces

12:00 AM CDT on Thursday, July 3, 2008
By ALFREDO CORCHADO / The Dallas Morning News

MEXICO CITY – The U.S. Embassy on Wednesday distanced itself from police training videos showing Mexican officers applying apparent torture methods on other officers as an American instructor barks orders.

"The U.S. government was not involved in this training in any way. We have seen the press reports and are following it closely," an embassy spokesman said on condition of anonymity.

The videos show special police unit officers in León, Guanajuato, taking directions from an English-speaking trainer.

León Mayor Vicente Guerrero Reynoso defended the training depicted in the video and blamed the media for the outcry. He has said the tactics are used not to teach policemen how to torture, but how to protect themselves against members of organized crime who may use such methods against them.

"The training will continue. It's that simple," said Mr. Guerrero, whose city has a sister-city relationship with Irving.

The American trainer on the video works for a U.S. private consultant firm, said Damian Godoy, a spokesman for Police Chief Carlos Tornero.

"There's been more than 170 hours of training, and the media only focus on a two-minute video," Mr. Godoy said. "That's not fair."

The existence of the videos, first reported Tuesday in the newspaper El Heraldo de León, generated an uproar in Mexico City just days after the U.S. Congress approved the first installment of the $1.4 billion Merida Initiative, an assistance package to provide Mexico with equipment, training and technology to combat drug cartels. Before passage, some U.S. lawmakers raised questions about Mexico's human rights record.

Mexico's Human Rights Commission, in a statement, "denounced" the tactics depicted in the video and said it was awaiting information from the Guanajuato state human rights commission before deciding whether to formally investigate.

In one video, taken in a darkened room, an officer is heard moaning and panting in pain as other officers squirt water into his nose. Officers curse him and talk of torturing him with rats and feces.

Another shows a man on the ground near some vomit.

"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.

Later, a trainee says in English, "This punishment works."