Monday, July 14, 2008

Mexican Torture Training Raises Questions About U.S. Military/Police Aid

by Laura Carlsen
Posted in The Huffington Post on July 9, 2008 | 10:15 PM (EST)

Two videos of a torture-training session with the police force of León, Guanajuato shocked the Mexican public last week and raised serious questions about human rights under the Calderon offensive against organized crime. For readers with strong stomachs, the videos can be found here.

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 report 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 in 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.

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Friday, July 11, 2008

Plan Mexico threatens peaceful Mexican communities

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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

León Torture Training Comic

My article on the true identities of the León torture trainers and their company was published in Mexico City's El Sendero del Peje today. It made the front page...and the second page...and the third. They published the following comic with my article. I am honored to have inspired such a magnificent piece of art:

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New at Rebel Imports: Oaxacan Political Prisoners purses

Rebel Imports is thrilled to announce that we've begun working with a new Mexican indigenous collective: the Zapotec political prisoners from Loxicha, Oaxaca.

The 12 Loxicha prisoners have been unjustly imprisoned since 1996 by the PRI (Institutional Revolution Party) government, the party that has ruled Oaxaca with an iron fist for over 70 years. They were tortured into signing blank pieces of paper which later turned into confessions. The Loxichas make these purses to raise money for their families (many were primary breadwinners) and for their campaign for their freedom.

We carry four purse styles from the Loxichas: two macramé purses and two embroidered purses. They're available in our Oaxacan Purses category on rebelimports.com.

You'll notice that we have another new category on our website, Political Prisoners. The Loxichas are the first group of political prisoners we're working with, but they won't be the only ones. In the coming months we'll begin to carry hand-made hammocks made by Chiapan political prisoners from The Voice of Los Llanos and Grupo Zapatista. Many of them are Zapatista political prisoners, and they are all adherents to the Zapatistas' Other Campaign.

We're passing on a letter from the Loxichas about their unjust imprisonment:

Central Penitentiary, Oaxaca; September 25, 2007.

TO THE PEOPLE OF OAXACA
TO THE PEOPLE OF MEXICO
TO THE PEOPLE OF THE WORLD
TO ALL HONEST PEOPLE
TO THE SOCIAL AND DEMOCRATIC ORGANIZATIONS
TO THE NEWS MEDIA

11 YEARS OF THE WAR OF EXTERMINATION, GENOCIDE, AND ETHNOCIDE AGAINST THE ZAPOTEC INDIGENOUS PEOPLE OF THE LOXICHA REGION

On September 25, 1996, Deòdoro Carrasco Altamirano and Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León, Governor of Oaxaca and President of Mexico at the time, initiated a direct campaign of extermination, genocide, and ethnocide against the Zapotec indigenous communities of our region. The repression was initially focused on the municipal seat San Agustín Loxicha, a marginalized town submerged in the most extreme poverty and hunger. Supposedly, the operation that Ernesto Zedillo called “all the State’s force,” was to arrest guerrillas. In this first flashy military-police operation, the members of the Municipal Government were arrested, as well as other citizens who have now been unjustly imprisoned for eleven years. A total of twelve indigenous people were framed for the federal offenses trumped up by the judicial authorities at the time, the state Attorney General Roberto Pedro Marguez Ballesteros, and others. Groups of white guards, sell-outs and local power bosses who have only attacked the people and looted our natural resources took their revenge, implementing a policy of terror and fear. To justify our supposed guilt for the false charges of belonging to an armed group, which we categorically deny, we were cruelly tortured both physically and psychologically at the time of our arrest and forced to sign blank pages.

In the years that followed, eight of us were sentenced to 26, 29, 30, and 31 years in prison, and four more sentenced to 13 and ½ years. These sentences are totally unjust. We have repeatedly said that we never committed a single crime. Four of the indigenous people mentioned should be out on parole, but due to the exclusive, predatory policies that we’ve been subjected to, are still held in prison. It should be noted that as a consequence of dozens and dozens of military-police operations carried out in the Loxicha region in ’96, ’97, ’98, and ’99, there were 200 illegal arrests, 155 Zapotecs jailed for political reasons and just for thinking differently in different prisons in this state and the country as a whole. There are still 250 arrest warrants and there have been 32 illegal house searches, 22 extrajudicial executions, 22 forced disappearances and an undetermined number of sexual abuses. Many indigenous people received death threats and others were harassed. The trials were plagued with irregularities and government misconduct.

At the present time, the Loxicha region is militarized. There are three Mixed Operation Bases in Magdalena, La Sirena, and San Agustín Loxicha. The presence of the vile police forces is of no help whatsoever in the region. On the contrary, for more than ten years, our teen-agers and children have been taught to use drugs, leading to the loss of their culture and their entry into the world of drug addiction.

Our message to the reigning governments is that in spite of our circumstances, we will never tire of exposing the abuses that the evil governments have subjected us to. We will continue to raise our voices until we are free.

In view of the facts mentioned above, the situation in Loxicha is of great concern. We ask the democratic organizations and honest, progressive people to take a stand and demand that the corresponding authorities grant us our freedom and order the exit of the army from our dear beloved town that witnessed our births.

Respectfully yours,

The Indigenous Political Prisoners and Prisoners of Conscience
of the Loxicha Region

C. Agustín Luna Valencia
C. Urbano Ruiz Cruz
C. Álvaro Sebastián Ramírez
C. Justino Hernández José
C. Cirilo Ambrosio Antonio
C. Mario Ambrosio Martínez
C. Fortino Enríquez Hernández
C. Ricardo Martínez Enríquez
C. Eleuterio Hernández García
C. Estanislao Martínez Santiago
C. Abraham García Ramírez
C. Zacarías P. García López
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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Tomorrow: León Torture Training on KCSB FM 91.9

I'll be on the "No Alibis" program on KCSB FM 91.9 in Santa Barbara on Wednesday, July 8, at 8:30am PST/11:30am EST talking about the US/UK-based private contractors who led a police training which in León which included torture sessions. You can stream the show live at http://www.kcsb.org/?page_id=9 .

The story, which originally broke on Narco News, has since been picked up by Por Esto!, Mexico's third-largest daily newspaper with 70,000 readers, and will be published tomorrow in Sendero Del Peje. Democracy Now! mentioned the story today four minutes into its broadcast.

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Monday, July 7, 2008

Company that Led Training in Torture Techniques for Mexican Police Is Risks Incorporated of Miami, Florida

Trainer Gerardo “Jerry” Arrechea is a high-ranking member of the Comandos F4, an armed Cuban terrorist organization

The foreign company captured on video training police in León, Mexico, in torture techniques is Risks Incorporated of Miami, Florida, and Great Britain, Narco News has learned. The Mexican daily El Universal identified the leaders of the torture workshop as “Jerry Wilson” of Great Britain and Cuban-Mexican Gerardo Arrechea on July 3, but officials refused to identify the company for which they worked.

Risks Incorporated has a Miami telephone number, which could explain why Mexican officials stated that the company they contracted to lead the torture training was a "US private security company." Both individuals, according to information obtained and confirmed by Narco News, are Risks Incorporated employees.

Andrew “Jerry”/“Orlando” Wilson

The man identified as Jerry Wilson, who appears in one of the torture videos dragging a León Special Tactics Group (GET in its Spanish initials) agent through his own vomit, also appears in a Risks Incorporated promotional video available on its website. He wears the same clothing and sunglasses in both the Risks Incorporated promotional video and the leaked León torture training video. In the promotional video at 2 minutes and 56 seconds, Wilson is shown filming a training of police officers dressed in the same uniform the León GET agents use in the leaked training video. Furthermore, the very first still shot in the promotional video shows the exact same terrain and foliage that appears in the leaked torture video, and León police pick-up trucks appear in both videos.

The English-speaking man identified as Jerry Wilson in the León torture training videosJerry promo
The English-speaking man identified as Jerry Wilson in the León torture training videosThe same man from the León video in a Risks Inc. promotional video


Risks Incorporated's website does not list a “Jerry Wilson” on its “Our Personnel” page. However, the British man known as “Jerry Wilson” may be Risks Incorporated's “Orlando,” who is listed as the company's “Chief Specialist Tactical Instructor & Operator.” A January 17, 2006, version of Risks Incorporated's website archived by the Internet Archive Wayback Machine lists an Andrew Wilson as the company's “Chief Consultant.” Andrew Wilson's detailed biography on the January 17, 2006, archive is almost identical to Orlando's biography on Risks Incorporated's current website. Risks Incorporated's website (both archived and current versions) states that Andrew “Orlando” Wilson served in the British army from 1988-93, including 22 months on an operational tour in Northern Ireland which gave him “an excellent grounding in anti-terrorist operations.” Both Orlando and Andrew Wilson's biographies say he served in his unit's Reconnaissance Platoon and “undertook training with specialist units such as the RM Mountain and Artic [sic] Warfare Cadre and US Army's Special Forces.” Wilson's archived biography states that he has worked in Mexico, but this information was removed from Orlando's biography. Orlando's biography says that he has experience in “specialist security / tactical / para-military training for private individuals and specialist tactical police units and government agencies” and “the types of complications that can occur when dealing with international law enforcement agencies and the problem of organized crime.”

By August 30, 2006, Risks Incorporated had removed all staff biographies from its website. When the company's "Our Team" page reappeared as "Our Personnel" on May 31, 2007, "Andrew Wilson's" almost identical biography reappeared under the name “Orlando.” The exact same photo on Andrew Wilson's biography page which identified the solider in the photo as “Andrew Wilson, Chief Consultant” reappeared as “Orlando in South Georgia 1992, 1 WFR, Recce Plt.”

Gerardo “Jerry” Arrechea: World Stick-fighting Heavyweight Champion, Soap Opera Stunt Man, Cuban Terrorist, Mexican Torture Trainer


Mexican authorities and media identified the second man responsible for the León torture trainings as Gerardo Arrechea, a Cuban-Mexican martial arts champion and soap opera stunt man who runs the Free Fight Academy with trainings available in Mexico state, Puebla, Morelos, and Chiapas. Free Fight Academy's website, which was removed from the internet after the torture training video scandal broke, bragged that, amongst other achievements, Arrechea is a third-degree black belt in Doce Pares Eskrima (a martial art focused on fighting with sticks), 1996 Eskrima Filipino WEKAF champion of Mexico, and 1999 May Thai (kickboxing) Association champion of Mexico.

Risks Incorporated's website does not list a “Gerardo” on its staff biography page, but it does list a “Jerry,” which is an anglicized nickname for “Gerardo.” Jerry's Risks Incorporated biography states that he is located in Mexico City where he is the director of a martial arts academy in the Mexico City metropolitan area. It goes on to say that he has a fourth-degree black belt in Doce Pares Eskrima, and, like Arrechea, was the 1996 “Heavyweight Stickfighting Champion of Mexico” and the “1999 Thai Boxing Association of Mexico Heavy Weight Champion.”

While Risks Incorporated's current website does not give a last name for Jerry, the Internet Archive Wayback Machine's January 17, 2006, archive for Risks Incorporated's website does: Arrechea. The United States Muay Thai Association (USMTA) lists Jerry Arrechea as the coach of the Muay Thai Athletic Club of Mexico, located in Naucalpan, Mexico state, which is considered within the Mexico City metropolitan area. The USMTA site says that Arrechea's email address is jerryarrechea@hotmail.com.

However, Arrechea's colorful resume doesn't stop there. The Miami-based anti-Castro terrorist organization Comandos F4 lists a Jerry Arrechea with the email address jerryarrechea@hotmail.com as its Mexico contact. The same page lists Marine Captain Gerardo Arrechea as an “International Delegate” and a member of the Comandos F4 board of directors. The Comandos F4 have openly stated to US media that they are prepared to carry out armed attacks against the Cuban government.

Risks Incorporated: Torture Inc.

Together, Arrechea and Wilson make up part of the Risks Incorporated team. Risks Incorporated provides its clients “with cutting edge and real world tactical firearms training, counter insurgency / SWAT training, executive protection services, kidnap and ransom services that fulfill their requirements and fit in with their lifestyles.” It offers special courses only available to government agencies. According to Risks Incorporated's site, “Our specialist tactical police training courses are for agencies that have to deal with the threat of narco terroism [sic], counter insurgency and para-military groups. Risks Inc.'s tactical instructors are predominantly former military personnel with operational experience in counter insurgency and low intensity warfare in both urban and rural environments.... Students can expect to experience sleep deprivation and stress training.”

The company's Mexico page notes that it provides “special operations courses for tactical groups,” a description that almost alludes to the name of the León police force it was training, the Special Tactics Group. When Risks Incorporated posted a promotional video made from the León training, it described the course as a “Counter Terrorism / Counter Insurgency and Swat Training in Latin America.”

A March 2007 archive of Risks Incorporated's site also touts a course that includes what the company refers to as psychological torture. From the site: “This basic interrogation demonstration is from one of our specialist counter terrorism and executive protection / bodyguard training courses. 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!”

In the event that evidence from Risks Incorporated's website is removed from the internet, Narco News is providing readers with access to Risks Incorporated's promotional video (available on Chiapas Indymedia) and screenshots (PDF) that are relevant to this article.

Additional reporting for this story was done by Bill Conroy. This article originally appeared in Narco News. Also available in Spanish.

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Friday, July 4, 2008

León Torture Trainers Identified

The leaders of a torture training course provided to León municipal police's Special Tactics Group (GET in its Spanish initials) have been unofficially identified by León mayor Vicente Guerrero Reynoso as Britain Jerry Wilson and Cuban-Mexican Gerardo Arrechea. Mayor Guerrero Reynoso refused to identify the company through which they were contracted.

El Universal identified Arrechea as a black-belt karate instructor and head of the Free Fight Academy, which trains everyone from children to elite police forces and soldiers. The Academy offers a seminar in a defense combat tactics specially geared towards police and soldiers called
Palo-Cuchillo-Mano. Free Fight Academy has locations in the states of Mexico, Morelos, Puebla, and Chiapas. However, El Universal could not confirm Jerry Wilson's affiliation with the Academy. Leon city Police Chief Carlos Tornero had previously told press that the trainers were from a US private security firm.

Guanajuato's local newspaper Correo reports that several sources say León's Secretary of Public Security, Alvar Cabeza de Vaca, contracted Wilson and Arrechea to train the GET. The GET was created in 1995 after President Felipe Calderón's right-wing National Action Party (PAN in its Spanish initials) won control of the León government. León Mayor Guerrero Reynoso confirmed to La Jornada that during all four subsequent PAN administrations GET officers have received training similar to that shown in the leaked videos.

Arrechea and Wilson continued their regularly-scheduled training with León police on Tuesday, July 1, the day videos of their torture training program were leaked. However, after much pressure from state and federal public officials, Mayor Guerrero Reynoso reneged on his defiant commitment to continue the trainings and begrudgingly announced that he will suspend the trainings.
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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

US Private Contractor Leads Torture Training in Mexico

Mayor says torture training will continue and public officials will not be punished.

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:

Warning: these videos are graphic and depict torture of human beings



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.
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