Videos showing policemen in the city of Leon practicing torture techniques on a fellow officer and dragging another through vomit at the instruction of a U.S. security company advisor created an uproar Tuesday in Mexico, which has struggled to eliminate torture in law enforcement.
Two of the videos, shown by national television networks and newspaper Internet sites, showed what Leon city Police Chief Carlos Tornero described as training for an elite unit that faces "real-life, high-stress situations," such as kidnapping and torture by organized crime groups.
But many Mexicans saw a sinister side, especially at a time 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 concern.
"It's very worrisome that there may be training courses that teach people to torture," said Raul Plascencia, a top commission inspector.
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. In another video, an English-speaking trainer has an exhausted agent roll into his own vomit. Other officers then drag him through.
"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 with a private U.S. security company helping to train the agents, but he refused to give details.
A third video aired 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 incident, which occurred several months earlier, was under investigation and that the officers involved had disappeared.
Training police officers to withstand capture is not unusual, said Robert McCue, director of the U.S. firm IES Interactive Training. About 450 police, soldiers and prosecutors have died in the fight against organized crime since December 2006, officials say.