World & Nation

Video of soldiers torturing woman prompts apology from Mexican defense chief

Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda

Mexico’s Defense Secretary Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, addressing soldiers in Mexico City on Saturday, apologized for a video-recorded incident of torture involving two soldiers and a federal police officer.

(Marco Ugarte / AP)

Mexico’s defense secretary formally apologized to the country for a video-recorded incident of torture involving two soldiers and a federal police officer.

Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda addressed a sea of green-uniformed soldiers in a televised address Saturday that illustrated just how damaging the graphic torture video has been.

“In the name of all who make up this great institution, I offer a sincere apology to all of society offended by this unacceptable event,” Cienfuegos said. He urged soldiers and citizens to come forward to report other abuses.

Torture by police and armed forces has long been criticized as a far too common technique for extracting information or confessions from suspects.


Mexico Army Abuse

This screengrab of a video posted on several YouTube sites on April 14 shows a plastic bag held tight over a woman’s head by an unidentified federal police officer in an unknown location in Mexico. Two Mexican soldiers face military charges after this video surfaced of them helping a federal police officer torture a female suspect.


But the video of a young woman having a rifle muzzle pressed to her head by a female military police officer and having a plastic bag placed over her head by a female federal police officer has stirred outrage. The incident occurred Feb. 5, 2015, in Ajuchitlan del Progreso in the southern state of Guerrero. The state has seen a massive deployment of soldiers and federal police to battle the drug cartels.

Cienfuegos said such acts “not only denigrate us as soldiers but also betray the confidence that this institution has earned day by day.”

“Let it be clear: We must not, nor can we confront illegality with more illegality,” he said.


In the past, the military has assumed a much more defensive position when confronting allegations of abuse. The widely circulated video made that impossible.

“Unfortunately they only give these apologies when they have no choice, when there is no alternative because the images are irrefutably captured in a video,” said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. The usual reaction is to deny and even cover up incidents, he said. “The lesson that these soldiers and officers take away is not to take photographs, much less leave evidence like a video.”

Since then-President Felipe Calderon stepped up the country’s battle with drug cartels in December 2006, the military has assumed a more active role in internal security and that has continued under his successor, President Enrique Peña Nieto. In some areas soldiers took over policing duties as corrupt local police forces were disarmed and disbanded.

International and domestic human rights organizations have been highly critical of this role and the abuses they say it brought.

In February, Mexico’s Navy announced that it was investigating several marines for allegedly torturing and sexually abusing six female suspects in the state of Veracruz in 2012. Mexico National Human Rights Commission had recommended the investigation.

In December 2014, the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur on Torture published a report that concluded, “Torture is generalized in Mexico. It occurs especially from the moment when a person is detained until he or she is brought before a judge, and is used as punishment and as a means of investigation.”

On Thursday, two federal security officials told the Associated Press that the suspect in the video has been in prison for more than a year on weapons charges. One of the sources, who both requested anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak about the case, said the federal police officer in the video had been identified and was being held at a federal police installation. She had not been charged.

The two soldiers are being held in a military prison, and Cienfuegos said Saturday that in addition to facing military justice, they will be investigated by federal prosecutors for crimes against a civilian.


The attorney general’s office said Thursday it had opened a torture investigation.


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