BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Argentines expressed outrage Friday over a police interrogation cellphone video circulating widely on the Internet, with many condemning police torture as a common practice that has long been tolerated by the country's politicians.
The clip shows officers abusing two half-naked suspects inside a police compound in General Guemes, a small town in the northwest province of Salta. One man begs for mercy as an officer puts a plastic bag on his head, while another is forced to his knees in a painful position. Both suspects are shivering and wet.
It wasn't immediately clear when it happened, who recorded it and how the video reached the Internet, where it spread widely, prompting hundreds of comments on Twitter and Argentine media sites.
"CLEAN UP THE FORCE! They think because they're police they have the power to do whatever they want!" said a typical complaint, posted by "Diego" on the El Tribuno of Salta's website. Others blamed the victims in the video, saying juvenile delinquents are responsible for soaring drug violence and crime in the country.
Activists said the real tragedy is that Argentina's police routinely use torture against defenseless suspects.
"This is news because someone put the video on the Internet. If these images didn't exist, these two kids would be part of the army of police station torture victims that nobody worries about and has no social impact," said Maria del Carmen Verdu, who runs CORREPI, a watchdog against institutional and police repression.
Provincial authorities responded Thursday by detaining the five officers seen on the recording. Provincial Security Minister Eduardo Sylvester said they will be prosecuted as criminals.
"The government of the province is convinced that these men do not represent the Salta police force," Sylvester said. "Their detention has been ordered because we are not prepared to tolerate these kinds of things."
Human rights activists, meanwhile, expressed dismay that such treatment by police continues in a country that has struggled to overcome the legacy of its 1976-1983 dictatorship, which kidnapped, tortured and killed 13,000 people, according to an official tally, in a so-called "dirty war" against its own citizens.
"It gives me shivers that these things still happen in our country," Estela de Carlotto, a founder of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo rights group, said in an interview with Radio Salta. She called on the provincial government to make sure that torturers don't "contaminate" the security forces.
But Verdu told The Associated Press that the problem is nationwide and cannot be blamed on the military junta that ended decades ago. Since Argentina's democracy was restored in 1983, its security forces have killed 3,400 people in custody, "most of them young, poor and dark-skinned," she said. "It's absolutely an everyday thing in all of Argentina's provinces." Adolfo Perez Esquivel, a Nobel Peace Prize winner for his work investigating the abuses of the dictatorship, told Radio Salta that abusing suspects is an endemic practice throughout the country's security forces, and that the national government unfortunately limits its human rights policies to what happened between 1976 and 1983.