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World

Panel Accuses Mexico Of Torturing Suspects In Missing Students Probe

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Here's a disturbing follow-up to a story that captivated Mexico and much of the world. Forty-Three Mexican students went missing about a year and half ago. Now a group of international lawyers says suspects in that case were tortured. The lawyers also say their investigation was stone-walled. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: At a press conference yesterday in downtown Mexico City, a packed audience shouted, don't leave, don't leave, to the group of lawyers working on behalf of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. For nearly three hours, the lawyers detailed inconsistencies, negligence and possible criminal behavior by government prosecutors.

Those officials are investigating what happened to 43 students in late September of 2014, in the town of Iguala, Guerrero. Spanish lawyer Carlos Beristain says most troubling is the apparent signs of torture of 17 key suspects in the government's investigation. Beristain says the details were described in reports of the government's own medical personnel.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CARLOS BERISTAIN: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "This is a very strong indication that these suspects were mistreated, and this should be immediately investigated," he said. One suspect described beatings and electric shocks. Another said he was hit so hard on the ears that his eardrums broke and bled. Mexican officials have long insisted the students were kidnapped by corrupt local cops who handed them over to a drug gang, who then killed them and burned their bodies in a local trash dump.

Among many flaws in that theory, the experts insist there is no physical evidence to prove that a fire big enough to burn 43 bodies ever occurred in the dump. The lawyers also say the government was slow to respond to their requests for evidence, denied them access to interviewing witnesses, especially members of Mexico's military, and launched a coordinated media campaign to discredit them. Daniel Wilkinson of the New York-based Human Rights Watch says such complaints are not surprising.

DANIEL WILKINSON: This case, the kind of abuses and cover up, is nothing new in Mexico. What's new is the extent to which this has been exposed for the entire world to see.

KAHN: But in a bold rebuke, Mexico's assistant attorney general told reporters that the experts got it wrong. He said this has been the most exhaustive investigation in the history of Mexican law enforcement. He also added that authorities are investigating 31 complaints of torture. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.