Although the testimony implicates the general and his men in seven murders and disappearances, they have been formally charged with the murders of three men, including one who was wrapped in wet blankets, laid on a metal cot and tortured to death with electric shocks.
His body was allegedly doused with diesel fuel and burned at a desert ranch. The soldiers said they told the doctor at the hospital to record his death as an overdose.
Official complaints to Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission against the military garrison in Ojinaga soared after Moreno arrived — from zero in 2007 to 58 during his reign. He was removed from command in September 2009.
Marat Paredes Montiel, a top official at the rights commission, said the complaints ranged from illegal detention to rape and torture.
“The armed forces launched a war without any training in human rights protections,” Paredes said.
‘The people are still afraid’
Moreno and 29 of his men remain in custody, according to a Mexican army spokesman, who denied that military tribunals provided a form of impunity. However, three years after their arrest, none of the men has been tried or sentenced.
The testimony of officers and soldiers in the 3rd Infantry Company deployed to Ojinaga came to light only because parts of the Supreme Court file were shared with the national newspaper Reforma, which published excerpts.
Court officials and human rights lawyers confirmed the outline of the testimony.
People in Ojinaga rose up in protest against the military, and 1,500 people crowded into the central plaza calling for peace and respect.
“It was code, calling for ‘peace,’ ” said a town official who declined to give his name, fearing reprisals. “We were too afraid to directly call for the military’s ouster.”
The people “are still afraid of this guy,” said former mayor Cesar Carrasco, who recalls the day a soldier put a gun to his chest and told him to mind his own business.
“They worry the general will get a light sentence, or they will just let him out of jail and that he’ll come back and take his revenge,” Carrasco said.
Human Rights Watch collected evidence related to more than 230 cases of killings, disappearances and torture allegedly committed by soldiers and police during Calderon’s tenure. In not a single one of those cases has an official been held accountable.
The group also obtained records showing that the military prosecutor’s office opened 4,000 investigations during the Calderon administration into grave human rights violations allegedly committed by military personnel against civilians. From those investigations, only 33 soldiers were convicted.
Carrasco said Ojinaga’s residents don’t care where the general and his men are tried, they just want to hear that he is still in jail. Many Mexicans don’t have much trust in the civilian courts, either.
“The recent decisions by the Mexican Supreme Court involving military and civilian jurisdiction are very important — a very big deal,” said David Shirk, director of the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego.
“But it’s not clear that civilian courts will produce adequate prosecutions, either,” he said.
Gabriela Martinez contributed to this report.