A judicial order to release four Mexican soldiers who had been charged in connection with an alleged army massacre of drug gang members reflects the government's reluctance to put its weight behind the case, a human rights lawyer associated with the case said on Tuesday.
"The attorney general's office doesn't want to put together a proper investigation," said Mario Patrón, of the Agustín Pro Juarez Human Rights Center that represents the mother of one of the victims. "It is not doing its job properly, and that's why the judge ordered the four soldiers released."
The four are among seven soldiers prosecuted in the Tlatlaya case, named after the central Mexican municipality where they made up an army patrol that killed 22 civilians on June 30 last year. The same judge who ordered them freed Monday also ruled that the three soldiers should stand trial.
Mexican and international human rights groups consider the Tlatlaya case a key test of the government's willingness to address alleged abuses carried out by the army within the context of Mexico's drug war.
The case only reached the courts in the first place after journalistic investigations questioned the army's early claim that all 22 people perished during a shootout that the gang members began.
Reporters who went to the scene days later found little sign of a major confrontation. They did find chest high bullet holes surrounded by blood in the internal walls of the warehouse where the gang was hiding out when an army patrol passed by.
More delving uncovered a survivor who claimed the soldiers had fired first, and that most of the dead were killed after surrendering.
Clara Gómez, who is now represented by the Pro Human Rights Center, said she had gone to the warehouse in search of her teenage daughter, who had run off with the gang and is among the dead. Two other women, who also survived the bloodbath, would later support the version that at least some extrajudicial executions occurred that night.
Juan Velásquez, a high profile Mexican lawyer who is advising the soldiers' defense team, told VICE News that the entire case is "a media invention fueled by those who hate the army."
Velásquez said that the only evidence against the soldiers is the contradictory testimony of the three women. He described as "superficial" last year's investigation by the National Human Rights Commission that concluded the women's versions changed because they were tortured.
Velásquez also dismissed as "tendentious" efforts by the Centro Prodh to force the attorney general's office to investigate whether the killings had anything to do with written orders the patrol commander had received a few days earlier instructing him to "take down criminals" in nighttime operations.
The truth of what happened in Tlatlaya, the lawyer insisted, was that the military patrol came across the gang members in the mi
ddle of a drug and drink fueled party that meant they were not effective adversaries after they had started the firefight.
"You have to put yourselves in their position," the lawyer said of the soldiers. "It was late at night, it was dark, they couldn't see anything. They went into the warehouse, they took down the gunmen and they rescued the women."
The attorney general's office released a statement late on Monday saying it would appeal the judge's decision to release the four soldiers.
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