Union Leader Blames|BP for His Torture | Courthouse News Service
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Union Leader Blames|BP for His Torture

WASHINGTON (CN) - An oil worker and union leader claims right-wing death squads kidnapped and tortured him in Colombia at the behest of British oil giant BP.

Gilberto Edgar Torres Martinez, who now lives in Spain, sued BP in Federal Court.

Torres claims BP recklessly hired the paramilitary thugs to protect its Colombian pipeline, and violated the Alien Tort Statute and the Torture Victims Protection Act by allowing them to falsely accuse him of being a guerilla and torture him.

The death squads, known as the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC), or Colombians United in Self-Defense, were "integrated into" the Colombian National Army, which BP paid off for years, Torres says in his complaint.

Torres claims BP's subsidiary, BP Exploration Company (BPXC), joined a group of multinational oil corporations in 1994 to form Oleoducto Central S.A. (OCENSA), which operated a pipeline in the Casanare region of Colombia.

To protect the pipeline from left-wing guerrilla attacks, the conglomerate enlisted the Colombian National Army (CNA), which in turned hired Colombian major right-wing death squad group, the AUC, to provide security, Torres says.

"By 1996, BPXC had begun providing special training on lethal techniques to its counter-guerrilla soldiers and local police in the areas of BPXC's facilities," the complaint states.

"BPXC also provided funding for boots, uniforms, food, shelter, health services, and security and communications equipment for soldiers."

Torres says he started receiving threatening calls in 2002, from people who called him a guerrilla and a communist. He says it was because he had been identified as "a leader in the labor rights movement" while working for Colombia's gas corporation Ecopetrol, and serving as a leader for the largest union in Colombia's petroleum industry.

Soon after the threats started, Torres says, he was ambushed by armed men who identified themselves as members of the AUC. He says the soldiers, who drove an OCENSA truck, handcuffed him and took him away.

"Plaintiff Torres was taken to a room, stripped of his belongings, and guarded overnight by men belonging to a group led by a paramilitary commander called 'El Mosco,' [the Mosquito]," according to the complaint.

"Plaintiff Torres could not sleep as he worried about his family and the impact that his kidnapping and likely murder would have on them."

Torres says he was bounced around from farm to farm until his captors took him to a house, shackled his wrists and ankles to a beam inside and kept him there for three days.

"During that stay, Commander Chanfle told plaintiff Torres that he was to be buried and, the following day, plaintiff Torres was taken to a pit some distance from the house in which his captors placed him in chains before installing barbed wire and mesh above his head.

"Plaintiff Torres was kept in the pit for 10 days, where he was bitten all over his body by ants and bugs, and the chains lacerated his wrists and ankles. When it rained during that period, the hole filled with water and became populated by amphibians and aquatic insects. Plaintiff Torres was forced to sit in the water for several days," the complaint states.

Three days after being dumped in the pit, Torres says, an AUC "psychologist" tried to coerce a confession of out of him, but thrust him back in the pit when he denied any connections to guerilla groups.

After being transferred to several more locations, including a hut filled with bats, where he "was chained and blindfolded" and forced to sleep on "a bed of bricks," the AUC told him his wife and son had also been abducted, in another attempt to coerce a confession, Torres says.

"Plaintiff Torres anticipated death every one of his 42 days of his sequestration," he says.

Torres says he was finally released by a Colombian Army officer, who made him tell about his wounds and his experiences on a national radio station "as a lesson to other unionists."

Torres says the torture left him with temporary paralysis of his eyes from being blindfolded, bug bites, physical wounds and significant weight loss.

After receiving more threats, Torres says, he fled the country with his family for Spain, where they have "faced the challenges of trying to find work and being underemployed, starting a new school, combating discrimination against immigrants, and coping financially without the support they enjoyed in Colombia.

Torres holds BP responsible for his physical and mental torture, and is suing the mega-corporation for torture, prolonged arbitrary detention and violating Colombian law.

He wants BP to pay compensatory and punitive damages exceeding $75,000 and attorney fees.

He is represented by Terry Collingsworth of Conrad Scherer.

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