American woman accuses U.S. troops in Haiti of mistreating her husband in jail

October 17, 1994|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite and Bill Glauber | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite and Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Correspondents

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- The American wife of an arrested member of the Haitian elite here is accusing the U.S. military of mistreating her husband and abusing the human rights it came here to introduce.

Michele McGurk Mourra, 37, wife of Gerry Mourra, 38, was allowed to visit her husband Friday for the first time since his Oct. 2 arrest.

Mrs. Mourra, a U.S. citizen, said that he was cuffed and bound at the ankles, complained of being blindfolded and gagged, and accused his U.S. interrogators of torturing him by pouring water in his nose and ears, and by using his ankle manacles to throw him onto his head.

He told her that he was allowed to shower and clean his teeth for the first time six days after his arrest.

Mr. Mourra has not been formally charged but is being held on suspicion of posing "a danger to U.S. troops," according to his wife and his lawyers.

"When I see the same U.S. troops here in Haiti 'to restore democracy,' I don't see where the democracy is," Mrs. Mourra said.

U.S. denies allegations

Col. John Altenburg, the staff judge advocate for the intervention force and its top lawyer, denied any physical mistreatment of Mr. Mourra but said yesterday that he had been blindfolded and gagged when first apprehended. His sleep was "strictly controlled," to enable shifts of interrogators to question him, he said. "He was never denied sleep."

"There has been no mistreatment of Mr. Mourra," said Colonel Altenburg in a statement responding to questions submitted by The Sun.

Despite the immediate official denial, Colonel Altenburg said that there would be a full investigation of Mrs. Mourra's allegations and that the findings would be reported to the Red Cross.

"The Military Police battalion commander is currently looking into the allegations," Colonel Altenburg said.

"We do not discuss detainees and we have no information on specific detainees," a military spokesman said."

Mr. Mourra was one of several Haitians arrested in U.S. Army sweeps on Oct. 2. Lt. Gen. Hugh Shelton, commander of the U.S. intervention force, told reporters the next day that the United States was detaining four of Haiti's "top thugs/attache/ninja chiefs."

General Shelton was believed to be referring to Mr. Mourra, 38, his brother-in-law, Alex Frombrun, 41, and his cousins, Romeo and Ramses Halloun, 38 and 34, respectively.

"Is there proof about it?" Mrs. Mourra demanded. "They are individuals. They are businessmen. They are hard-working people."

The four and other Haitian detainees were taken to an interrogation center for questioning, U.S. officials said. A staff judge advocate and a military lawyer were present "to ensure no human or other rights violations occur during the process," a spokesman said.

After questioning, detainees are entitled to a hearing, and a lawyer of the Joint Forces Judge Advocates office may recommend their release.

Officials said that United Nations Resolution 940, authorizing the use of "all necessary means," allowed them to detain Haitian or U.S. citizens presenting a threat to stability for U.S. troops here.

Mr. Mourra and Mr. Frombrun run the La Famosa tomato paste and ketchup plant here, one of the few agro-industrial businesses that managed to operate during the embargo, although at a reduced level.

Mr. Mourra, according to his wife, also had a license as a gunsmith and was contracted to repair weapons for the Port-au-Prince police.

Romeo Halloun was the chief bodyguard of former Haitian strongman Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, who fled into exile last week. The Cedras security force was known as the "Black Ninjas" because of the black masks they wore. Ramses Halloun ran a store, according to the family.

Mrs. Mourra took her three children -- Gerry, 13, Steven, 10, and Derek, 8 -- to see their father, but only the eldest was allowed in, she said. The other two were left standing on the sidewalk outside the detention center.

She complained about this to Lt. Col. David Stahl, military liaison officer to U.S. Ambassador William L. Swing. Colonel Stahl said yesterday that he had written to the military detention authorities, asking that Mrs. Mourra be allowed to take her three children to see their father. He had not received an immediate reply.

"Hopefully, it will change," said Colonel Stahl, adding that Mrs. Mourra had not complained to him about her husband's treatment. "She was certainly agitated a couple times. No doubt about that," he said.

Mrs. Mourra told The Sun that her youngest son, Derek, had not spoken a word since his father's arrest two weeks ago and that he is under psychological counseling.

"My children are very traumatized," said Mrs. Mourra, who appeared extremely tense and distraught during an hourlong interview. "They are asking for their father every minute, every second since Oct. 2. I am like a palm tree with three monkeys clinging to me."

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