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Congressman alleges mistreatment at Vieques

Gutierrez was detained by military police during protests in Vieques, Puerto Rico
Gutierrez was detained by military police during protests in Vieques, Puerto Rico  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Illinois, said Friday he and others protesting naval bombing exercises last weekend in Vieques, Puerto Rico, were handcuffed and held for 24 hours in a former dog kennel, where they slept on concrete with roaches and lizards crawling around them.

"After the arrest, the congressman and a group of the protesters were taken to an abandoned dog kennel with no roof, where they were forced to kneel on the floor and housed overnight as it rained," said Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo-Vila, D-Puerto Rico, in a speech on the floor of the House.

"More than 24 hours passed before Gutierrez and members of his group were allowed to make a phone call," he said.

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A spokesman for the U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command, while acknowledging that the accommodations were Spartan, called the allegations "patently false." A plastic tarp covered the detainees' rooms throughout their stay, said Lt. Jeff Gordon.

"Logistics forced that," he said, noting that the island has little infrastructure -- the delay in making phone calls was caused by the lack of telephones in the building, he said. "There are only a few buildings here. All of them were used by the Navy, security and U.S. marshals. We already had to scramble to provide for them."

Still, Gutierrez and the 180 others who were detained during the protests were kept in an old carpentry shop, not a former kennel, Gordon said.

The Navy spokesman said Gutierrez had been cuffed for 20 hours, not 24, with plastic cuffs that bound his hands loosely in front of him.

Reports of exposure at night are overblown, Gordon said. "It's the tropics. It wasn't roach- or lizard-infested. They're little ones. Everybody has them. We're not talking slimy green lizards, we're talking little geckos.

"These are the people who broke the law. They can't make their point in court or through scientific means, so they're trying this.

"This is just a vicious disinformation campaign."

Gutierrez was among dozens of protesters taken into custody by military police and U.S. marshals for trying to interfere with the bombing exercises that began last week. Gutierrez posted bond Tuesday.

Other notables detained included Puerto Rican Independence Party President Ruben Barrios, environmental lawyer Robert Kennedy Jr., son of the late senator, and actor Edward James Olmos.

The critics contend that the bombing has resulted in a higher-than-normal incidence of cancers and that the noises associated with the bombing have caused other ailments, charges denied by the Navy.

Controversy over the exercises has grown since October 1999, when an errant bomb killed a civilian security guard.



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RELATED SITES:
Vieques Island, Puerto Rico
  • History of Vieques Island
Vieques Libre
Government of Puerto Rico - Office of the Governor
U.S. Navy
  • Activities on the Island of Vieques
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia
  • Judge Gladys Kessler
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
U.S. Department of Justice

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