CAPE TOWN July 14 1997 - SAPA

POLICEMAN TELLS TRC HOW YENGENI CRACKED UNDER TORTURE

A police captain seeking amnesty for the torture of Umkhonto we Sizwe guerillas on Monday named African National Congress MP Tony Yengeni as one of the activists he forced to talk after subjecting him to the "wet-bag" method.

Captain Jeff Benzien, once considered to be one of the most notorious security policemen in the Western Cape, appeared before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's amnesty committee in Cape Town to apologise for past human rights abuses.

Benzien, who was promoted to the rank of captain in May, is now a member of the SA Police Service's air wing in Cape Town.

Among his former torture victims were Yengeni, Gary Kruser (now police VIP protection unit head), Ashley Forbes, Alan Mamba (now a member of the SAPS), Anwar Dramat (SAPS member) and Peter Jacobs (SAPS member).

Some of them, including Yengeni and Kruser, were at Benzien's amnesty hearing on Monday to hear his apology.

Benzien, who is also seeking amnesty for the death of MK guerilla Ashley Kriel, said there were many incidents which he could not remember taking part in.

"I also apply for amnesty for cases I can't remember. If given sufficient information I would like to be able to help the commission."

As a member of the security police's terrorist tracking unit in the mid-1980s, he said he received orders from his commanding officer William Liebenburg - who has also applied for amnesty - to use "unconventional questioning methods".

One such method involved placing a wet bag over the victim's face to disorientate him and induce a feeling of suffocation.

The detainees were assaulted with flat hands, not fists, to ensure that no tell-tale marks were left on their bodies.

All his torture victims, with the exception of Forbes, provided information on weapons caches and sympathisers within one torture session, he said.

Each session lasted about 30 minutes.

Forbes required two sessions while Jacobs was subjected to the wet-bag method for slightly longer than 30 minutes.

"I questioned Forbes for six months. Apart from those two occasions when I questioned him with unconventional methods, we built up a good rapport.

"He provided me with exceptionally good information."

When Yengeni and his comrades claimed during their trial that they had been tortured, Benzien said he perjured himself in denying their allegations.

Benzien said he believed his "unorthodox conduct" had made "a big difference" in combating of terrorism.

"I wanted to protect and maintain the previous government and to prevent the community losing confidence in the government," he said in justifying why he committed human rights abuses.


South African Press Association, 1997
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