- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 14, 2008

ROME | The colorful Swiss Guard that protects the pope is embroiled in controversy over charges that its new commander — while a police chief in Switzerland — ordered immigrant prisoners subjected to techniques of sexual humiliation made infamous by some American soldiers at Abu Ghraib in Iraq.

While Col. Daniel Anrig swore loyalty to Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican on Nov. 30 as the new chief of the Swiss Guard, the Turin, Italy, newspaper La Stampa and Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine reported that in 2003, a team of 20 masked officers under Col. Anrig’s command forced hooded prisoners to strip naked at a police center in the town of Raen-in-Ennenda, 70 miles south of Zurich.

According to the accounts, Col. Anrig ordered the techniques used as part of an operation aimed at curbing drug trafficking. The incident, in which a 16-year-old African was severely injured after he fell from the third floor of a police station, prompted complaints to Swiss authorities by Amnesty International and the Swiss Red Cross.

A Swiss judge, Christian Botschi, found that there was evidence of abuse of office and of denying personal liberty. But the case was ordered closed, and Col. Anrig ordered only to pay the legal costs of the prosecution on grounds that the officers had not acted out of malice.

Col. Anrig, now 36, has strongly denied any wrongdoing.

“At that time, as head of the police anti-crime squad, I had an investigative police job to carry out, and that is what I did,” he told the French news agency I.Media.

“One can judge the work of the police in many different ways, but I think it is legitimate. My conscience is clean,” he added. “I did nothing wrong.”

The Vatican press office declined to comment. But a Vatican source said the Holy See had been aware of the affair before Col. Anrig’s appointment.

Col. Anrig was appointed to succeed Col. Thomas Maeder, who resigned as the unit’s commander over differences with the Vatican on the future duties of the tiny corps.

Vatican watchers and human rights activists said the appointment raised questions about recruiting methods for top posts.

“There were serious human rights violations by the police officers under Anrig’s command,” said Daniel Graf, an Amnesty International spokesman in Zurich. “This was an extreme example of police getting out of hand. … Some people caught up in this raid said they had been photographed in sexually humiliating positions and that officers had simply laughed at them.”

The Swiss Guard is a favorite tourist attraction, with its feathered helmets, blue-yellow-and-red tunics and pantaloons purportedly designed by Michelangelo.

Col. Anrig is the 34th commander of the 500-year-old force, which consists of 110 Swiss Roman Catholics. Married with four children, he served as a simple halberdier, or pikeman, in the corps at age 20 in Rome before taking a degree in civil and ecclesiastical law and embarking on a career in the Swiss police, rising to the rank of commander of the force in the canton of Glarus.

The Swiss Guard has come under intense media scrutiny since a previous commander, Col. Alois Estermann, 43, was fatally shot in his apartment in the Vatican in 1998 together with his Venezuelan wife by a young lance corporal, Cedric Tournay, who subsequently shot himself.

In Geneva on Dec. 1, a local court rejected a request by attorneys for Mr. Tournay’s mother asking Swiss authorities to open a new criminal investigation into the case. Mr. Tournay’s mother claims the Holy See has not revealed the full truth of the affair. The Vatican has maintained that Mr. Tournay acted out of revenge after Col. Estermann denied the lance corporal a service medal.

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