Seven military personnel were arrested yesterday (Thursday) and are due to be heard in court today as part of the ongoing investigation into the deaths of two 20-year-old Commandos during training in Alcochete in September.
The detained include five military instructors as well as an army doctor and the officer in charge of the training programme.
A statement issued by the Attorney General’s office says the seven were remanded in custody on charges of “abuse of authority” and bullying tactics, which resulted in physical harm, as well as failing to provide medical assistance when needed.
Diário de Notícias points out that the first crime is punishable with a five to 12-year jail term, while the second can lead to a two-year sentence or a 240-day fine.
The case dates back to September when two soldiers – Hugo Abreu and Dylan da Silva – died after performing gruelling physical training exercises when temperatures exceeded 40ºC. Another 11 soldiers were also injured.
Shocking reports followed the incidents, claiming that one of the soldiers was forced to “eat earth” shortly before he went into convulsions.
According to Expresso newspaper, case prosecutor Cândida Vilar has said the accused treated the trainees like “disposable human beings”.
She also believes they felt a “pathological and illogical hatred of the soldiers, whom they considered inferior for not yet being part of the Commando group”.
With the suspects now in custody, a top military official from the Commando group has come out to say the arrests were unwarranted.
“None of them were going to flee nor were they a danger to anyone,” colonel Carlos Matos Gomes told Diário de Notícias. “The arrests were an extreme measure that will have a big impact on their lives and the institution itself,” he added.
Raul Cunha, a reserve army major-general, said that “it is hard to believe that the instructors are to blame”.
“The course is tough, it has to prepare men for the most demanding conditions,” he told DN, adding that the UK registered 80 deaths in these courses in just one year.
He acknowledges, however, that temperatures were incredibly high at the time and that “certain limits should not be exceeded”.