I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

In the other "war" -- more of the same

(updated below - Update II)

This lengthy and extremely well-documented investigative article from the British newspaper The Observer has to be read to be believed. Although the subject of the investigation (the U.S. Government's conduct as part of its "war on drugs") receives little attention in the U.S., the incident reported by the Observer powerfully highlights exactly what the Bush administration is and how its "Homeland Security" Department operates (most of the original investigative reporting for this story was actually done by the online anti-drug-war newsletter, Narco News, a fact which The Observer should have but failed to acknowledge).

I really recommend reading the Observer article in its entirety, although though I will summarize the basic facts. In 2000, agents from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Department (ICE) -- part of the Department of Homeland Security -- recruited Guillermo Ramirez Peyro, known as "Lalo," to work as an informant for ICE as part of its investigation into a Mexican drug cartel which operated close to the Texas border. ICE was intent on gathering enough information to indict high-level Mexican drug traffickers, and they paid "Lalo" more than $220,000 to work as a spy for them, including the wearing of a wire.

In August, 2003, Lalo's cartel boss ordered him to participate in the murder of a Mexican lawyer. Lalo participated in the murder -- which was extremely brutal -- while wearing the wire supplied to him by ICE. The ICE agents thus became aware that the cartel they were investigating was murdering people and that their own informant was participating in those murders -- even as he wore their wire.

After the initial murder, the ICE agents sought permission to continue using Lalo as their informant. Permission was given by high-level Justice Department officials in both Texas and Washington, including several Texans who are very close associates of both George Bush and Alberto Gonzales:

The information went up the chain of command, eventually reaching America's Deputy Assistant Attorney General, John G. Malcolm. It passed through the office of Johnny Sutton, the US Attorney for Western Texas - a close associate of George W. Bush. When Bush was Texas governor, Sutton spent five years as his director of criminal justice policy. After Bush became President, Sutton became legal policy co-ordinator in the White House transition team, working with another Bush Texas colleague, Alberto Gonzalez (sic), the present US Attorney General.

Earlier this year Sutton was appointed chairman of the Attorney General's advisory committee which, says the official website, 'plays a significant role in determining policies and programmes of the department and in carrying out the national goals set by the President and the Attorney General'. Sutton's position as US Attorney for Western Texas is further evidence of his long friendship with the President - falling into his jurisdiction is Midland, the town where Bush grew up, and Crawford, the site of Bush's beloved ranch.

Permission was given by Homeland Security and the DOJ to continue to work with Lalo. Over the course of the next six months, Lalo directly participated in the murder of 13 different Mexicans, usually extremely brutal murders, and all with the knowledge of ICE. Despite one murder after the next being perpetrated by their paid informant, they never intervened (even though they obviously, by that point, had more than enough evidence to do so). Instead, they continued to seek and obtain permission from the Justice Department to continue to work with (and pay) Lalo, now a serial murderer.

On January 14, 2004, Lalo kidnapped Luis Padilla in El Paso, Texas, drove him across the Mexican border, and then murdered him along with two other Mexcians, all while wearing an ICE wire. It was later revealed that Padilla -- who had lived in the U.S. (legally) since childhood and at the time with living (legally) in Texas with his wife and three children -- had nothing to do with any cartels and was abducted by Lalo as a matter of mistaken identity.

At around the same time, members of Lalo's cartel-- the cartel which ICE knowingly allowed to go on murdering -- went to the home of an undercover DEA agent in order to kill him (they obtained his identity and home address by torturing an informant). The DEA agent barely escaped with his wife and daughters, though sheer luck.

The DEA had not known about ICE's ongoing work with Lalo. They thought, naturally, that ICE severed its connection to him once he began murdering people while wearing an ICE wire. But after the DEA's agent and immediate family were almost murdered by the cartel, they found out that ICE was still working with Lalo and they reacted with extreme anger (obviously):

On 24 February, Sandy Gonzalez, the Special Agent in Charge of the DEA office in El Paso, one of the most senior and highly decorated Hispanic law enforcement officers in America, wrote to his Ice counterpart, John Gaudioso:

'I am writing to express to you my frustration and outrage at the mishandling of investigation that has resulted in unnecessary loss of human life,' he began, 'and endangered the lives of special agents of the DEA and their immediate families. There is no excuse for the events that culminated during the evening of 14 January... and I have no choice but to hold you responsible.' Ice, Gonzalez wrote, had gone to 'extreme lengths' to protect an informant who was, in reality, a 'homicidal maniac... this situation is so bizarre that, even as I'm writing to you, it is difficult for me to believe it'.

Once the DEA's Gonzalez put these accusations in writing, the Bush Justice Department responded boldly and vigorously . . . by attacking, threatening and ultimately forcing the retirement of the DEA's Gonzales -- the whistleblower who brought this to light -- for the crime of complaining about it and putting it in writing, thereby risking discovery of what ICE had done (with the permission of the DOJ). Not only was no action taken against the perpetrators, but they were actively protected.

Specifically, U.S. Attorney Sutton -- the long-time Texas associate of George Bush and Alberto Gonzales -- used his DOJ connections, including with John Ashcroft, to have the entire matter concealed and have the DEA's Gonzalez threatened:

Gonzalez was told that Sutton was 'extremely upset'. Gonzalez, who had enjoyed glittering appraisals throughout his 30-year career, was told he would be downgraded. On 4 May, DEA managers in Washington sent him a letter. It said that, if he quietly retired before 30 June, he would be given a 'positive' reference for future employers. If he refused, a reference would dwell on his 'lapse'. Gonzalez resigned, and launched a lawsuit - part of which is due to come to court tomorrow.

So, to recap -- Homeland Security agents at ICE were so obsessed with building a case for drug trafficking that they knowingly stood by and continued to work with and pay a murderous psychopath who brutally murdered innocent people (Mexicans, that is) while being recorded by Homeland Security agents. Despite that, they continued to receive permission from the highest levels of the DOJ to maintain their connections with him. And when a 30-year DEA agent complained about this -- after one of his agents and the agent's family was almost slaughtered as a result -- the DOJ sided with Bush's Texas cronies and threatened and punished the whistleblower with all sorts of recriminations (despite 30 years of exemplary service).

What kind of morally deranged people are working in Homeland Security and the Justice Department? (The same type responsible for this). Who would just sit idly by knowing the exact identity of serial murderers and do nothing to stop them, even continue to work with them and pay them, as they continue to slaughter more and more people? As The Observer noted with exasperation:

Now, as a result of documents disclosed in three separate court cases, it is becoming clear that [Luis Padilla's] murder, along with at least 11 further brutal killings, at the Juarez 'House of Death', is part of a gruesome scandal, a web of connivance and cover-up stretching from the wild Texas borderland to top Washington officials close to President Bush. . . .

The US agencies and officials in this saga - all of which refused to comment, citing pending lawsuits - appear to have thought it more important to get information about drugs trafficking than to stop its perpetrators killing people.

The US media have virtually ignored this story. The Observer is the first newspaper to have spoken to Janet Padilla, and this is the first narrative account to appear in print.

And the DEA's Gonzalez said:

If Congress and the media start to look at this properly, they will be horrified. It needs a special prosecutor, as with the case of Valerie Plame. But Valerie is a nice-looking white person and the victims here are brown. Nobody gives a shit.

All the familiar elements are here. The Bush administration acts without legal or moral limits. When the conduct is uncovered, it is the whistleblower who is punished. Virtually no American media outlet is even slightly interested, and we have to rely upon an Internet newsletter and British newspaper to do the heavy investigative work.

And if any of this ever were actively discussed here -- and, really, why would it be? -- all of it will be justified by invoking scary bogeymen, in this case the dark Mexican drug lords instead of the dark Arab Terrorists. The one thing you can say about the Bush administration is that they act in accordance with a very consistent template.

UPDATE: As police officer (and periodic commenter here) Diana Powe points out in this excellent comment, there is a reporter at the Dallas Morning News, Alfredo Corchado, who has been reporting on this story quite vigilantly. See, for instance, here and here. The Observer article alluded to Corchado's work.

Independently, Officer Powe's argument against the "drug war" underscores an increasing trend among law enforcement officers of all types who are now actively opposing drug prohibition laws.

UPDATE II: The actual letter from the DEA's Gonzalez to the ICE agent is here (.pdf), located at Narco News' superb collection of documents relating to this matter (and similar ones) (h/t Karson). Gonzalez's letter (which was clearly an attempt by him to record his version of events with regard to the DEA's dispute with ICE) provides even more details concerning the complicity of ICE agents (and, by effect, the DOJ) in the multiple murders committed by its informant.

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