Murder and Kidnapping Are Wrong

December 20, 1992

While one U.S. court approves the kidnapping of Humberto Alvarez Machain in Mexico for trial in the this country, another court finds the evidence against him unsupported. This places the United States in the position of claiming the right to kidnap innocent persons from countries with which it has extradition treaties. That will not do.

Enrique Camarena Salazar, an agent of the Drug Enforcement Agency, was kidnapped, tortured, interrogated and murdered by narcotics traffickers in Mexico in 1985. The DEA understandably wants to protect its own and bring these murderers to justice. In 1990, Mexican bounty hunters employed by the DEA kidnapped Dr. Alvarez in Guadalajara, Mexico, and delivered him to U.S. authorities in El Paso, Texas.

That year, Judge Edward Rafeedie of U.S. District Court in Los Angeles dismissed the government's case, saying the kidnapping violated international law. Last June, the Supreme Court overruled him, saying U.S.-Mexican treaties permitted use bounty hunters. Mexicans were outraged, foreign governments indignant.

Dr. Alvarez stood trial for administering drugs to keep Mr. Camarena alive and conscious enough to answer questions during torture. Judge Rafeedie heard two weeks of testimony and acquitted him without letting a jury deliberate. Acquittal means that Dr. Alvarez may never again be tried in this country for this crime. And for that, the U.S. must endure the opprobrium his kidnapping brought on.

Everything about this affair is unsatisfactory. The trial brought evidence that Dr. Alvarez was present during the torture, if not direct evidence of his administering drugs. Testimony in the related and continuing trial of Ruben Zuno Arce, brother-in-law of former President Luis Echeverria Alvarez, implicates high Mexican officials. Americans have good reason to demand greater Mexican zeal in prosecuting narco-terrorism, even while Mexicans remain angry at Washington claiming the right to kidnap them. Both sets of suspicions poison the climate for the North American Free Trade Agreement, which both nations need.

Americans would resist any nation trying to kidnap Americans here for trial abroad. So we better not claim the right to do it to others. As the Supreme Court upheld that right, the State Department better renounce it and write the renunciation into treaty revisions, which it seems to be doing with Mexico. The government of President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, however, must convince Americans of its efforts to suppress drug corruption, if it wants congressional approval of NAFTA.

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