Pubdate: Thu, 26 Feb 2015
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2015 Los Angeles Times
Author: Chris Kraul


How DEA Agent's Slaying Led to Legalization of Extraordinary Rendition

BOGOTA, Colombia - Of all the cases of troubling corruption and 
stunning violence that have characterized the war on drugs in Latin 
America, few linger as powerfully among U.S. drug agents as the case 
of Enrique "Kiki" Camarena, who vanished on a busy street in 
Guadalajara, Mexico, in 1985 while walking to meet his wife for lunch.

His body was found nearly a month later. His skull, jaw, nose, 
cheekbones and windpipe were crushed. His ribs were broken. His head 
had been drilled with a screwdriver.

The campaign to prosecute those responsible - the tentacles went from 
Mexican police to fabled drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero - took years. 
Even today, in the Drug Enforcement Administration's offices in 
Bogota, federal agents say the Camarena case has established a steely 
template for how the U.S. pursues drug investigations in what remains 
one of the world's most perilous law enforcement terrains.

The 30-year-old case, whose anniversary has been quietly observed 
this month in DEA offices all over Latin America, opened one of the 
first windows on the brazen violence that would come to characterize 
the drug trade in Mexico.

There was another, more lasting legacy. The effort to bring 
Camarena's torturers to justice in a Los Angeles courtroom, analysts 
say, was a key legal catalyst for what came to be one of U.S. 
counter-terrorism's most controversial practices: the "extraordinary 
rendition" of suspects from foreign lands, outside the purview of 
international laws or extradition treaties.

A landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding the practice stemmed 
from the 1990 seizure by bounty hunters of a Guadalajara doctor, 
Humberto Alvarez Machain, accused of injecting drugs into Camarena to 
keep him awake during his torture.

Alvarez was bundled across the border and into the arms of U.S. 
authorities. And though he was later freed by a U.S. federal judge 
for insufficient evidence, the Supreme Court ruled in 1992 that his 
capture and involuntary transport across the border - in legal terms, 
the extraordinary rendition of a foreign citizen - was legal.

The full significance of that ruling wouldn't become clear for years, 
until after the Sept. 11 attacks, when the United States relied on 
extraordinary rendition to capture terrorism suspects and deliver 
them to "black sites" in third countries for interrogation and torture.

"It opened up an alternative to extraditions when the U.S. for 
political reasons doesn't want to go through that lengthy process," 
said Margaret Satterthwaite, a New York University law school professor.

The ruling has since been cited in at least 38 extradition-related 
cases over the last two decades, and U.S. officials say it has 
provided a powerful precedent in the prosecution of drug cases across 
the Southwest border.

"The real impact of the ruling was the message it sent to drug 
traffickers who think they have things greased in Mexico by paying 
off officials," said Jimmy Gurule, the former assistant U.S. attorney 
in Los Angeles who brought the first indictments against Camarena's 
assailants. "That won't necessarily do you any good if the DEA can 
get their hands on you."

The Camarena case gripped Southern California through much of the 
1980s, as prosecutors sought to identify the killers and bring them 
to the United States for trial with little cooperation from the 
Mexican government.

Camarena was a former Calexico, Calif., police officer who had worked 
for the DEA in Calexico and Fresno before transferring to 
Guadalajara. Before his disappearance, Camarena's undercover work and 
development of an extensive informant network had led to seizures of 
hundreds of tons of marijuana in fields in northern Mexico. The 
fields were controlled by a Guadalajara-based drug trafficking ring 
led by Caro Quintero, one of the early pioneers of the drug trade in Mexico.

"Kiki started hitting big people hard and they couldn't understand 
where he was getting his intel," recalled former DEA agent and 
Camarena friend Tony Ayala. "He brought a lot of attention to himself."

After being captured, Camarena was taken to a house occupied by Caro 
Quintero in a wealthy neighborhood. Audiotapes of his interrogation 
and torture discovered later indicated his killers were after the 
identity of his informants, said Jack Lawn, who headed the DEA from 
1985 to 1990. He believes the tapes were made "so the high-ups could 
listen in and know what Kiki knew."

Gurule, who is now a law professor at the University of Notre Dame, 
immediately focused his investigation on Caro Quintero, who had made 
threats to U.S. agents in Mexico, but found that the drug trafficker 
was protected by high-level Mexican officials who refused to hand 
over evidence or grant access to the suspect.

"The Mexican government was either unwilling or unable to investigate 
or bring to justice those involved," said Robert Bonner, who was U.S. 
attorney in Los Angeles at the time and went on to head the DEA from 
1990 to 1993. "No Mexicans were ever prosecuted in Mexico for his murder."

In January 1988, nearly three years after Camarena's death, Gurule's 
office unsealed indictments charging Caro Quintero and four others 
with murder and four others with being accessories to murder after 
the fact. Over the next two years, a dozen more people would be added 
to the Camarena murder charges, including the head of Mexico's 
federal judicial police, the head of Mexico's Interpol office and the 
now-deceased brother-in-law of former Mexican President Luis Echeverria.

U.S. prosecutors would ultimately obtain 14 convictions, but not of 
the suspect they wanted most: Caro Quintero. Mexico arrested and 
convicted him of drug trafficking and sentenced him to 30 years in 
prison. But Mexican officials denied U.S. requests to interview him, 
much less extradite him, and to the consternation of law enforcement 
officials in the U.S., he was released in 2013. He remains an 
international fugitive.

Jay Bergman, regional director of the DEA's Andean office in Bogota, 
said the Camarena case has prompted the agency to respond much more 
seriously to threats, overheard through informants or wiretaps, 
against U.S. agents overseas.

"Because of the Camarena case, even the mere allegation of a threat 
is the tripwire that unleashes DEA's fury," Bergman said. "Our 
overwhelming response may defy conventional wisdom, as the rule book 
of proportionality just doesn't apply. But the message is loud and 
clear: Just thinking about harming an agent will turn your world upside down."

Ayala, who retired from the DEA, keeps a picture of his friend on a 
shelf in his home in Texas.

"Sometimes I feel we failed him," Ayala said of the hours after 
Camarena was kidnapped. "I put myself in his place and think his hope 
was that somehow his friends would appear at any moment, crashing 
doors, screaming loudly, and he would be free.

"But we never came."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom