Body Snatching International Fugitives

In the 1978 movie Going South, Jack Nicholson portrays an Old West horse thief. The opening scene has him being pursued frantically by a posse of lawmen. Nicholson ultimately races across a river, then drops to his knees and begins to celebrate. He douses himself in water as he taunts the lawmen "Ha-ha, this river ends your jurisdiction. You didn't get me. I'm a free man. Ha ha." Needless to say, the lawmen (including John Belushi, making his film debut) are disappointed. But as they look around the barren terrain of the U.S./Mexican border, they realize no one is watching. They promptly cross the river, kick Nicholson's butt, take him into custody and drag him back across the river. Far be it from Old West lawmen to let a half dry river or a line on a map stop them from delivering justice.

Fast forward about 100 years to February 1985, when DEA Special Agent Enrique Camarena-Salazar was investigating drug trafficking in Mexico. The Mexican drug cartel did not appreciate the American agent's enforcement efforts, and abducted him. The cartel took the agent to a house in Guadalajara, Mexico. Anxious to find out what the DEA knew about their operation, these Mexican drug dealers tortured and interrogated Special Agent Camarena-Salazar. After two days, the Mexican drug cartel murdered the U.S. special agent and buried his body in a nearby park.

After conducting an investigation that included interviewing several eyewitnesses, U.S. investigators wanted to charge Dr. Humberto Alvarez-Machain, a Mexican citizen, as a participant in the murder. According to the investigation, Dr. Alvarez-Machain had used his medical training to keep Special Agent Camarena-Salazar alive, "prolonging Agent Camarena's life so that others could further torture and interrogate him." Dr. Alvarez-Machain was indicted by a federal grand jury; in 1990, a warrant for his arrest was issued. The DEA attempted to persuade Mexican officials to turn the doctor over, but Mexico refused. U.S. investigators were furious that our neighbor to the south would harbor and protect someone who had allegedly killed one of our own lawmen. Certainly, the United States could not allow a cop killer to run free just across the border. If the Mexican government would not get him, then we would go get him ourselves. Was a line on a map going to stop them from delivering justice?

U.S. officials enlisted the aid of Mexican citizens to act as bounty hunters. In April 1990, these Mexican bounty hunters kidnapped Dr. Alvarez-Machain from his office and forcibly delivered him to U.S. authorities to face justice. Despite the protests of the Mexican government, the doctor would stand trial in the United States for a crime committed against a United States agent. This cannot be a country that allows a murder to go unpunished, just because the perpetrator makes it to the other side of a river. Any country harboring murder suspects should be aware justice will be delivered, with or without their cooperation.

So, should the United States be expecting a visit from foreign law enforcement officials? It seems that Cuba believes it is the United States that is harboring and protecting a murderer--and not the average murderer. The United States is home to Luis Posada Carriles. Posada has been called "the very embodiment of the international terrorist." It is alleged that he organized the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner, killing 73 people. It is also alleged that he is a terrorist and CIA operative trained by the United States. He worked for Batista's secret police, informing on supporters of Fidel Castro. It is alleged that Posada has bombed Cuban embassies around the world and that he organized the sale of drugs to purchase Iranian weapons for Nicaraguan contras (the Iran-Contra scandal). In 1997, Posada was tied to a number of bombings in fashionable Cuban nightclubs and hotels. He supposedly had a hand in an assassination plot against Fidel Castro, when Castro visited Panama in 2000. The bombing of the airliner operated was orchestrated from Venezuela, where Posada is a citizen. Venezuela, counting on the United States' War on Terror, is expecting the U.S. to extradite Posada, so he can stand trial for his alleged terrorist acts. Cuba is also hoping for a (judicial) shot at Mr. Posada.

Posada would be easy enough for the United States to find. In May 2005, after being interviewed in Miami area newspapers, Posada was arrested for entering the United States illegally. He was charged with seven counts of immigration fraud. An immigration judge ruled that Posada could not be extradited to either Venezuela or Cuba because he may face torture there.

Posada was held in a jail in New Mexico until bail was raised. Posada was then on house arrest at his home in Miami. Venezuelan and Cuban officials were furious that the United States would hold a man they perceive to be a dangerous international terrorist on relatively light charges, and allow him to lounge around his house, waiting for trial. The Cuban government states the White House "made all the efforts necessary to protect the bin Laden of the hemisphere, [out of] fear that he could have talked and recount the whole history about the U.S. government links with his terrorists' activities."

I don't remember what happened to Jack Nicholson and his charges of horse stealing. Dr. Alvarez-Machain spent 2 years in federal custody. In December 1992, he was acquitted by a trial judge of having any involvement in the murder of DEA Special Agent Enrique Camarena-Salazar. The court slammed the government's case, stating it was based on "hunches" and the "wildest speculation." Alvarez-Machain returned to Mexico, where he promptly sued the U.S. government and his abductors. Dr. Alvarez-Machain was ultimately awarded $25,000. In May, 2007, the seven counts of immigration fraud against Luis Posada-Carriles were dropped. The judge found procedural mistakes so egregious that she felt "the government's tactics in this case are so grossly shocking and so outrageous [they] violate the universal sense of justice." Luis Posada Carriles is a free man, last seen walking the streets in Miami.

As international terrorism grows and technology shrinks the world, international fugitives will become a larger and larger issue for American law enforcement. We certainly cannot live in a country where once someone crosses a border, they are free from prosecution. But if we are to expect cooperation from the international community, we must be prepared to cooperate. Midnight kidnapping forays into other sovereign nations is no way to run a justice system. But we cannot be hypercritical and do it to other countries if we do not want it done to us. The international law enforcement community should look back on the failures (and successes) of the past and take positive action to ensure there is a reasonable apparatus in place to secure justice for fugitives in foreign countries. Otherwise, those aren't countries; they're just lines on a map.