[an error occurred while processing this directive]

Colorado Springs Gazette August 20, 1997

drug surveillance missions should be ended

When troops fight crime at home, bystanders are bound to get hurt. It might well be that Marine Cpl. Clemente Banuelos was just doing his job on May 20. The trouble was, it was a job he, as a military man, should not have been doing.

A Texas grand jury decided not to bring an indictment against Banuelos for the fatal shooting of Esquiel Hernandez, Jr., an 18-year- old high school student with no criminal record. Military authorities have said Hernandez, who was tending goats in a rural area and did have a .22 rifle, had fired shots and was preparing to fire again at three camouflaged Marines when Banuelos killed him.

Texas Rangers and local prosecutors who investigated the shooting have disputed that account. An autopsy report suggests that Hernandez was not facing Banuelos when he was shot.

The grand jury apparently believed the military's version.

Whatever the specifics turn out to be, such a tragedy was virtually inevitable. Banuelos was part of a border-area drug surveillance mission when he encountered Hernandez. Such missions have been suspended pending a review.

They should be ended.

Granted, American military forces since the end of the Cold War have been used in all sorts of non-traditional ways. But the essential mission of our military is to be prepared to fight wars - to kill or neutralize as efficiently as possible people determined to be the enemy. That's not the same as the mission of law enforcement. Each requires different skills and different attitudes.

That, along with political dangers inherent when military people are deployed against U.S. citizens rather than foreign enemies, is the main reason that for most of its history the United States has not permitted military units to engage in domestic law enforcement. In fact, the Posse Comitatus laws were passed after abuses following the Civil War to control such deployment, but they were considerably weakened as the war on drugs was escalated during the first Reagan administration.

The killing of Esquiel Hernandez underlines the wisdom of the historic policy against domestic military intervention. The administration, after this review, should announce that henceforth military personnel will not be used to aid, supplement or displace domestic law enforcement.

Congress should back it up by strengthening the Posse Comitatus laws.

This article copyright 1997 the Colorado Springs Gazette and is reproduced for non-profit educational purposes only.

return to Hernandez focus page  return to DPF Texas home page

[an error occurred while processing this directive]