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Houston Chronicle August 20, 1997

Marines are trained to kill, not read people their rights

The young Marine who fatally shot 18-year-old Esequiel Hernandez Jr. as he herded goats near his home on the Rio Grande border last May has been cleared by a Presidio County grand jury.

The grand jurors found Cpl. Clemente Banuelos, 22, and members of his Marine team, working in cooperation with the U.S. Border Patrol, were following the "rules of engagement" when he shot the teen-ager after the youth fired at them or at least in their direction.

The whole incident is a tragedy, of course. As best is known, young Hernandez had nothing to do with drugs or drug smuggling. He was merely herding his family's goats, as he had done many times near their home in Redford.

Whether he saw the camouflaged Marines, spotted a movement or was firing his .22-caliber rifle innocently remains unknown.

But the Marines say they believed Hernandez was firing at them. One shot from Banuelos killed Hernandez.

The lesson here is that military personnel should not be assigned to civilian police duties. They are trained to kill, not to make arrests.

Former Defense Secretary Cap Weinberger is said to have once told a congressional committee in the 1980s that police officers were trained to read people their rights, and his military personnel were trained to kill people. There is much truth to that.

The smuggling of drugs in South Texas and across the entire U.S.- Mexico border is a growing problem.

But nonmilitary law enforcement officers such as Border Patrol agents should handle the enforcement of civilian law -- not Marines, who are trained for war, trained to kill.

It is a sign that drug smuggling is out of hand and that the federal government has lost control when this country resorts to using Marines to enforce civilian law. Constitutional questions arise, as do concerns that every day Marines spend enforcing that civilian law, or training to do so, is a day lost to their most important job, national defense.

More civilian law enforcement officers are needed on the border. That more haven't been recruited, trained and assigned the task has been irresponsible, shortsighted and deadly.

This article copyright 1997 the Houston Chronicle and is reproduced for non-profit educational purposes only.

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