U.S. Concern Over Prisoner Release in Mexico

The premature release from prison of a notorious Mexican drug lord has provoked reactions of concern and indignation from the United States government.

Rafael Caro Quintero was set free on a dubious technicality by Mexican authorities last Friday, after serving 28 years of a 40-year sentence. He had been convicted of the 1985 kidnapping, torture and murder of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique Camarena, and is still sought for extradition to the U.S. to face charges there.

Furthermore, Quintero’s release might not be the only one. As the White House noted, another individual connected to Camarena’s killing could also be released.

In a statement picked up by news services around the world, the USDEA said, “We are deeply concerned…”

Indeed, who would not be? Who can be undisturbed and remain silent in the face of such an egregious reversal of justice? What about the feelings of Camarena’s family and friends? What about the future victims of this vicious, unrepentant criminal? (The U.S. alleged as recently as June that Quintero continued to run an extensive drug ring from behind bars.) How can the Mexican government, supposedly friends and partners in trade and law enforcement with the United States, be so heartless to the innocent victims, so indifferent to justice and the rule of law?

These are surely the questions that run through the mind of any decent, fair-minded person in the U.S. government or elsewhere who is aware of the case.

But there is an additional question that runs through our minds as we read about it, but which was not mentioned in the various media reports, though it seems obvious to us. Namely: How is it that that the United States government’s “deep concern” was in no way evident in another case of early prisoner release — that of the 104 Palestinian terrorists from Israeli prisons?

On the contrary, Secretary of State John Kerry was the principal instrument of Palestinian demands, urging and instigating for the release, pressuring the Israelis in his quiet way to effect the freeing of men who have not served out their sentences, men who are guilty not of the murder of a single American agent, but of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of killed, maimed and traumatized civilians. Not one or two criminals, but 104 of them.

Nor are these prisoners repentant. They have not expressed remorse for the atrocities they committed. And presumably, like those who were released in exchange for Gilad Shalit, many will return — despite any pro forma statements they may be asked to sign to the contrary, and after receiving full national honors from the Palestinian Authority — to terrorist activity against those who today set them free.

How can the American government ask this of Israel, when it finds the very same thing so outrageous in Mexico?

The answer no doubt lies in the purpose of the prisoner release. In Mexico, the authorities cited administrative grounds, saying Quintero had been improperly tried in a federal court for state crimes, and then blithely evaded the demand for prosecution in the U.S. Why? More likely it had more to do with a corrupt judiciary, and the influence of rich and powerful criminals who can get their man out of prison, albeit after many years, than any regard for some newly discovered legality.

In the Middle East, on the other hand, a lofty goal justifies the iniquity. That goal is, of course, peace. As the reasoning goes, making peace, and thereby saving the untold future victims of war and terrorism, is the end which justifies the present means, however repugnant.

This, in fact, was one of the arguments of the state of Israel in a High Court hearing on Sunday of a petition by families of terrorist victims to enjoin the prisoner release. The government invoked security considerations, on the grounds that the prisoner release could lead to an improved security situation by potentially resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Or, in other words: Releasing terrorists will make you safer.

If peace were actually at hand, such calculations might be worth considering. But as matters stand, everyone but the U.S. Secretary of State seems to realize that the chances of these talks leading to peace are virtually nil. Whether the current negotiations are the latest display of naïveté on a global scale, a cynical exercise in scoring diplomatic points, or simply a result of buckling under U.S. pressure, is beyond our ken.

In the meantime, we can only express our “deep concern” for such a double standard.