June 19, 1998

McCaffery: Sending Troops To Border Would Be `Wrong Tool'

PHOENIX (AP) - America's national drug czar doesn't want troops along the U.S.-Mexico border.

A U.S. House-backed plan to put troops on the Southwest border ``doesn't make much sense,'' Gen. Barry McCaffrey said Monday during a visit.

McCaffrey said the plan's sponsor, Rep. James Traficant, D-Ohio, ``reached for the wrong tool'' in his effort to curtail the flow of drugs and undocumented immigrants along the 2,000-mile border with Mexico. ``What we don't want is the U.S. armed forces involved in domestic law enforcement at all.''

The plan, pending in the Senate and strongly criticized by Arizona officials, would authorize the U.S. attorney general or treasury secretary to summon troops to the border so long as they are trained in law enforcement techniques. A general authorization, it would not deploy troops.

The answer to the border drug problem lies in improved intelligence and sophisticated screening equipment to detect drugs in vehicles.

``If drugs are in 18-wheelers and rail cars, it's hard to know why you want to patrol (with military troops),'' he said.

McCaffrey said he hoped word of the plan would not further strain relations with Mexico, already tense because of a money-laundering sting operation undertaken by U.S. Customs agents in Mexico without the authorization of the Mexican government.

``It's unfortunate that neither the secretary of state, the national security adviser nor I knew about (Operation) Casablanca'' in advance, he said.

Asked if Mexico had retaliated by being less cooperative on the drug issue, McCaffrey replied, ``Not yet.''

The U.S. military already performs some border functions, including intelligence. The Air Force operates aerostats - tethered blimp-like balloons - looking for planes, and the National Guard helps unload trucks for inspection.

McCaffrey's comments came the same day that Marine Corps investigators concluded that Cpl. Clemente Banuelos was protecting a fellow Marine when he killed Esequiel Hernandez Jr. in Redford, a rural Rio Grande community 200 miles southeast of El Paso, Texas.

Hernandez, 18, was killed May 20, 1997, after crossing paths with Banuelos and three other Marines conducting anti-drug surveillance on the Rio Grande at the request of the Border Patrol.

The shooting prompted an uproar among civil rights groups and led the military to suspend armed patrols on the border.

According to the military, Hernandez, who was out herding his goats, fired at the Marines twice and had raised his .22-caliber rifle a third time when Banuelos shot him once with an M-16.

The Marine Corps statement called Hernandez's death tragic but noted it ``was not the result of a criminal act.'' An investigative report recommended against punishment for Banuelos and the other Marines who were with him.

The Marine investigation represented the fourth time the servicemen were cleared of wrongdoing in Hernandez's death.