Atty. Gen. Dick Thornburgh's chief spokesman said Friday that he could foresee no circumstances under which the United States would return to Mexico a defendant in the torture-slaying of a U.S. drug enforcement officer, despite a federal judge's "considerable concern" about the suspect's apprehension.
David Runkel, the spokesman, also said that any threat to U.S.-Mexican cooperation on drug law enforcement stemming from the incident had "substantially lessened" after discussions Thursday between Thornburgh and Mexico's Atty. Gen. Enrique Alvarez del Castillo.
Thornburgh, meanwhile, said the Drug Enforcement Administration has confirmed that none of its personnel were present when Dr. Humberto Alvarez Machain was taken into custody in Mexico or when he was placed on an aircraft bound for El Paso, where DEA agents arrested him.
Although the DEA has not completed its investigation, Thornburgh said the agency made a preliminary report saying the "first encounter" its personnel had with Alvarez was when they took him into custody at the El Paso Airport.
But the attorney general's statement did not deal with an allegation that Alvarez had been spirited away from his Guadalajara medical office April 2 by a team organized by a DEA informant and working for a $100,000 DEA bounty.
"I can't speak to that issue," said Runkel, who issued Thornburgh's statement late Friday.
Concern about the circumstances of Alvarez's apprehension produced a threat by Alvarez del Castillo to cut off Mexican law enforcement cooperation with U.S. drug enforcers and an unusually blunt warning by Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari that his nation would not tolerate violations of its laws or sovereignty.
Runkel said Thornburgh had assured Alvarez del Castillo in face-to-face meetings Thursday at an anti-drug conference in Ixtapa, Mexico, that he had "insisted upon a full, complete and immediate investigation into the circumstances" of Alvarez's apprehension.
Thornburgh also assured his Mexican counterpart that "appropriate action would be forthcoming" after he receives a report on the incident.
On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Edward Rafeedie in Los Angeles ordered federal law enforcement officials to explain at a May 25 hearing how Alvarez was brought to Los Angeles to face charges in the 1985 murder of DEA agent Enrique S. Camarena.
When told of Rafeedie's order Friday, Runkel said he still foresaw no circumstances under which Alvarez would be returned to Mexico. Runkel had been en route back to Washington from Mexico with Thornburgh when the court acted.
According to sources in Mexico and the United States, Alvarez's apprehension was orchestrated by Los Angeles-based DEA agents working for Operation Leyenda, a task force created to capture Camarena's killers.
Alvarez's attorney, Robert K. Steinberg of Los Angeles, said at Thursday's court hearing that his client had been kidnaped from his office in Guadalajara by men who identified themselves as Mexican police and told him he was being arrested for performing an illegal abortion. The physician denied the abortion allegation, but he was taken into custody and flown to El Paso in a private plane.
Steinberg said Alvarez told him that one of the six men on the plane identified himself as a DEA agent. The attorney said his client also told him that a person had gotten off the plane in El Paso and joined the DEA agents who arrested the physician. All the other men got back on the plane, which apparently flew back to Mexico, Alvarez told his lawyer.
The lawyer said Alvarez has consistently maintained in five interviews with Steinberg, DEA agents, DEA informants and others that while he was in the house where Camarena was murdered, he did not help keep the agent alive so that he could undergo further torture--an allegation contained in the indictment.
Alvarez told DEA agents that another physician, Dr. Juan Mejia Monte, was tending to Camarena at the house, according to a DEA report obtained by The Times.
Steinberg said Mejia Monte has left Guadalajara but that Alvarez has told him the city in Mexico where he is now living and that he relayed that information early this week to the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles and to the Mexican government.
"I've asked the Mexican government to produce this guy," Steinberg said. "I've been stonewalled."
The issue of whether DEA agents took part in the alleged abduction of Alvarez in Mexico is important because of a controversial Justice Department legal finding, authorizing U.S. agents to apprehend a fugitive in a foreign country without that country's approval.
After The Times disclosed the existence of that finding, the White House and Secretary of State James A. Baker III emphasized that no such action would be taken without high-level interagency consultation. FBI Director William S. Sessions and other officials have emphasized in congressional testimony that no operation of that type has been undertaken.
Justice Department sources said there was no such interagency consultation in Alvarez's case.
Ostrow reported from Washington and Weinstein from Los Angeles.