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Thornburgh Untroubled by Doctor’s Abduction

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Atty. Gen. Dick Thornburgh said Thursday that he is not troubled by the recent abduction of a Mexican doctor in Guadalajara to stand trial in Los Angeles, saying that “how a person gets here (for trial) is not a material concern.”

The incident prompted sharp protests from Mexican leaders, but Thornburgh said the seizure was justified because the doctor is accused of a particularly “heinous crime” and because his actual abduction was carried out by Mexicans.

“I place the integrity and value of the life of American citizens No. 1,” he said.

Thornburgh’s comments, made in an interview with the Associated Press, signal that U.S. prosecutors are willing to endorse hard-ball tactics to seize high-profile drug criminals, even at the expense of offending foreign governments.

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Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari bitterly denounced the kidnaping of Guadalajara gynecologist Humberto Alvarez Machain, calling it a violation of his nation’s sovereignty.

Alvarez is suspected of involvement in the torture and murder of U.S. drug agent Enrique S. Camarena by drug traffickers in February, 1985. Since then, a team of federal drug agents has carried on an extraordinary campaign to bring the killers and their accomplices to justice.

Controversy over that campaign heightened last month when Mexican bounty hunters seized Alvarez and flew him to El Paso airport, where he was arrested by agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration. While Thornburgh and top DEA officials maintained that the kidnaping was the doing of Mexican--not American--officials, a longtime DEA operative in Los Angeles told The Times that he had planned the abduction with the approval of U.S. agents.

On May 25, U.S. District Judge Edward Rafeedie will conduct a hearing in Los Angeles to have DEA officials explain how Alvarez was brought here. On Thursday, the attorney general said the focus should be on the crime allegedly committed by the Mexican doctor.

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“This case has to do with the prosecution of Dr. Alvarez Machain, an individual who is charged with . . . using his medical skills to keep alive an American citizen who was being tortured so that he could be tortured some more,” he said.

Regarding the dispute between the United States and Mexico, Thornburgh admitted that there are “misunderstandings that crop up on a day-to-day basis between neighbors who are dealing with the same problem.” But he added, “Whatever actions are carried out by Mexican authorities in Mexico are of no moment to us.”


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