Excess of Zeal in Camarena Case?

Conspiracies hatched in hell don't have angels as witnesses. That may explain why the U.S. Justice Department appears to have signed a pact with the devil--several devils in fact--to bring to trial suspects accused of having helped murder U.S. drug agent Enrique Camarena in 1985. Even the harsh reality of this brutal killing is unlikely to make those deals palatable to the taxpayers, footing a bill that has reached $2.7 million for payments for information, some of it from distinctly unsavory characters.

Camarena was killed by a drug gang in Guadalajara. Some key suspects in the case already have been convicted in Mexico, and two are being held in this country for trials expected to begin soon. U.S. authorities are determined to try Humberto Alvarez Machain and Ruben Zuno Arce because the two are socially prominent in Guadalajara and are presumed to be capable of avoiding prosecution in their homeland. Alvarez Machain is a doctor accused of keeping Camarena conscious while he was beaten by his captors. Zuno Arce is accused of owning the home where the agent was tortured.

Many of the witnesses against the two, unlike the well-connected Alvarez Machain and Zuno, are common criminals. The accusers include individuals suspected of drug smuggling and repeated illegal entries into this country. Most troubling of all, they also include two men suspected in another Guadalajara case that shocked the United States--the 1984 kidnaping and murder of four U.S. missionaries by a Mexican drug lord for whom the two witnesses then worked. Both witnesses are in this country and are being paid $3,000 a month by the U.S. government, much to the anger of the missionaries' relatives.

Camarena's colleagues in the Drug Enforcement Administration have spared no effort to track down suspects in his murder, even paying bounty hunters to kidnap Alvarez Machain and bring him to the United States. The latest revelations can only add to concern that Camarena's colleagues have lost perspective in their understandable zeal to avenge him. When Bill Clinton names his attorney general, he or she must take a fresh look at the Camarena case to determine whether things have gotten out of hand.

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