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Operation Payback


When police use their power to carry out personal vendettas, innocent people suffer.

Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies conducted a massive nationwide roundup of drug trafficking suspects this week, arresting more than a 450 people on narcotics-related charges. The sweeps, which were dubbed Operation Fallen Hero, were a response to the killing of Immigrations and Customs agent Jaime Zapata, who was shot dead on a highway in Mexico 10 days ago. Senior agency officials (tacitly) conceded that the dragnet had nothing to do with impartially enforcing the law, but was a reprisal for the untimely murder of their colleague.

According to the New York Times:

“Louie Garcia, a deputy special immigration and customs agent involved with the sweeps, echoed that thought in an interview with The Associated Press. “This is personal,” he said. “We lost an agent. We lost a good agent. And we have to respond.” (“Drug Raids Across U.S. Net Hundreds of Suspects”, New York Times)

Garcia’s admission that the roundup was motivated by “personal” considerations, proves that drug enforcement agencies are using their power to settle scores. If that’s the case, then the public should question whether the suspects who were arrested are really criminals at all or merely undocumented workers and other minor offenders who were caught up in the dragnet. People should also wonder why these so-called criminals weren’t picked up before this week’s raids if the police knew where they were located and what crimes they had committed. Garcia’s comments just reinforce the belief that the police are unwilling to perform their duties unless one of their own has been killed.

“If you attack a U.S. law enforcement officer, we are not going to back down,” said Derek Maltz, special agent in charge of special operations for the Drug Enforcement Administration.” (LA Times)

No one expects the police to “back down”, nor do they expect them to go on a rampage and incarcerate hundreds of people who had nothing to do with Zapata’s death.

From the LA Times: “Authorities said the sweeps were a direct response to the slaying of Zapata, who was the highest-profile U.S. law enforcement officer killed in Mexico since DEA agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena was kidnapped and tortured by drug gangs in 1985.”

So, 3,000 federal, state and local law enforcement agents were deployed in this misguided muscle-flexing exercise to send a message to Mexican druglords that US agencies are prepared to “get tough”? Is that it? Unfortunately, the sweeps merely prove that the police are flying blind and haven’t the slightest idea how to deal with the problem, so they’ve returned to the same tit-for-tat failed strategy that’s been used for the last 30 years. As always, the latest failure was accompanied by a press conference where bulging bags of cocaine and kilos of marijuana were stacked three feet high so the media could “Ooo and Ahhh” over the DEA’s latest triumph. Meanwhile, the 450 victims of this fiasco are spending their time in the hoosegow before being deported to Mexico. This is justice?

On Wednesday, President Obama called Mexico’s president Felipe Calderon and thanked him for arresting a number of suspects in the Zapata investigation. According to the Associated Press: “Obama told Calderon that neither the United States nor Mexico could tolerate violence against those who protect and serve the citizens.”

Right. More than 35,000 people have been killed in the last four years in the battle between the drug cartels and the Mexican military, and Obama says he will not “tolerate violence”?

Wake up and smell the coffee, Barack.

White House Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske issued this statement following the announcement of the mass arrests on Wednesday:

“Today’s forceful crackdown demonstrates that the United States will never back down from the threats posed by barbaric criminal organizations that smuggle poisons into our communities and have no regard for innocent human life.”

Once again, more tough talk and Rambo-style law enforcement. It hasn’t worked so far, and it won’t work now. The War on Drugs has always been a way of diverting attention from the deeply-rooted social issues that cause drug abuse. It’s time to put an end the carnage and try a different approach.

MIKE WHITNEY lives in Washington state. He can be reached at

MIKE WHITNEY lives in Washington state. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press). Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at

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