Border Agents Treated Worse Than Terror Suspects, Congressmen Say

Border Agents Treated Worse Than Terror Suspects, Congressmen Say

Fred Lucas
Staff Writer
Capitol Hill ( –
October 17, 2007

Calling the treatment of two imprisoned border agents worse than the treatment of suspected terrorists, several House Republicans demanded that Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey pledge to review the case when he takes office.

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday will begin the confirmation hearing for Mukasey, nominated last month by President George W. Bush to be the next attorney general. His nomination follows the departure of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales after months of turmoil in the Justice Department.

“If this new attorney general is unwilling to look into this, he doesn't deserve to be attorney general,” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) said.

Rohrabacher was joined by four other House Republicans who have been vocal advocates of ex-Border Patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean, sentenced to 11 and 12 years, respectively, for shooting a Mexican drug smuggler in the buttocks as he fled back to Mexico.

The smuggler, Osvaldo Aldrete Davila, was given immunity to testify against the two agents and is suing the federal government for $5 million.

Referring to Defense Department and Bureau of Prison documents, Rohrabacher's office compared the treatment of Ramos and Compean and some of the enemy combatants detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

While Ramos and Compean are in solitary confinement – being held in their prison cells 23 hours a day — prisoners in Guantanamo's medium-security Camp 4 are allowed seven-to-nine hours of exercise every day.

Ramos is limited to three showers a week, while Camp 4 prisoners are allowed to have showers every day. Meals are served to the agents in their cells. According to the Defense Department, prisoners at Guantanamo's medium security camp can have community meals as well as weekly ice cream parties.

“Only in America would we treat prisoners of war in Guantanamo Bay better than we treat our peace officers,” said Rep. Ted Poe (R-Tex.). “I hope the concern people have about the treatment of terrorists is reflected here as well.”

Reps. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) and Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) also spoke about the matter Tuesday.

The lawmakers called on the Justice Department to look into the treatment of the border agents in prison, as well as the way the case was prosecuted by U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton of the Western District of Texas and the statements that Executive Branch officials made to Congress as part of the overall review.

The letter to Mukasey, signed by 47 House members, said, “Given the close personal relationship between Mr. Sutton, President Bush and former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, numerous questions regarding the propriety of this prosecution remain unanswered by the Department of Justice.”

Sutton served under then-Texas Gov. Bush as state criminal justice director from 1995 to 2000, where he worked closely with Gonzales, then counsel to the governor's office.

Sutton has said that the prosecution of the border agents was justified, and in testimony before the Senate, he said that Ramos and Compean acted recklessly. Aldrete-Davila was unarmed and the two agents did not know he was a drug dealer when they shot at him, Sutton said. He also said the agents tried to cover up the shooting.

Ramos was assaulted by five other prisoners in February, and both former border agents are now in solitary confinement at medium security prisons for their own safety. Ramos was transferred to an Arizona prison from one in Mississippi to be closer to his family. Compean has served 10 months of his sentence at an Ohio prison.

The letter to the attorney general nominee asks that the agents be immediately transferred to a minimum security prison, which would allow them to leave solitary confinement and mingle with the general prison population.

“The detrimental effects of long-term solitary confinement have been well-documented, and it is not only unacceptable, it is inexcusable in this case,” the letter said.

The letters says the ex-border agents are now living in conditions that “are worse than those enjoyed by suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay.”

It concludes, “As the nominee to be the next attorney general, we urge you to investigate the case against these two agents who we believe acted in accordance with their duties to enforce the law.”