Harvey Weinstein and the Trump children show why the U.S. shouldn’t have elected prosecutors

Annalisa Merelli writes: Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance Jr is a Democrat who has been New York County’s chief prosecutor since 2008. He is also, at the moment, a very controversial figure.

On Oct. 4, the New Yorker (paywall) revealed that Vance had ordered his prosecutors to drop an investigation into Donald Trump’s children, Ivanka and Donald Jr, for allegedly inflating the worth of a property in New York to prospective buyers. Just a few days later, the same magazine (paywall) revealed that he had decided not to press sexual abuse charges against Harvey Weinstein, the high-powered Hollywood producer, after listening to a police tape of Weinstein aggressively propositioning a model, Ambra Battilana Gutierrez. Weinstein has now been accused of sexual harassment and rape by a host of women.

What links these two cases is that in both of them, Vance received hefty campaign donations from lawyers for the people involved. Donald Trump’s lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, had given $25,000 to Vance’s campaign, the New Yorker reported. Vance had returned the money after Kasowitz asked him to intercede on the Trump children’s behalf—as is customary with people involved in investigations. But a few months after deciding not to prosecute them, Vance accepted another, larger donation and fundraising help from Kasowitz, worth a total of about $50,000. Similarly, a few months after Vance decided to drop the case against Weinstein, the producer’s attorney, David Boies, donated $10,000 to the prosecutor’s campaign.

In both cases, naturally, Vance denies that his office’s decision not to prosecute had anything to do with campaign donations. But even if this is true, it’s hard for him or any other US district attorney to dispel the taint of corruption in cases like these. It’s widely understood that in politics, votes cost money and money usually comes attached to requests for favors. That undermines trust in the justice system. And this is a uniquely American problem, as the US is the only country in the world that elects prosecutors by popular vote. [Continue reading…]

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FBI concocts new terrorist threat: ‘Black identity extremists’

The Guardian reports: The US government has declared “black identity extremists” a violent threat, according to a leaked report from the FBI’s counter-terrorism division.

The assessment, obtained by Foreign Policy, has raised fears about federal authorities racially profiling activists and aggressively prosecuting civil rights protesters.

The report, dated August 2017 and compiled by the Domestic Terrorism Analysis Unit, said: “The FBI assesses it is very likely Black Identity Extremist (BIE) perceptions of police brutality against African Americans spurred an increase in premeditated, retaliatory lethal violence against law enforcement and will very likely serve as justification for such violence.” Incidents of “alleged police abuse” have “continued to feed the resurgence in ideologically motivated, violent criminal activity within the BIE movement”.

The FBI’s dedicated surveillance of black activists follows a long history of the US government aggressively monitoring protest movements and working to disrupt civil rights groups, but the scrutiny of African Americans by a domestic terrorism unit was particularly alarming to some free speech campaigners.

“When we talk about enemies of the state and terrorists, with that comes an automatic stripping of those people’s rights to speak and protest,” said Mohammad Tajsar, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union. “It marginalizes what are legitimate voices within the political debate that are calling for racial and economic justice.”

The document has emerged at a time of growing concerns about Donald Trump’s links to the far right and white nationalists, and increasing anxieties about his administration’s efforts to further criminalize communities of color and shield police from scrutiny. Anti-Trump protesters and Black Lives Matter activists have continued to face harsh prosecutions and close federal monitoring.

The FBI did not immediately respond to the Guardian’s request for comment on Friday, but defended its tracking of “black identity extremists” in a statement to Foreign Policy, claiming the “FBI cannot initiate an investigation based solely on an individual’s race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, or the exercise of First Amendment rights”.

The FBI’s report noted specific cases of recent violence against police, most notably Micah Johnson, a 25-year-old shooter in Dallas who killed five officers and said he was targeting white people and law enforcement. Black Lives Matter – a movement protesting the disproportionate killings of black citizens by police in the US – had no ties to Johnson or other targeted killings of police and has condemned those shootings.

The number of police officers killed on the job also remains a fraction of the number of citizens killed by officers each year, and statistics suggest that more white offenders than black offenders kill officers. [Continue reading…]

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Dismayed by Trump’s lack of respect for the law, head of Drug Enforcement Administration resigns

The New York Times reports: The acting head of the Drug Enforcement Administration will resign at the end of the week, according to law enforcement officials, who said he had become convinced that President Trump had little respect for the law.

The official, Chuck Rosenberg, who twice served as chief of staff to the former F.B.I. director James B. Comey and remains a close confidant, had grown disillusioned with Mr. Trump. The president fired Mr. Comey in May, and then in July told law enforcement officers “please don’t be too nice” when handling crime suspects.

Mr. Rosenberg forcefully rejected Mr. Trump’s comment, sending an email to all D.E.A. employees at the time to tell them that they should not mistreat suspects.

“We must earn and keep the public trust and continue to hold ourselves to the very highest standards,” Mr. Rosenberg wrote in the internal email. “Ours is an honorable profession and, so, we will always act honorably.”

Mr. Trump has injected the White House into law enforcement matters in ways that have made many career officials uncomfortable. The president spoke disparagingly about ongoing criminal investigations into his own associates, encouraged the Justice Department to investigate political rivals including Hillary Clinton and said he would never have nominated Jeff Sessions to be attorney general if he had known Mr. Sessions would recuse himself from an investigation into his associates.

Mr. Rosenberg, who was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2015, is a career prosecutor. Under President George W. Bush, he served as the United States attorney in both southern Texas and eastern Virginia. [Continue reading…]

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Eric Reid: Why Colin Kaepernick and I decided to take a knee

Eric Reid writes: In early 2016, I began paying attention to reports about the incredible number of unarmed black people being killed by the police. The posts on social media deeply disturbed me, but one in particular brought me to tears: the killing of Alton Sterling in my hometown Baton Rouge, La. This could have happened to any of my family members who still live in the area. I felt furious, hurt and hopeless. I wanted to do something, but didn’t know what or how to do it. All I knew for sure is that I wanted it to be as respectful as possible.

A few weeks later, during preseason, my teammate Colin Kaepernick chose to sit on the bench during the national anthem to protest police brutality. To be honest, I didn’t notice at the time, and neither did the news media. It wasn’t until after our third preseason game on Aug. 26, 2016, that his protest gained national attention, and the backlash against him began.

That’s when my faith moved me to take action. I looked to James 2:17, which states, “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” I knew I needed to stand up for what is right.

I approached Colin the Saturday before our next game to discuss how I could get involved with the cause but also how we could make a more powerful and positive impact on the social justice movement. We spoke at length about many of the issues that face our community, including systemic oppression against people of color, police brutality and the criminal justice system. We also discussed how we could use our platform, provided to us by being professional athletes in the N.F.L., to speak for those who are voiceless.

After hours of careful consideration, and even a visit from Nate Boyer, a retired Green Beret and former N.F.L. player, we came to the conclusion that we should kneel, rather than sit, the next day during the anthem as a peaceful protest. We chose to kneel because it’s a respectful gesture. I remember thinking our posture was like a flag flown at half-mast to mark a tragedy.

It baffles me that our protest is still being misconstrued as disrespectful to the country, flag and military personnel. We chose it because it’s exactly the opposite. It has always been my understanding that the brave men and women who fought and died for our country did so to ensure that we could live in a fair and free society, which includes the right to speak out in protest. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s pardon of Arpaio can — and should — be overturned

Laurence H. Tribe and Ron Fein write: A federal judge in Arizona will soon consider whether to overturn President Trump’s pardon of former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio. The answer to this question has consequences not just for Arpaio and the people he hurt but also for the entire country. And although the conventional legal wisdom has been that a presidential decision to grant a pardon is unreviewable, that is wrong. In this circumstance, Trump’s decision to pardon Arpaio was unconstitutional and should be overturned.

For more than 20 years, Arpaio ran the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office with shocking cruelty and lawlessness, especially against Latinos. In 2011, a federal judge issued an injunction in a lawsuit challenging the practice of detaining and searching people for, in essence, driving while Latino. The judge found evidence that the sheriff’s office engaged in racial profiling and stopped Latinos just to determine their immigration status. He ordered it to cease detaining people without reasonable suspicion of a crime.

Arpaio flagrantly ignored the injunction, and in May 2016, the judge found him to be in civil contempt of court. In July, a second federal judge found him in criminal contempt, which can be punished by imprisonment. Three weeks later, Trump pardoned Arpaio. Trump’s Justice Department argues that is the end of the matter, but many constitutional law scholars and advocates disagree. The judge has scheduled an Oct. 4 hearing and ordered further briefing.

To understand why Trump’s pardon of Arpaio is so dangerous, step back to 1962, when a federal court ordered the all-white University of Mississippi to admit African American James Meredith. When the Mississippi governor refused to comply, the court directed the Justice Department to prosecute him for criminal contempt of court.

At the time, many anti-integration governors vowed “massive resistance” to court-ordered desegregation. The legal struggle against segregation relied on the power of court orders — enforceable by imprisonment for contempt.

Now imagine a president such as Trump pardoning the governor for contempt, while praising him, as Trump lauded Arpaio, for “doing his job.”

The message to segregationist officials would have been clear: just ignore federal court integration orders; the president will have your back if the court tries to enforce them through its contempt power. [Continue reading…]

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Attorneys general across the U.S. threaten to sue Trump over DACA

The Hill reports: Democratic attorneys general across the country have threatened to sue President Trump over his decision Tuesday to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, opening another front in the growing legal war between blue states and the Republican administration.

In public statements and letters to the Trump administration, 20 attorneys general urged Trump not to follow through on threats to end the five-year-old program, which allows those brought into the country illegally as children to work and live free of the threat of deportation.

“Ending DACA is un-American, and it’s going to threaten the health and safety of many individuals,” New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas (D) told The Hill. “Various attorneys general from across the country are preparing to defend DACA recipients. The Constitution applies [to them] as well in terms of equal protection and due process.” [Continue reading…]

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Trump asked Sessions about closing case against Arpaio, an ally since ‘birtherism’

The Washington Post reports: As Joseph Arpaio’s federal case headed toward trial this past spring, President Trump wanted to act to help the former Arizona county sheriff who had become a campaign-trail companion and a partner in their crusade against illegal immigration.

The president asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions whether it would be possible for the government to drop the criminal case against Arpaio, but was advised that would be inappropriate, according to three people with knowledge of the conversation.

After talking with Sessions, Trump decided to let the case go to trial, and if Arpaio was convicted, he could grant clemency.

So the president waited, all the while planning to issue a pardon if Arpaio was found in contempt of court for defying a federal judge’s order to stop detaining people merely because he suspected them of being undocumented immigrants. Trump was, in the words of one associate, “gung-ho about it.”

“We knew the president wanted to do this for some time now and had worked to prepare for whenever the moment may come,” said one White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the action. [Continue reading…]

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House Speaker Paul Ryan criticizes Donald Trump’s pardon for Joe Arpaio

The Wall Street Journal reports: House Speaker Paul Ryan on Saturday criticized President Donald Trump for pardoning a former Arizona sheriff, Joe Arpaio, becoming the highest-ranking Republican to object to the move.

“The speaker does not agree with the decision,” said Ryan spokesman Doug Andres. “Law-enforcement officials have a special responsibility to respect the rights of everyone in the United States. We should not allow anyone to believe that responsibility is diminished by this pardon.”

The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about Mr. Ryan’s statement. [Continue reading…]

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Why Trump’s pardon of Joe Arpaio isn’t like most presidential pardons

Andrew Rudalevige writes: Last month, as President Trump made broad claims about his power to pardon, I noted that he “may find out that something can be both legal and, simultaneously, an impeachable offense.” Last night, as the president issued a pardon to former Maricopa County, Ariz., sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was convicted of criminal contempt of court, some commentators argued that this was exactly the case.

Harvard Law professor Noah Feldman, for example, wrote after Trump’s belligerent Phoenix rally speech that such a pardon would represent an “assault on the federal judiciary, the Constitution and the rule of law itself” for which the “remedy is impeachment.”

It is hard to gauge the political fallout of the president’s decision — announced as it was late on a Friday night during an impending hurricane. Normally, though, as political scientist Jeffrey Crouch’s book on the pardon power makes clear, pardons are granted for two reasons: either to provide mercy or correct a miscarriage of justice, in an individual case; or on more general grounds based on public policy.

Trump’s pardon of Arpaio does not fit either category very well.

As regards mercy: Alexander Hamilton wrote in the Federalist that pardons were needed; otherwise, “justice would wear a countenance too sanguinary and cruel.” Presidents have sometimes pardoned elderly convicts, for instance, rather than see them die in prison.

Arpaio is 85, but he had not even yet been sentenced; that hearing was set for October. As a procedural matter, the guidelines of the Justice Department’s office of the pardon attorney — not binding on the president, of course, and not consulted in this instance — state that petitions for clemency are normally considered only after five years have passed after a conviction. (Further, in considering such petitions, “The extent to which a petitioner has accepted responsibility for his or her criminal conduct and made restitution to its victims are important considerations.”)

Pardons also serve as a check against the judicial branch, when the president feels a grave miscarriage of justice has occurred. At his Phoenix rally, Trump seemed to make this claim, saying that “Sheriff Joe was convicted for doing his job.”

The problem with that, though, is that Arpaio was convicted for doing the opposite of his job. [Continue reading…]

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The disturbing lessons of Trump’s shameful Arpaio pardon

Scott Lemieux writes: During his very loosely hinged extemporaneous remarks in Phoenix on Tuesday, President Trump strongly hinted that he would pardon the infamous former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. On Friday evening, with a frightening hurricane descending on Texas, Trump made it official. The decision to issue his first pardon to a public official who made his reputation, such as it is, through race-baiting and a contempt for both legal restraints and basic human decency tells us a lot about Trump — and none of it is good.

It is highly relevant that Trump and Arpaio first became allies while Trump was rising to prominence within the Republican Party by pushing the racist conspiracy theory that Barack Obama was not born in the United States. The Arizona sheriff actually launched a farcical investigation into Obama’s birth certificate, wasting taxpayer money to build his cred with his resentful white supporters. That Arpaio and Trump would become mutual admirers was inevitable.

It should go without saying that Arpaio is a terrible candidate for a pardon. If you have any doubts, read this chilling 2009 profile of Arpaio by William Finnegan in The New Yorker. Arpaio’s first claim to local fame was to make the conditions of imprisonment for inmates under his jurisdiction as inhumane as possible — housing thousands of people in tents next to cites like dumps and waste disposal plants in the brutal Arizona heat. He fed inmates for 30 cents a meal, two meals a day, and then made the Food Network one of three channels available to prisoners. He put many people who were being held for trial and had not been convicted of any crime to work on chain gangs. Under his watch, guards were so consistently cruel to inmates that the county had amassed more than $40 million in civil damages from lawsuits. And he also engaged in egregious racial profiling when detaining people suspected of being illegal immigrants.

Arpaio’s focus on abusing prisoners and arbitrarily detaining people of Latin American descent also made his “tough on crime” reputation grossly misleading. The resources wasted on his cruel publicity stunts took money away from law enforcement, slowing response times and leading to (among other problems) hundreds of botched or perfunctory sex crimes investigations. He did, however, find the time to file frivolous charges against two journalists who were looking into his suspicious property dealings, leading to another huge legal settlement for Maricopa County’s taxpayers to pay off. [Continue reading…]

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Trump is fueling a rising terror threat from white supremacists and neo-Nazis

Mother Jones reports: When President Donald Trump remarked that “some very fine people” were among the white supremacists who provoked chaos and violence in Charlottesville the second weekend of August, he set off outrage across the political spectrum. According to multiple law enforcement leaders and security experts I’ve spoken with, Trump’s response to a neo-Nazi’s lethal car attack on a crowd of protesters in the Virginia college town also poured fuel on a long-simmering threat of far-right violence in America.

“He said he loves us all,” Andrew Anglin, the founder of the neo-Nazi site The Daily Stormer, wrote after Trump initially blamed “many sides” for the carnage. Anglin specifically hailed Trump for ignoring media questions about his white nationalist supporters: “When asked to condemn, he just walked out of the room. Really, really good. God bless him.”

The white supremacist Richard Spencer, who participated in the Charlottesville rally, said he was “really proud” of Trump’s equivocating response. He mocked the president’s more canned condemnation of far-right hate groups the next day as “‘kumbaya’ nonsense,” declaring that “only a dumb person would take those lines seriously.” Within 24 hours, Trump reverted to pointing a finger at the “alt-left.

Then, in an acid campaign-style speech in Phoenix on Tuesday night, Trump launched into a half-hour-long tirade aimed at rewriting the story of how he handled the Charlottesville crisis. In his recounting, he lashed out at the “sick” news media and excised all of his previous remarks blaming the political left. He mocked “anarchists” and “antifa,” and he warned a fervent, predominantly white audience that “they are trying to take away our history and our heritage.”

Trump’s actions have only deepened concerns among US law enforcement and other security leaders I’ve spoken with since the car attack 10 days ago that left one person dead, as many as 30 others injured, and the nation’s politics in fresh turmoil. [Continue reading…]

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Pardon for Sheriff Joe Arpaio would show Trump’s contempt for Constitution

Noah Feldman writes: If President Donald Trump pardons Joe Arpaio, as he broadly hinted at during a rally Tuesday in Arizona, it would not be an ordinary exercise of the power — it would be an impeachable offense. Arpaio, the former sheriff of Arizona’s Maricopa County, was convicted of criminal contempt of court for ignoring the federal judge’s order that he follow the U.S. Constitution in doing his job. For Trump to pardon him would be an assault on the federal judiciary, the Constitution and the rule of law itself.

To see why pardoning Arpaio would be so exceptional — and so bad — you have to start with the sheriff’s crime. Arpaio wasn’t convicted by a jury after a trial for violating some specific federal statute. Rather, he was convicted by a federal judge on the rather unusual charge of criminal contempt of court.

Specifically, Arpaio was convicted this July by Judge Susan Bolton of willfully and intentionally violating an order issued to him in 2011 by a different federal judge, G. Murray Snow.

The order arose out of a civil suit against Arpaio brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, accusing him of violating the law by detaining undocumented immigrants simply for lacking legal status.

Snow issued a preliminary injunction that ordered Arpaio to stop running so-called saturation patrols — police sweeps that essentially stopped people who looked Latino and detained those who were deemed undocumented. The basic idea was that the profiling, warrantless stops and detention were unconstitutional.

Yet despite the federal court’s order, Arpaio kept running the unlawful patrols for at least 18 months, and publicly acknowledged as much. [Continue reading…]

CNN reports: The White House has prepared the paperwork for President Trump to pardon former sheriff Joe Arpaio when he makes the final decision to do so, CNN has learned.

An administration official said the White House has also prepared talking points to send to surrogates after he is pardoned.

One of the talking points is that Arpaio served his country for 50 years in the military, the Drug Enforcement Administration and as Arizona’s Maricopa County sheriff, and that it is not appropriate to send him to prison for “enforcing the law” and “working to keep people safe.” [Continue reading…]

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Police stood by as mayhem mounted in Charlottesville

ProPublica reported on Saturday: There was nothing haphazard about the violence that erupted today in this bucolic town in Virginia’s heartland. At about 10 a.m. today, at one of countless such confrontations, an angry mob of white supremacists formed a battle line across from a group of counter-protesters, many of them older and gray-haired, who had gathered near a church parking lot. On command from their leader, the young men charged and pummeled their ideological foes with abandon. One woman was hurled to the pavement, and the blood from her bruised head was instantly visible.

Standing nearby, an assortment of Virginia State Police troopers and Charlottesville police wearing protective gear watched silently from behind an array of metal barricades — and did nothing.

It was a scene that played out over and over in Charlottesville as law enforcement confronted the largest public gathering of white supremacists in decades. We walked the streets beginning in the early morning hours and repeatedly witnessed instances in which authorities took a largely laissez faire approach, allowing white supremacists and counter-protesters to physically battle.

Officials in Charlottesville had publicly promised to maintain control of the “Unite the Right” rally, which is the latest in a series of chaotic and bloody racist rallies that have roiled this college town, a place deeply proud of its links to Thomas Jefferson and the origins of American Democracy.

But the white supremacists who flooded into the city’s Emancipation Park — a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee sits in the center of the park — had spent months openly planning for war. [Continue reading…]

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Acting DEA chief says Trump ‘condoned police misconduct’ in remarks about handling suspects

The Washington Post reports: The head of the Drug Enforcement Administration said in an email to staff members over the weekend that President Trump had “condoned police misconduct” in remarking to officers in Long Island that they need not protect suspects’ heads when loading them into police vehicles.

Acting DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg wrote that he felt obligated to respond to the president’s comments “because we have an obligation to speak out when something is wrong.” He cited the agency’s core values — among them integrity, accountability and respect and compassion.

“This is how we conduct ourselves. This is how we treat those whom we encounter in our work: victims, witnesses, subjects, and defendants. This is who we are,” Rosenberg wrote. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. police chiefs blast Trump for endorsing ‘police brutality’

The Washington Post reports: Police leaders across the country moved quickly to distance themselves from — or to outright condemn — President Trump’s statements about “roughing up” people who’ve been arrested.

The swift public denunciations came as departments are under intense pressure to stamp out brutality and excessive force that can erode the relationship between officers and the people they police — and cost police chiefs their jobs.

Some police leaders worried that three sentences uttered by the president during a Long Island, N.Y., speech could upend nearly three decades of fence-mending since the 1991 Los Angeles Police Department beating of Rodney King ushered in an era of distrust of police.

“It’s the wrong message,” Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, told Washington radio station WTOP while speaking of the trust-building work that departments have undertaken since King’s beating. “The last thing we need is a green light from the president of the United States for officers to use unnecessary force.” [Continue reading…]

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From Russia with blood

BuzzFeed reports: The London square was still and cold when the body fell, dropping silently through the moonlight and landing with a thud. Impaled through the chest on the spikes of a wrought iron fence, it dangled under the streetlamps as blood spilled onto the pavement. Overhead, a fourth-floor window stood open, the lights inside burning.

The dead man was Scot Young. The one-time multimillionaire and fixer to the world’s super-rich had been telling friends, family, and the police for years that he was being targeted by a team of Russian hitmen – ever since his fortune vanished overnight in a mysterious Moscow property deal. He was the ninth in a circle of friends and business associates to die in suspicious circumstances. But when the police entered his penthouse that night, they didn’t even dust for fingerprints. They declared his death a suicide on the spot and closed the case.

A two-year investigation by BuzzFeed News has now uncovered explosive evidence pointing to Russia that the police overlooked. A massive trove of documents, phone records, and secret recordings shows Young was part of a circle of nine men, including the exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky, who all died suspiciously on British soil after making powerful enemies in Russia. The files reveal that Young lived in the shadow of the Russian security services and mafia groups after fronting for Berezovsky – a sworn enemy of the state – in a series of deals that enraged the Kremlin, including the doomed Russian property deal known as Project Moscow. British police declared the deaths of all nine men in Berezovsky’s circle non-suspicious, but BuzzFeed News can now reveal that MI6, Britain’s secret intelligence service, asked its US counterparts for information about each one of them “in the context of assassinations”. [Continue reading…]

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How the U.S. triggered a massacre in Mexico

ProPublica reports: There’s no missing the signs that something unspeakable happened in Allende, a quiet ranching town of about 23,000, just a 40-minute drive from Eagle Pass, Texas. Entire blocks of some of the town’s busiest streets lie in ruins. Once garish mansions are now crumbling shells, with gaping holes in the walls, charred ceilings, cracked marble countertops and toppled columns. Strewn among the rubble are tattered, mud-covered remnants of lives torn apart: shoes, wedding invitations, medications, television sets, toys.

In March 2011 gunmen from the Zetas cartel, one of the most violent drug trafficking organizations in the world, swept through Allende and nearby towns like a flash flood, demolishing homes and businesses and kidnapping and killing dozens, possibly hundreds, of men, women and children.

The destruction and disappearances went on in fits and starts for weeks. Only a few of the victims’ relatives — mostly those who didn’t live in Allende or had fled — dared to seek help. “I would like to make clear that Allende looks like a war zone,” reads one missing person report. “Most people who I questioned about my relatives responded that I shouldn’t go on looking for them because outsiders were not wanted, and were disappeared.”

But unlike most places in Mexico that have been ravaged by the drug war, what happened in Allende didn’t have its origins in Mexico. It began in the United States, when the Drug Enforcement Administration scored an unexpected coup. An agent persuaded a high-level Zetas operative to hand over the trackable cellphone identification numbers for two of the cartel’s most wanted kingpins, Miguel Ángel Treviño and his ​brother Omar.

Then the DEA took a gamble. It shared the intelligence with a Mexican federal police unit that has long had problems with leaks — even though its members had been trained and vetted by the DEA. Almost immediately, the Treviños learned they’d been betrayed. The brothers set out to exact vengeance against the presumed snitches, their families and anyone remotely connected to them.
Their savagery in Allende was particularly surprising because the Treviños not only did business there — moving tens of millions of dollars in drugs and guns through the area each month — they’d also made it their home.

For years after the massacre, Mexican authorities made only desultory efforts to investigate. They erected a monument in Allende to honor the victims without fully determining their fates or punishing those responsible. American authorities eventually helped Mexico capture the Treviños but never acknowledged the devastating cost. In Allende, people suffered mostly in silence, too afraid to talk publicly.

A year ago ProPublica and National Geographic set out to piece together what happened in this town in the state of Coahuila — to let those who bore the brunt of the attack, and those who played roles in triggering it, tell the story in their own words. They did so often at great personal risk. Voices like these have rarely been heard during the drug war: Local officials who abandoned their posts; families preyed upon by both the cartel and their own neighbors; cartel operatives who cooperated with the DEA and saw their friends and families slaughtered; the U.S. prosecutor who oversaw the case; and the DEA agent who led the investigation and who, like most people in this story, has family ties on both sides of the border. [Continue reading…]

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