WASHINGTON, DC -- It's now legal for Marines to use high-powered M-16 assault rifles to kill American high school students and for FBI sharpshooters to gun down mothers holding their infant daughters -- without worrying about any criminal penalties, the Libertarian Party charged today.
"In America today, your innocence is no guarantee that you won't be killed by your own government," said the party's national chairman, Steve Dasbach. "And incontrovertible proof of guilt is no guarantee that military personnel or FBI agents will be charged with any crime."
Dasbach's comments were part of an outpouring of outrage that followed the decision late last week by a grand jury in Texas not to prosecute a Marine corporal who shot dead an 18-year-old high school student, and by the Justice Department not to file charges against four FBI agents involved in the killing of Vicki Weaver at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in 1992.
"These two decisions show that the government is more concerned about protecting the military and the FBI from justice than protecting innocent civilians from death," charged Dasbach. The two cases -- while separated by five years and involving different government agencies -- are graphic examples of why so many Americans fear their government, said Dasbach.
In Redford, Texas, Esequiel Hernandez, Jr. -- a "shy, hard-working" young man, according to neighbors -- was gunned down by a four-man squad of U.S. Marines in May as he grazed his herd of 45 goats on his family's farm. He was the first American killed by U.S. soldiers on U.S. soil as part of the War on Drugs.
The grand jury ruled that the Marines were acting in self-defense when they shot Hernandez -- despite overwhelming evidence that the high school sophomore never saw the camouflaged Marines in the first place.
"This grand jury has sent a deadly message: Anything goes in the War on Drugs," said Dasbach. "This so-called war has become a military shooting war -- with M-16 assault rifles pointed directly at American citizens."
The grand jury's ruling caused a firestorm of criticism; charges of a military cover-up; and demands for a Justice Department investigation because of numerous inconsistencies in the "official" version of the events.
The military claims that Hernandez opened fire with his antique .22 rifle on the four Marines, who were lurking in the scrub brush while on a covert drug-surveillance mission.
In response, they stalked Hernandez for several hundred yards, and Marine Corporal Clemente Banuelos killed him with a single shot from a high-powered M-16 assault rifle. According to Texas Rangers, Hernandez was shot in the side, while facing away from the Marines.
Hernandez lay bleeding -- his red blood pouring into the dusty gray hillside near the Rio Grande River -- for 22 minutes before the Marines called for emergency aid. The young victim had never been suspected of or arrested for any criminal or drug-related activity.
After the shooting, the Pentagon pulled 240 military personnel from the border area, and said the policy of using the U.S. military in covert anti-drug efforts on American soil was "under review."
"Was the military upset over the death of an innocent civilian?" asked Dasbach. "No. The Pentagon was concerned because the Marines might face criminal penalties for gunning down a high school student."
In fact, after the grand jury was convened, Pentagon spokesman Navy Lt. Cmdr. Scott Campbell complained that counter-drug operations "are not fair to the members of our armed forces," because it exposes them to "legal liability."
In response, the Pentagon said it will ask border states like Texas, California, Arizona, and New Mexico to sign "status of forces" agreements with the federal government, which limit U.S. troops' liability to local criminal law. Such an agreement would be similar to those the U.S. government signs with foreign nations where American troops are stationed.
The case involving the FBI dates back to 1992 -- to the bloody shootout at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, between the FBI and white separatist Randy Weaver. During that standoff, an FBI sharpshooter killed Vicki Weaver as she stood in the doorway of their mountain cabin, holding her 11-month-old daughter in her arms.
After Randy Weaver surrendered, FBI officials destroyed documents that detailed the bureau's unorthodox "shoot to kill" orders, and one agent currently faces jail time for that cover-up.
But the Justice Department ruled last week that it would not bring criminal charges against four other senior FBI officials, and ruled that the FBI gunman who fired the fatal bullet did not commit a "civil rights" violation by killing Vicki Weaver.
"No wonder Americans are so concerned about violent crime," said Dasbach. "They see criminals in our Armed Forces and in the FBI committing murder and walking away without punishment -- while their victims lie in their graves.
"But Esequiel Hernandez, Jr. and Vicki Weaver aren't the only victims here. The belief that in America, justice will prevail has also been mortally wounded. The only cure: For the judicial system to take immediate steps to bring the killers of these innocent Americans to justice," he said.
In addition, Dasbach said the federal government should immediately demilitarize the War on Drugs, to make sure that another Redford, Texas-style killing does not occur. Specifically, he recommended:
"By taking these steps, some good can come from the tragic death of Esequiel Hernandez, Jr.," said Dasbach. "The U.S. government can use this opportunity to stop waging war against its own citizens -- and, instead, wage a war for justice."
=============================================== NEWS FROM THE LIBERTARIAN PARTY 2600 Virginia Avenue, NW, Suite 100 Washington DC 20037 =============================================== For release: August 19, 1997 =============================================== For additional information: George Getz, Deputy Director of Communications Phone: (202) 333-0008 Ext. 222 E-Mail: 76214.3676@CompuServe.com ===============================================