[ 13. Jul 2006 ]

The shot heard across both sides of the border

The sun still burns hot in the May desert sky at about 6 p.m. along the Texas/Mexico border. Under that sun, a high school student, all of 18 years old, is tending to some goats near his home in Redford, Texas. He is carrying an old single-shot .22 caliber rifle to ward off coyotes and rattlesnakes.


Some 200 yards in the distance, unknown to the 18-year-old, a group of four Marines are deploying to a clandestine hiding spot in the desert to keep an eye out for drug traffickers who might seek to traverse the border via car or on foot with backpacks.

The Marines are dressed in full camouflage, :: Ghille suits in fact, and are armed with potent M16A2 rifles and sophisticated radio equipment. Suddenly, the kid with the antique .22 rifle sees something. Maybe it's a coyote; maybe it's just his imagination. But he fires off a shot. A second later, he fires again.

The bullets whiz by the four Marines. They squat. One of the soldiers contacts his command by radio. The high-school kid heads for a nearby abandoned church that is not too far from his family's home. He is still carrying his rifle and is still not aware that he has just fired his gun at a group of Marines carrying out a covert drug-war assignment.

In front of the weatherworn border church is an old stone well, now dry and packed with dirt. The Marines maintain radio contact with their command operations.

6:06 p.m. Command: "If you move your position, try not to be seen. You should know what to do."

6:07 p.m. Marine: "We're taking fire."

6:09 p.m. Marine: "We have an individual spotted at the old Fort going to the rear of the building."

6:10 p.m. Marine: "We are pulled back to a tactical position. We are trying to our ... cover from our right flank. He is gonna be. Right now he is stationary, but he kinda knows the down vicinity, where two of my men are. He doesn't have a visual on me."

Command: "What side of the river is he on?"

Marine: "U.S. side, next to the old Fort. He is right at the old Fort."

6:11 p.m. Marine: "As soon as he readies that rifle back down range, we are taking him."

Command: "Roger. Fire back."

6:13 p.m. Marine: "I have visual on suspect in front of church. There is a brown building facing us. Standing in front he's got the rifle out."

6:14 p.m. Marine: "I have a visual on him. He is kinda moving behind some buildings; not really sure exactly where he is at right now. He is hiding; he's ducking down. Rifle, he knows we are out here; he's looking for us."

6:27 p.m. Marine: "We have a man down."

Command: "Did I hear you? You said you have a man down?"

Marine: "The man pointed weapon down range and we took him out."

This scene is not fiction.

The facts are drawn from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) documents that detail the May 20, 1997, shooting of :: Esequiel Hernandez Jr. by a U.S. military unit called :: Joint Task Force Six, or JTF 6 -- now known as JTF North.

The FOIA records were provided to Narco News by professor :: Keith Yearman of the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, IL.

Yearman is an expert in FOIA research and has taken a particular interest in border issues and the Hernandez case. (Links to the FOIA documents obtained by Yearman detailing the Hernandez shooting can be found at the end of this story.)

The four Marines who tracked and shot Hernandez were participating in a JTF 6 mission to assist the U.S. Border Patrol in capturing drug traffickers. The soldiers had been ordered to conduct surveillance along the border in order to spot drug smugglers, and to report that information to Border Patrol -- which was to then come to the scene to apprehend the smugglers.

The JTF 6 mission was all about fighting the so-called drug war, but that mission didn't matter in Hernandez' case. He was a goat herder, not a drug smuggler.

Hernandez was killed because that is what soldiers are trained to do in a war. They hunt down the enemy and destroy them. And in this case, because Hernandez had allegedly fired the first shot, even though he could have had no clue it was Marines he was shooting at, he triggered one of the primary rules of engagement for soldiers deployed in any mission.

From the FOIA documents:

So once Hernandez pulled the trigger on his gun, he might as well have been in a war zone as far as the Marines were concerned.

Hernandez fired his first shot at 6:07 p.m. He was killed by a single shot from a Marine's M16 at 6:27 p.m.

That means the four-man unit tracked him for 20 minutes before they "took him out."

In fact, based on the FOIA records, the approval to kill Hernandez was provided by military command at 6:11 p.m.

Border Patrol did not arrive on the scene until 6:45 p.m., some 18 minutes after Hernandez had already been fatally shot.

An ambulance was dispatched at 6:49 p.m. to the old church where Hernandez lay bleeding; his body sprawled inside an old well, with his feet pointing toward the sky.

The medics actually arrived on-site at 7:11 p.m., about 44 minutes after Hernandez' chest was pierced by a Marine's bullet. If there had been any hope that Hernandez might survive the shooting, that hope bled away in the desert before medical help arrived.

From all indications, based on the FOIA records, the four Marines who were responsible for killing the 18-year-old goat herder, who was a U.S. citizen, were in full battle mode at the time of the shooting. War is what they are trained to do well. And in the case of this assignment, sharpening the edge on that wartime training was part of the mission.

From the FOIA records:
Mission: HQ Battery, 5th Battalion, 11th Marines deploys to Marfa, Texas (from) 13 May to 30 May to conduct LP/OP training, increase unit combat readiness, improve individual and collective skills, and assist the United States Border Patrol by detection and monitoring of cross-border activities such as drug smuggling and movement of illegal aliens.

On May 20, 1997, the Marines were on mission and primed with "combat readiness," even to the point where they also were ready to pull the trigger on the Border Patrol agents who arrived at the scene in response to the Hernandez shooting.

The FOIA records include this testimony from one of the Marines concerning the aftermath of the Hernandez shooting:

... I moved into the open brush and went towards the people with the weapons. When they were about half way up the hill, I stood up out of the bushes and aimed in on them and yelled "United States Marines" several times. The first two people put their hands in air and yelled, "United States Border Patrol," and I recognized their green uniforms. I watched everyone go by and waited until they all cleared.

Unfortunately, the same warning was never extended to Hernandez, according to the FOIA records. In a statement provided by one of the Marines involved in the shooting, he makes it clear that prior to the shot that killed Hernandez, "There was no verbal warning told to the suspect."

If the Marines had identified themselves to Hernandez, or even fired a warning shot, the kid might well be alive today. If the Marines had only attempted to find defensive cover to secure the perimeter of the scene and waited another 18 minutes for the Border Patrol to arrive, Hernandez might be alive today.

But those are tactics that law enforcement would engage. Marines are taught to hunt down the enemy and eliminate him. That's what you get when you put soldiers on the border. They are trained to kill.

That fact is something to keep in mind as President Bush's directive of :: dispatching National Guard troops to the border is carried out over the next several months.

One federal agent with extensive experience along the border puts it this way:

The training for law enforcement and the military is vastly different. Law enforcement is trained to apprehend, interrogate and prosecute. The military is trained to track and destroy the enemy.

If you want to destroy the border, then send in the Marines.

For those in the leadership ranks of this country who are ignorant of the realities of combat training vs. law enforcement training, you are now informed, at the price of a dead U.S. citizen, a kid really.

For those in our government who already know the stakes and don't care that innocent people's lives hang in the balance, the blood on your hands will soon cause you to lose the grip on your power. And for those of you who are already opposed to militarizing the border, do your best to keep the memory of Esequiel Hernandez Jr. alive.

His life, and death, is where all our worlds meet.

FOIA Records for the Hernandez shooting :: File 1 :: File 2

This article by Bill Conroy was posted first on 8th Jul 2006 @ :: The Narcosphere.