- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A senior Democratic senator and longtime border security advocate wants the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security to explain the “extreme” prison sentences two U.S. Border Patrol agents received for shooting a fleeing drug-smuggling suspect.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California said in letters to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff that the government’s prosecution had a “chilling effect” on the ability of other agents to carry out their duties and had significantly affected their morale.

Given the circumstances of the cases and the fact that neither agent had prior convictions or “any other aggravating circumstances to warrant particularly harsh treatment under the law,” Mrs. Feinstein said they were given “sentences that some individuals who are convicted of murder wouldn’t receive.”

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“Border Patrol agents have a difficult and often dangerous job in guarding our nation’s borders,” she said. “I believe that aggressive prosecution of Border Patrol agents has a chilling effect on their ability to carry out their duties and on the morale of all agents.

“I also believe that if wrong doing does occur, ensuring fair and safe treatment is essential,” she said. “I am extremely concerned about how this case continues to unfold.”

A senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mrs. Feinstein also encouraged the Justice Department to “move forward promptly” in its review of the case in the wake of the recent beating of one of the agents at the Federal Detention Center in Yazoo, Miss. She said a prompt review could put President Bush “in a position, if necessary, to timely evaluate pardon or clemency petitions that are filed.”

Ignacio Ramos, 37, and Jose Alonso Compean, 28, were sentenced in October to 11- and 12-year prison terms, respectively, for shooting Osvaldo Aldrete-Davila in the buttocks as he fled back into Mexico. The Mexican national had abandoned a van containing 743 pounds of marijuana and was shot during an attempt to avoid apprehension.

“I strongly believe the sentences in this case are too extreme given the criminal background of Mr. Aldrete-Davila and his possession of large quantities of drugs, and given the fact that Mr. Aldrete-Davila had physically resisted at least one attempt by Agents Ramos and Compean to bring him into custody,” Mrs. Feinstein said.

Mrs. Feinstein has been given approval by Judicial Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, for hearings on the matter before the subcommittee on terrorism, technology and homeland security, which she heads.

In her letters, Mrs. Feinstein asked Mr. Gonzales for specific information concerning the sentences the agents received and the beating of Ramos in federal prison. She asked Mr. Chertoff for additional information on a heavily redacted Office of Inspector General report on the case released last week.

In a separate letter to Federal Bureau of Prisons Director Harley G. Lappin, Mrs. Feinstein requested information on the treatment of the agents in prison and details about the assault on Ramos while in federal custody. She also asked Mr. Lappin to explain why the agents were not being adequately protected.

“It is not hard to predict that two federal agents would be targeted in a prison population and that special precautions should have been employed to ensure their safety,” she said.

Mrs. Feinstein also questioned Mr. Gonzales about why prosecutors originally indicted the agents on three criminal charges, but then expanded the indictment on three separate occasions, adding new charges each time. She asked who within Justice approved each set of charges.

She asked Mr. Chertoff why the Inspector General’s Office reported that at least three other Border Patrol agents participated in a cover-up of the shooting, but redacted their names from a final report on the incident.

“Please explain why society benefited most by absolving these agents entirely and keeping them on the force so that they could testify in a criminal prosecution against Agents Ramos and Compean,” she said.

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