Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A group of congressmen is demanding an investigation into the treatment of two former Border Patrol agents in prison for shooting an admitted drug dealer near the Mexican border, saying the conditions are far worse than those of suspected terrorists being held at the U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican, and Rep. John Culberson, Texas Republican — who have championed the fight for Ignacio “Nacho” Ramos and Jose Alonso Compean — will deliver a letter detailing their concerns today to Attorney General-designate Michael B. Mukasey. More than three dozen House members have signed it.

Ramos is serving his sentence in a medium-security prison in the Southwest. He was transferred from the Yazoo correctional facility in Mississippi earlier this year after suspected gang members — recognizing the high-profile inmate — beat him.

He is unable to serve his sentence in a minimum-security prison camp owing to the 10-year mandatory minimum for unlawful discharge of a firearm during a crime of violence. The charge is one issue in their cases under appeal in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

Compean is serving out his sentence in an Ohio prison in solitary confinement.

Both men are being held in so-called special housing units (SHU) for their safety, but they are denied privileges that other inmates in the general population are afforded, said Tara Setmayer, communications director for Mr. Rohrabacher.

“The harsh conditions Agent Ramos is forced to endure in solitary is despicable,” said Ms. Setmayer, who visited Mr. Ramos last month.

Ramos has been confined to a single cell for 23 hours a day for the past 10 months — conditions far worse than those experienced by suspected terrorists in the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba, say the congressional representatives demanding the investigation.

Ignacio Ramos was placed in the SHU because he was assaulted in a different facility earlier this year, and his assailants were never charged,” the letter to Mr. Mukasey states. “While Ramos’ status as a former law enforcement officer is problematic in prison, Bureau of Prisons guidelines state that administrative detention status is supposed to be ‘nonpunitive’ used for ‘short periods … not to exceed 90 days.’ ”

On Feb. 17, 2005, Agents Ramos and Compean shot and wounded admitted drug smuggler Osbaldo Aldrete-Davila in the buttocks after a long foot chase near the U.S.-Mexican border in Texas. Mr. Aldrete-Davila — who was given immunity to testify against the agents — had fled in a van the agents were pursuing. The van later turned out to contain marijuana valued at nearly $1 million. The agents were convicted on Oct. 19, 2006. Ramos was sentenced to 11 years; Compean received 12.

The letter being sent to Mr. Mukasey also brings into question the validity of the guilty verdict in the former agents’ cases.

“We request that you conduct a fair and unbiased review of this case and take any action to rectify this injustice. … 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, as well as take the action to rectify the mistreatment of Ignacio Ramos, and move him to a minimum-security facility.”

Mr. Rohrabacher and Mr. Culberson are expected to speak on behalf of the agents at a press conference today, along with Republican colleagues Duncan Hunter of California, Ted Poe of Texas and Walter B. Jones of North Carolina.

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