About a year ago, I posted a diary in which I proclaimed myself appalled by the ATF's Operation Fast & Furious and declared a desire for some sort of an investigation to get to the bottom of it. Looking back now, I feel I should clarify more that I never wanted the blatantly partisan witch-hunt we see now.
The fact of the matter is that everyone directly involved in the ill-conceived operation has already resigned and there is no circumstantial evidence that Eric Holder even knew much about it as it was in full swing. The American right has already made the blunder fit neatly into their Grand Obammunist Scheme narrative. The most popular theory is that it was a false flag against gun rights. Others have proposed that it was an Alinskyite-Cloward-Piven plot to intentionally destabilize Mexico and thus inundate America with an influx of Mexican refugees, collapsing the US and making way for a Socialist Dictatorship (yes, really).
Below I will list three reasons why the GOP outcry over this and their calls for Holder's scalp have everything to do with partisan politics and nothing to do with genuine accountability.
1. Republicans don't actually care about Mexicans.
This one is obvious. We have Republicans and right-wing commentators beating a drumbeat of demonization against Hispanic-Americans, in particular Mexicans. We are constantly being told that Mexican immigrants represent an "alien" and/or "Third World" culture which threatens to rip apart America's social fabric. GOP presidential candidates are considered moderate if they want to make immigrant life miserable and are only considered extremist when they propose murdering border-crossers with electrified fences.
In the time period between 1994 and 2009, some 5,600 migrants have died while attempting to cross the border. In at least one case, a US man was prosecuted for leaving drinking water for border-crossers, who often die of thirst in the unbearable dry heat of the south-western desert. Amidst all of this, Republicans have found it fitting to berate the ICE for treating immigration detainees in a manner they find too humane.
Also worth noting is the role played by neo-liberalism and free trade in impoverishing Mexicans and driving many of them from their lands. Despite some push-back from paleo-conservatives, the GOP is generally very supportive of free trade agreements and all efforts to impose neo-liberalism on developing nations. Leading anti-immigration figure Mark Krikorian once wrote in the National Review that "the problem with NAFTA was not that it promoted trade between the United States and Mexico but that neither country did anything meaningful to make sure that the excess Mexican peasantry moved to Mexico’s cities instead of ours." The problem in his mind was not the disruption and human suffering caused by throwing millions out of their traditional livelihoods but the very idea that they may find refuge in America instead of going to Mexican cities to toil in maquiladoras.
2. Republicans don't actually care about the widespread flow of US arms and ammunition to Mexican drug cartels.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) wouldn’t let ATF agents testifying before his House Oversight Committee hearing Wednesday on the controversial Project Gunrunner say how weak U.S. gun laws were making it difficult for them to catch criminals smuggling assault weapons to Mexican drug cartels.Before Fast & Furious was made public, the standard GOP response to data about US guns in Mexico was to either ignore it or attempt to deny that it was even a problem. The fact is that even if Fast & Furious guns are factored out of the equation, private gun dealers in the US are indeed sending a lot of arms and ammunition to Mexico without any ATF guidance:
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) asked one of the agents if weak gun laws made their prosecutions difficult.
“One of you in your testimonies called these laws to prosecute ‘toothless.’ Could explain to me — why are existing straw purchase laws ‘toothless’?” Maloney asked.
Issa butted in to say that their ATF agent’s opinions on U.S. gun laws would not be “considered valid testimony.”
“I want to caution the witnesses that the scope of this, your testimony here is limited, and that it’s not about proposed legislation and the like and under House rules would not fall within the scope of this,” Issa said. “So, anecdotally you can have opinions but ultimately it would not be considered valid testimony.
Overall 64,000 U.S. guns have been traced from Mexican crime scenes in the last five years. The ATF has seized more 10,000 firearms and more then 1.1. million rounds of ammunition headed to the southwest border in the same period. In the last 2 years on the Mexican side of the border, 20,504 or 70 percent of the total firearms submitted to be traced were U.S. sourced. In July The Washington Post reported 227 guns associated with Fast and Furious has been recovered in Mexico, which if included in the trace data for the last two years would be less than one percent of the total. During those same two years only one percent of the guns were traced to anywhere other than the United States.As has been documented in the past by the DoJ's Inspector General, lax gun laws in the US have played a large role in hindering the prosecution of illicit arms traffickers:
There is no federal statute specifically prohibiting firearms trafficking or straw purchases. Consequently, ATF agents and federal prosecutors use other criminal statutes to charge individuals involved in firearms trafficking crimes. These statutes carry relatively low sentences, particularly for straw purchasers of guns. The Sentencing Guidelines also provide short sentences for firearms trafficking-related crimes. As a result, individuals convicted under these statutes generally receive lower penalties than persons convicted of other types of trafficking (pp. 58-59).3. Republicans don't actually care about unethical federal operations.
According to our analysis of ATF data, the penalties imposed for violations of the four statutes that ATF most frequently used to combat firearms trafficking with Project Gunrunner cases are lower than penalties for violations of statutes on other types of Project Gunrunner cases. The difference is especially acute when compared to penalties imposed for violations with a drug nexus. However, criminal defendants are often charged with criminal statutes that include firearms trafficking offenses and other crimes which carry longer sentences. For drug conspiracy violations, the penalties imposed average almost 10 years. In comparison, although straw purchasing is one of the most frequent methods used to divert guns out of lawful commerce according to ATF, we found defendants convicted of offenses related to only this criminal activity are generally sentenced to less than 1 year in prison (p. 60).
In discussions with the OIG, Department and USAO attorneys explained that proving the elements necessary to obtain convictions under the statutes used to combat firearms trafficking is difficult. For example, a Deputy Assistant Attorney General who was a former AUSA told the OIG that willfully engaging in a firearms business without a license is a very difficult charge to prove because the government has to prove that an individual was acting in a business capacity. To do that, ATF must establish that the sale was not a private transaction but was part of a revenue earning enterprise. In practice, this means ATF must get the suspect to admit or acknowledge selling guns “willfully,” as specified in the statute. According to the Deputy Assistant Attorney General, many suspects can avoid prosecution simply by claiming they were selling guns from their private collection, which is not a crime (p. 64).
I'll let Narco News' Bill Conroy do the talking on this one:
As flawed as the Fast and Furious operation appears to have been — once guns cross the border, they almost always become even harder to trace — this is not the first time that a U.S. government agency has contributed to the murder rate in Mexico’s drug war.And how could we forget about this: the Golden Boy of this current crusade himself, Darrell Issa, once accused Democrats of going "after our troops in harm's way [and] our contractors serving in those capacities" and made a veiled threat against Henry Waxman simply for investigating Blackwater's operations in Iraq.
So Grassley and Issa’s outrage, and the media chest-pounding accompanying it, seems a bit contrived in its timing and selectivity.
Case in point: Neither of these politicians seeking to inflict a mortal wound on the Obama administration by hanging the Fast-and-Furious albatross around the president’s neck have bothered to voice a concern publicly about the ongoing cover-up in the House of Death case —in which a paid U.S. government informant was allowed to assist with multiple murders in Mexico, all so that the Department of Justice, then under a Republican president, could build “a big case” against a Mexican narco-trafficking organization.
The House of Death “operation” resulted in at least a dozen murders being carried out in Juarez, Mexico, between August 2003 and mid-January 2004 with the help of an informant on the payroll of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. High-level officials within both the Department of Justice and ICE (which is part of the Department of Homeland Security) approved the informant’s continued use after they became aware of his participation in the initial House of Death torture/murder.
The bodies of the victims were later discovered in shallow graves in the backyard of a house in Juarez after a DEA agent and his family narrowly escaped a forced trip to this House of Death.
Among the high-level Bush administration officials who were made aware of this informant’s homicidal activities were U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and DEA Administrator Karen Tandy.
After DEA Special Agent in Charge Sandalio Gonzalez blew the whistle on the informant’s role in the bloodshed via an internal memo that landed on the desk of then-U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton (a long-time friend and associate of then-President George Bush), Tandy sprang into action at Sutton’s request.
On March 5, 2004, DEA Administrator Tandy sent off an e-mail to high-ranking members of the Justice Department, including Catherine M. O’Neil, Associate Attorney General and head of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force; David Ayers, chief of staff to then Attorney General John Ashcroft; James B. Comey, the Deputy Attorney General; and Michele Leonhart, Deputy Administrator of DEA [who has since succeeded Tandy as head of DEA].
Tandy, in legal pleadings that surfaced later, would concede that she personally briefed then-Attorney General Ashcroft on the House of Death case.
And so the cover-up was launched, and the DEA whistleblower, Gonzalez, would become a target, and the net result is that he was muzzled and pressured into retiring from DEA.
But Gonzalez did not go silently. In fact, in November 2005, he and members of a group called the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition, a group organized by FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds, actually met with the staff of U.S. Sen. Grassley to discuss the House of Death scandal.
Grassley’s staff members were briefed about the details of the mass murder in Ciudad Juarez, the participation of a U.S. government informant in those murders and the subsequent cover-up carried out by the Executive Branch agencies involved in the House of Death case.
The senator’s staff also was told about the fact that a DEA agent and his family were nearly murdered as a result of the bungled drug-sting operation and that one of the narco-thugs working with the informant, a Mexican cop by the name of Miguel Loya, was allowed to escape as a direct result of the cover-up efforts within DOJ and DHS.
In the wake of that briefing [reported by Narco News some five years ago], nothing happened — no call for a Congressional hearing, not even a follow-up meeting with the House of Death whistleblowers. In fact, the only known examination of the House of Death murders, a joint ICE/DEA internal administrative review called the JAT, remains buried, with multiple efforts by Narco News to seek its release through the Freedom of Information Act rebuffed to date.
Republicans in the past have shown themselves to be unconcerned with the horrific plight of Mexicans, US guns in the hands of drug cartels and an active mass murderer employed as an informant. There is absolutely no reason to think that Issa and his cohorts are being sincere or even attempting to be consistent in their "oversight" activities.