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Inside Mexico's Drug War, Americans Allege Abuse

NICHOLAS CASEY The Wall Street Journal 07/19/2010 08:24
Shohn Huckabee in jail in Ciudad Juárez, where he faces drug charges after an encounter with soldiers.

Shohn Huckabee in jail in Ciudad Juárez, where he faces drug charges after an encounter with soldiers.


Two Americans were driving back to El Paso, Texas, last December after an afternoon across the border in Ciudad Juárez. A few blocks from the border, they were surrounded by Mexican army trucks and pulled from their Dodge Ram.



Mexico's military says it found two suitcases full of marijuana in the cab of the pickup truck. Two soldiers later testified that they drove the two Americans to a military compound on the outskirts of town, questioned them briefly, then turned them over to civilian authorities. The Americans were charged with possession of marijuana with intent to sell.

Those two men—Shohn Huckabee, 23 years old, and Carlos Quijas, 36—are being held in a Ciudad Juárez jail. They tell a different story about what happened that night. They say Mexican soldiers planted the marijuana in their truck. When they arrived at the military base, they say, they were blindfolded, tied up, hit with rifle butts, shocked with electricity and threatened with death.

Mexico's military is leading President Felipe Calderón's war against the nation's drug cartels, and Ciudad Juárez has emerged as one of the bloodiest battlegrounds. Nationwide, drug violence has claimed more than 25,000 lives since 2006—with government security forces accounting for an estimated 7% of the dead. In June alone, 103 police and soldiers were killed.

As the death toll rises, however, so have complaints about the military's tactics in trying to break the drug cartels' stranglehold on Mexican society. The human-rights office of the state of Chihuahua, where Ciudad Juárez is located, is investigating some 465 cases of alleged abuse and torture of Mexican citizens by soldiers. Gustavo de la Rosa, the office's ombudsman in Ciudad Juárez, says he knows of about 70 cases in which soldiers are alleged to have planted evidence, including some involving suitcases packed with marijuana.

Allegations of mistreatment of suspects have caught the eye of the U.S. Senate committee that oversees financial aid to Mexico for its war on drugs. In an internal report, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee says it received allegations of serious human-rights violations in Ciudad Juárez last year. The report cites an unidentified young man picked up in El Paso who said he was arrested by the Mexican military in Ciudad Juárez and beaten and shocked. The man said he was released after the military concluded he had no useful information about trafficking, the report says.

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