Page 9


Herncindez was shot in front of this abandoned house; his own home is visible behind it myself to spy on drug smugglers. The empty food tins and camouflage cloth strips a neighbor had found had already been collected as souvenirs by reporters who got here earlier. Other signs of human habitation are common: rusty tin cans and broken bottles. From the arroyo, I can hear kids playing around the Baptist church. The heat is so intense it hurts my head. Down at the river, someone is moving furniture; an entire living room set is being loaded onto a rowboat. The hull bobs with the weight, the gunwales dangerously close to the water level. A man climbs in, and serenely rows across to Mexico. “Those soldiers must have thought they were behind enemy lines,” says Enrique Madrid. “They must have been scared to death.” We’re sitting in Madrid’s house in Redford, amid booklined shelves that rise to the ceiling and glass cases filled with fossils and arrowheads. Madrid’s grandfather settled Redford in 1847, receiving a land grant from the state of Texas in exchange for fighting the Apaches. During the Mexican Revolution, the U.S. Army built a garrison in the village. It still stands, close to the spot where the JTF-6 marines were camped. Madrid remembers his grandparents’ stories of soldiers from an earlier era forcing their way into houses to look for guns and supporters of Pancho Villa. Madrid is an archeologist, a historian, and a man who thinks a lot about the two countries he sees when he looks out his window. Besides sifting through Indian artifacts, he used to run a store in his house. Tourists heading to Big Bend would stop and look at the stuff in Madrid’s museum cases. Enrique remembers a conversation with a man who drove a Winnebago and wore a pink sport shirt. Enrique had pulled out the newspaper clippings he likes to use when he’s making a point. “Twenty million Mexicans are going to show up on the border in the next fifty years,” he challenged the tourist. “What are we going to do about it?” “We’ll just shoot ’em,” the tourist said with a laugh. “His reaction was instant, from the gut,” Madrid recalls, shaking his head. Madrid knows there’s been a military presence on the border engagement was in Waco, where BATF agents and JTF-6 lawyers used rumors of a Branch Davidian methamphetamine lab in to justify the military’s participation in planning the 1993 assault on Mount Carmel. Most JTF-6 missions are much quieter than the siege and assault at Waco, and generally involve detachments from the Marines or Army hunkering down and secretly watching people. Last April, in a rare pitch for publicity, the task force trotted out a platoon of marines. The result was a breathless El Paso Times story describing a two-week mission, in which troops from Palm Springs helped the Border Patrol seize 1,500 pounds of marijuana. Drugs have been the military’s rationale for breaching the wall erected by the Posse Comitatus Act but, as in Waco, drugs became an excuse for doing other thingslike helping the Border Patrol detain 620 undocumented immigrants during the same joint mission celebrated in the pages of the El Paso Times. And although there are no written guidelines covering JTF-6’s role in spying on illegal immigrants, the prevailing attitude seems to be: “Well, as long as we’re out here spying, we might as well catch some illegals, too.” The Marines are sticking to their storythat Banuelos fired in self-defense, and that Hernandez was therefore killed under the military’s “rules of engagement”itself an odd term to use in a domestic operation conducted among civilians unaware of the military presence. But none of the local investigators preparing evidence for a grand jury appears to believe this account. The Texas Rangers point to the angle of the bullet wound which happens to be on the same side of the body where righthanded Hernandez would have been holding his gun. The angle of the wound shows that he had to have been facing away from the marines, not towards them, when he was shot. Then there is the finding that Banuelos fired from seven hundred feetmuch farther away than in typical self-defense shootings. The Rangers say there are several inconsistencies they can’t explain. And the marines were flown back to Camp Pendleton three days after the killing, before the Rangers could stage a reenactment. Ranger Captain Barry Caver suggests that Hernandez probably never even saw the soldiers. Caver could be right: in the El Paso Times’ April puff piece, one platoon member boasted that he doubted if anyone could distinguish a Ghillie-suited marine from a large desert plant. Alternatively, Caver speculates that Hernandez might have seen a group of strangely dressed men, who, following their rules of engagement, never identified themselves. If so, Hernandez could have suspected that they were drug smugglers and panicked, especially if he thought they were armed. “Unfortunately, we only have one side of the story,” Caver said, not bothering to conceal his disgust. Like dozens of others had before me, I walked down into the arroyo where the marines had camped, crouched down, and positioned 10 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JULY 18, 1997