Border Sheriff on Mexican Cartels: They're Decapitating Police Officers -- 'If That's Not a Terrorist Act, What Is?'

By Edwin Mora | April 13, 2011 | 3:55 AM EDT

Pinal County, Ariz. Sheriff Paul Babeu (Photo: Babeu Web site)

Washington ( – The federal government should designate Mexican drug cartels as foreign terrorist organizations under U.S. law, according to the Republican sheriff of an Arizona county near the U.S.-Mexico border.

But a Democratic judge in Texas disagrees, saying such a designation would achieve little. Instead, said the judge, attention should be focused on illegal drug consumption by Americans.

Asked by whether he would support designating Mexican drug cartels as foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs) – as some lawmakers are suggesting as a way to target their finances – Sheriff Paul Babeu of Pinal County, Ariz. replied, “Absolutely.”

“They are terrorists,” said Babeu, a Republican elected official. “Literally 35,000 people have been brutally murdered in Mexico. The president just articulated we went and bombed Libya because we didn’t want possibly 1,000 civilians just killed – it would have been blood on our hands.”

“Wait a minute,” he continued. “That’s half way around the world. Look south –35,000 people killed and they’re not just regular people [but] judges, police chiefs, you know, anybody who stands up in their way.”

“They’re cutting police officers’ heads off, killing them, laying them in front of the police station,” Babeu said. “If that’s not a terrorist act, what is? They have destabilized Mexico to the point where it’s caused great concern here.”

Pinal County is located south of Phoenix, about 70 miles north of the southwest border.

Judge Veronica Escobar of El Paso, Texas testifies before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee on April 7, 2011. (Photo: HSGAC) also put the question to Judge Veronica Escobar of El Paso, Texas, a Democratic elected official.

She replied that FTO designation for the cartels would do little more than create “chatter” in the news media. The government should deal with Americans’ appetite for illicit drugs, Escobar said, as they are the ones “fueling” the drug war.

“I don’t know what added tools it [designation] gives the federal [authorities],” she said.

“I’m no fan of the cartels. They’re awful, they’re causing incredible bloodshed, they are ruining the lives of families in my community who have family in Ciudad Juarez [directly across the border from El Paso], the most dangerous city in the world – but what does that do to get us where we want to go?”

“I don’t understand what it [listing as FTOs] does except, you know, creates a lot of talk and chatter on the cable news stations and it gives somebody something else to talk about,” Escobar continued.

“I want to know what are we going to do about Americans’ insatiable appetite for those illegal drugs. Americans are fueling that war.” spoke to Babeu and Escobar after they testified before a Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee hearing, offering mostly opposing views on border security.

Babeu said the U.S. needs to send “military advisors” and “special forces” to the border, much as it did in Colombia in earlier decades to deal with the insurgency troubling that country.

He told that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had “made a good comparison to Colombia of two decades ago, with the Medellin cartel.”

“What did we do there that we said was in our national interest?” he said. “We sent military advisors, Special Forces down to ensure their government didn’t fall, and that’s what we need to do here.”

Clinton stated last September that the situation in Mexico was looking “more and more” like Colombia of two decades ago, “where the narco-traffickers controlled certain parts of the country.”

Babeu warned that the further destabilization of the Mexican government will open the border for criminal elements to “come in and buy their way into the United States.”

<b><b>Sheriff Paul Babeu of Pinal County, Ariz. addresses the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee hearing (Photo: HSGAC)</b></b>

Asset freeze

FTO designation takes place under the Immigration and Nationality Act. U.S. banks are required to block any assets of FTOs, and members of the blacklisted groups may not visit the U.S. or get material support or resources from Americans. Anyone providing them with material support is committing a crime under U.S. law.

On March 30, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.), the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee’s Oversight, Investigations and Management Subcommittee, introduced legislation instructing Clinton to designate the cartels as FTOs.

Designation would place the gangs on the same list as al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which is also involved in drug trafficking.

Under the legislation, co-sponsored by three Republicans, six named Mexican cartels would be subjected to sanctions such as an asset freeze. Those who facilitate their financing would face harsher judicial penalties.

Before McCaul introduced his legislation, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Immigration, Refugees, and Border Security Subcommittee, told that it would be a good idea to have the State Department list the Mexican cartels as FTOs, although she was not ready to say whether or not she would support such a move.

In fiscal year 2010, the Department of Homeland Security apprehended at least 663 individuals from countries with ties to terrorism attempting to cross the southwest border into the U.S.