Washington (CNSNews.com) -- Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, while testifying before Congress on Wednesday, said the United States should designate drug cartels in Mexico as foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs).
Federal officials, however, said there is no need to make that designation because there are enough laws on the books to punish the cartels.
“I certainly do agree with the chairman’s bill to designate cartels as terrorist organizations,” said Horne during the House Homeland Security Oversight, Investigations, and Management Subcommittee hearing, chaired by Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas).
In explaining why Mexican drug cartels should be officially named FTOs, Horne said, “among other things, it makes it an enhanced crime to supply aid to those organizations and that obviously would be a very powerful tool in fighting them.”
The chairman’s bill that Horne referred to was introduced by Rep. McCaul at the beginning of April. It calls upon the Secretary of State to officially list Mexican drug cartels as FTOs.
During Wednesday’s hearing, Rep. McCaul said the bill would provide “more authority to go after [Mexican drug cartels] and those who provide them with assistance,” adding that they should be called what they really are – terrorists.
Nevertheless, two Obama administration officials, one from the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the other from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), told lawmakers during the hearing there is no need to designate Mexican drug cartels as foreign terrorist organizations.
“We have very tough laws here already in the United States,” said Amy Pope, the deputy chief of staff and counselor for the criminal division of the Justice Department’s Office of Assistant Attorney General. “I’m not sure it gets us more unless we can get defendants extradited back to the United States so that they’re facing the very tough penalties that we now have in our U.S. courts.”
“The designation I don’t think would help us,” said Grayling Williams, director of the Office of Counternarcotics Enforcement in the Department of Homeland Security. “I think we have laws on the books that we need to apply and have worked with us for several years.” (Grayling is a political appointee, nominated to his position by President Barack Obama in 2009.)
In his prepared remarks, Rep. William Keating (D-Mass.), the ranking member of the subcommittee, noted that the United States “has successfully used the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act to sanction Mexican drug trafficking organizations [DTOs].”
“This Act provides the U.S. with the best available tool for imposing economic sanctions against Mexican DTOs,” he said.
However, Rep. McCaul said that the Act only goes after the cartel leaders and not the people under them.
McCaul’s bill to designate Mexican DTOs as Foreign Terrorist Organizations would put those groups in the same list as al Qaeda, the Taliban, and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC.
The designation by the State Department would subject the cartels to the same sanctions as other terrorist organizations, including the freezing of the cartels’ monetary assets and tough criminal prosecution of those that provide material or monetary support to an FTO.