El Diario 9-25-2012 by Victor Hugo Michel
|Osiel Cardenas Guillen|
Distrito Federal. (Milenio).-- The stories are based on the lives of four men in prison; one says he has repented after controlling a criminal empire. Remorseful, he asks the people of Mexico and the United States to forgive him for his actions. Another one has fallen into a deep depression and his lawyers fear for his mental stability. He is in permanent isolation. One other asks to be allowed to have human contact because the loneliness of his cell terrifies him. The fourth one asks that his shackles be loosened because they have begun to hurt him.
They are jailhouse stories. Prison routines common to jails all over the world. But their protagonists are not ordinary. Far from it, they are-- or were-- some of the most powerful men in Mexico. Its principal drug kingpins. How do the highest ranked narcos live their prison sentences in the United States? How does Washington treat them? Not very well.
Federal District (Distrito Federal)-- "My client needs glasses but they won't provide them to him"..."it's undignified for him to be kept in shackles"..."he just wants to see his wife and daughter." These are some of the complaints presented during the last five years by the lawyers for the great captains of drug trafficking. Life is not simple for them. After their falls, celebrities of the magnitude of Francisco Javier Arellano Felix, Osiel Cardenas Guillen, Miguel Caro Quintero and Vicente Zambada were subjected to an iron fist regimen.
Documents obtained by Milenio reveal the hermetical nature of that country's prison world and the way the narcos are dealing with their imprisonment. It's a harsh panorama, a world of austere cells, limited rights and no privileges, much different than what they enjoy in Mexico. Their requests show a more vulnerable side, rarely seen in criminals who tend to be closer to myth than to reality.
|Francisco Arellano Felix|
Francisco Arellano Felix; chained to 'prejudice'
"El Tigrillo" was apprehended in August, 2006, by the U.S. Coast Guard on board a yacht in an operation whose legality was questioned up to the day he was sentenced to life in prison a year later. Defense counsel for the heir to the Arellano Felix Cartel argued fruitlessly that his capture took place on Mexican waters, and was therefore illegal. The United States government maintained, successfully, that he was in international waters, beyond the 15 mile limit that was required.
The youngest of the Arellano Felix brothers went to trial in the (Federal District) Court for the Southern District of California, which sits in San Diego. His case, No. 06CR2646-01-LAB, was assigned to Federal (District Court) Judge Larry Burns. Throughout the proceedings, the defense for the Mexican citizen petitioned repeatedly to improve the conditions of his imprisonment.
On January 16, 2007, lawyers for Arellano Felix began with their demands: they filed a special motion "to remove all physical restraints during the trial," due to the presumed physical and mental damage that keeping their client shackled hand and foot, even in the court room, was causing him. The Mexican's defense (team), made up of lawyers David Bartick and Mark Adams, even invoked the 5th and 6th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution to argue that Arellano Felix's civil rights were being violated. The initial petition was as follows:
"Our Defendant, Mr. Francisco Javier Arellano Felix, has been subjected to an exceptional and unjustified physical restraint during each preliminary hearing prior to trial in this case. In each hearing, Mr. Arellano has been chained by the wrists with two sets of handcuffs. In addition, his wrists have been connected to a chain around his waist, and his ankles have been in shackles.
"In addition to these physical restraints, Mr. Arellano is brought to Court in an orange jumpsuit, escorted by six or ten U.S. marshalls and is guarded by several officers of the Court during his appearances."
Both lawyers insisted that "El Tigrillo" had the "right to be treated like a human being." The shackles, they argued, violated the provisions of the 6th Amendment to the Constitution (which establishes the right to fair and speedy trial) by giving the jury the impression beforehand that the defendant is a dangerous criminal.
In support of their argument, they cited legal precedent in a previous case, Spain v. Rushen, that held that a physical restraint may, 1) create prejudice by reversing the presumption of innocence; 2) affect the defendant's mental faculties; 3) prevent communication between the accused and his lawyers; 4) subtract from the dignity and decorum of the judicial process; and 5) be painful for the defendant.
Bartick and Adams argued that the treatment given "El Tigrillo" violated not only U.S. laws, but also the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights and U.N. Conventions governing dignified treatment of prisoners.
"In fact, Mr. Arellano has been forced to suffer the indignity of being totally shackled in each of his Court appearances. His restraints are for no other purpose than to humiliate him. Mr. Arellano presents no risk of injury or escape. Placing him in shackles simply creates a spectacle for the media. There is no rational basis for Mr. Arellano's physical restraints other than to portray him as dangerous and guilty. It is (treatment) that is shameful to out system of justice."
The petition to remove the restraints, opposed forcefully by the prosecution, was finally denied by Judge Burns. Arellano Felix was forced to continue and finish his trial in chains.
On April 16 of that year, in the middle of the trial, Aellano Felix's defense filed another petition before Judge Burns. The Motion asked that the the conditions of his incarceration in the San Diego Metropolitan Corrections Center (MCC-SD) be modified. "El Tigrillo" was living under conditions that his lawyers described as deplorable. "Mr. Arellano has been confined in the MCC since his arrest. He occupies a solitary cell, located in the Special Unit, which is used for disciplinary segregation," they stated.
Titled "Motion to Modify Conditions of Confinement," Bartick and Adams' argument revealed the lifestyle to which the former leader of the Tijuana Cartel had been reduced. "Mr. Arellano is confined in a cell that measures 5x4 yards square, seven days a week. The cell consists of a metal bed soldered to the wall, a sink and the toilet. Three days a each week, he's allowed to leave his cell to take a bath and shave inside a cage. Mr Arellano keeps his personal hygiene articles on the floor, between the toilet and the wall."
The supermaximum security prison in Florence, Colorado, is known by two names: the Alcatraz of the Rockies and Hell on Earth. It is classified as a "supermax" and it is the harshest in the U.S. penitentiary system. Basically, it a place where Washington sends those who for some reason have made it onto its worst enemies list. The list includes some Mexican drug trafficking kingpins who are particularly hated by the U.S. government. In addition to Hector "El Guero" Palma and Francisco Javier Arellano Felix, it has housed Miguel Caro Quintero, former leader of the Sonora Cartel and the brother of Rafael Caro Quintero, accused of the murder of undercover DEA agent, Enrique "Kiki" Camarena, in 1985.
In its facilities, Caro Quintero has shared space with inmates like John Walker Lindh, the American Taliban, and Zacharias Moussaoui, mastermind of the September 9-11 attacks in 2001. Also, Theodore Kaczynski, the Unabomber; Ahmed Ajaj, terrorist who took part in the New York City World Trade Center bombings in 1993 and Khalfan Khamis Mohammed, author of the U.S. Embassy attacks in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.
Just before he was sentenced in 2010 to 17 years in prison, Caro Quintero asked his lawyers to save him from spending more time in Florence in the company of those people. "The manner in which Miguel has been treated is extraordinarily harsh," argued his lawyer, Walter Nash, according to the transcripts of the last minutes of his trial before Judge Phillip Brimmer, in the Colorado District Court on February 4, 2010. "My client is living under deplorable conditions," argued the lawyer. "Your Honor: I would like to discuss the conditions of this man's confinement...I'll say to the Court that I do not dispute the notion that a federal prison should not be a summer club. It cannot be, nor should it be, easy for a person to be there. However, the way in which Caro Quintero has been treated, in Mexico as well as in the United States, has been extraordinary. It has been incredibly harsh. Why is he being treated like this, keeping him in the company of the worst of the worst.?"
In his argument, Nash disclosed that Caro Quintero had fallen into a deep depression as a result of his isolation. The following is the description he gave of the Mexican narco's life behind bars:
"The treatment he has received, in essence, has been one of extreme isolation. He has been in solitary confinement for over eight years... he is so isolated and feels so alone that he has indicated that he doesn't care if you place him in contact with people who might represent a danger to him. He just wants to be with other human beings.
"We have shown the Court facts that illustrate the serious mental problems that may derive from keeping a person isolated from human contact. In Mr. Caro Quintero's file, it has been shown that he has been visited by psychologists. But the visits simply consist of a person cracking open the cell door and asking in poor Spanish: 'How are you?' That said, they leave him alone and go on to the next inmate. He has never received an in-depth evaluation and nobody has seen the aftereffects that arise from keeping him in isolation," said the lawyer.
Next, he asked for a change of prisons, a transfer from the fearsome Colorado Supermax, the Alcatraz of the Rockies, to a penitentiary closer to Mexico. "We ask that he be transferred to a prison in Arizona so he can be visited by his family."
The court documents note that Caro Quintero then took the podium:
"Your Honor -- began the narco-- I have made a mistake as a human being and I am very remorseful. Because of that, I am asking for forgiveness from everybody here and especially my family. I promise I will never make a mistake like this again. I'm asking you to let me stay with my family, with my children, to help them get ahead in life. It has been very difficult being separated from them."
--Is that all?-- asked Judge Brimmer.
--Yes, your Honor. That's all,-- replied the man from Sinaloa.
In the end, Caro Quintero was transferred to a new prison. But not in Arizona. They sent him to Memphis, Tennessee, 1,200 miles from Sonora.
Osiel Cardenas Guillen; he asks for forgiveness, but it does him no good
What the head of the Gulf Cartel requested, after learning that he would lose at his criminal trial, was for his family to accompany him. He had negotiated a deal with the United States: pay $50 million dollars in exchange for a lesser sentence. He just needed to find out just how hard he would be hit.
The transcript from the last day of trial on February 24, 2010, shows somebody who was at one time one of the most famous narcos in Mexico in a much different light: contrite and nervous, surrounded by lawyers to hear his sentence from the lips of Judge Hilda Tagle, in the Federal (District) Court in south Texas.
The transcripts paints a picture of a defense (comprised of lawyers Roberto Yzaguirre, C.J. Quintanilla and Chip Lewis) out of options, accepting defeat. In contrast, the prosecution was visibly happy with the agreement. Especially with the $50 million.
--Quintanilla: "Your Honor, I spoke with Miss Trevino last night and we would ask the court if it will allow (Osiel Cardenas Guillen's) wife and daughter to be present."
--Judge: "I will allow it." (Both women enter the court room to hear the sentence).
--Judge: "Sir, do you have anything to tell the Court before being sentenced?"
--Osiel: "Yes, your Honor. For the mistakes I made, I ask for forgiveness from my country, Mexico, the United States, my family and, above all, from my wife and my children. I feel that all this time in prison I have reflected on the bad attitude I had. Truthfully, I feel remorseful. I also apologize to the people I harmed, directly or indirectly.
The Judge issues sentence
(Brimmer:"is that all?")
--Judge: "When I sentence a 19 year old young man who, in exchange for coming to the United States illegally, agrees to carry marijuana, I take into consideration his life and the differences in his life and yours, the leader of a cartel whose family lives in relative luxury. When I sentence an 18 year old student for fraudulently purchasing a firearm destined for Mexico, I think about you, the leader of a cartel with your bodyguards...You were a role model for the younger drug traffickers who, brandishing their assault rifles, are ever more aggressive and daring.
"Your thirst for power and lack of respect for law and decency is tragic. Kidnapping, extortion, battles in the streets. A lost innocence: that's your legacy to your country and to our communities in both sides of the border. This is why I believe that the sentence I will impose on you will be such that, by the time you are set free, those drug traffickers for whom you were a role model will have forgotten you.
The judge sentenced Cardenas Guillen to 25 years. Thanks to his plea agreement, he avoided a life sentence, since he was accused of assaulting a U.S. federal agent at gunpoint in Tamaulipas. This was an offense that would have, automatically, led to him spend the rest of his life in prison. By way of farewell, the judge sent Osiel one last message:
--Judge: "Mr. Cardenas, God judges the secrets in our hearts. And God will surely judge you for the ones you have in yours. More important, He will judge you for your actions."
Cardenas kept silent.
The defense asked the Court for permission to allow Osiel to meet with his daughter and wife in private, before he was sent to a federal prison.
--Judge: "A visit here? No, absolutely not."
The agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice was not successful. Recently, he was transferred to the most feared prison in the United States, the Florence Supermax.
Vicente Zambada Niebla, sequestered and depressed
The letter was sent to Judge Ruben Castillo, to the District Court in Chicago, on June 27, 2011. It is signed by George Santangelo, Edward Panzer and Alvin Michaelson, attorneys for Vicente Zambada Niebla, "El Vicentillo," one of the most important members of the Sinaloa Cartel.
"Dear Judge: Please accept this letter in support of Vicente Zambada Niebla and his petition to determine why he is being held in confinement under special conditions and whether that is reasonable...Vicente has been confined to the Chicago Metropolitan Detention Center since March, 2010, in a Special Unit where he occupies four cells, one at a time, isolated from the other inmates. He sleeps in one cell for two consecutive nights and is after that required to move to one of the other three."
Santangelo, Panzer, and Michaelson recount how Zambada Niebla (whose trial was postponed until October) is prohibited from talking to other inmates and may only engage in conversation with his lawyers and prison personnel with a rank higher than lieutenant. That is, only a few prison guards can talk to him.
His isolation, according to his lawyers, is extreme: he can make a few phone calls each month and his letters from Mexico tend to get lost or get there late. "Not even once a week is mail delivered to Vicente. In fact, he sometimes gets mail that is delayed for months. Other inmates get their mail immediately. He only gets it delivered by his lawyer, and only on Thursdays if he's available...His family sends him mail every day, but despite that, there have been months when (mail) was not delivered."
With respect to his cells, he only has a mattress, three blankets, two sheets, a pillow and a small table. He was allowed sporadic exercise periods in a cell that measures 40 square yards., far from sunlight and without access to fresh air. Due to security concerns, he was never taken up to the prison's roof because it was feared a sniper would assassinate him to keep him from talking.
"He has not been given Vitamin D supplements (to supplement his lack of sunlight)," wrote Santangelo, Panzer and Michaelson. "Simple things, like a soft drink or a coloring pencil are prohibited," they pointed out.
Other complaints his lawyers have presented were: "Vicente's glasses broke. He hasn't been allowed to replace them," and "Vicente has made repeated requests for medical attention because he suffers from chronic stomach problems. He hasn't gotten an examination."
"His lawyer has observed Vicente throughout his confinement. He looks more and more anxious. His face looks gray."
The lawyers argued that keeping a prisoner in extreme isolation runs the risk of developing what's known as "special unit" syndrome, whose symptoms include visual and auditory hallucinations, hypersensitivity to noise and touch, insomnia and paranoia, uncontrollable fear, temporal distortions and even risk of suicide.
The judge agreed to his transfer to another jail. Currently, he's in the Federal Corrections Center in Milan, Michigan.
In December, the lawyers wrote another letter to the judge. The situation, they said, was worse in Chicago because his cell was smaller. "His haircut was postponed for three weeks in retaliation for having complained," say his lawyers. (Victor Hugo Michel/Milenio)