In December 2010, a U.S. border agent, Brian Terry, was killed by gunmen from Mexico.
The guns that were used to kill Terry originated in Arizona, were taken illegally into Mexico and brought back to the border.
Border Patrol is a high-risk job, and any death of a law enforcement officer is tragic. But what makes this one even more so is the fact that U.S. officials allowed the guns to pass across the border in an investigative tactic known as “gun-walking.” The idea is to track the guns, let them fall into the hands of the higher-level buyers in Mexico and then break up the gun ring. Reportedly, about 2,000 weapons made this circuit while the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives attempted to trace them, with several hundred falling through the cracks.
The reasoning for not intercepting the weapons — even though it is against policy — was that officials might catch criminals higher up the food chain than the low-level runners who get the guns and smuggle them south.
Known as “Operation Fast & Furious,” it had been attempted before by the Bush administration, which abandoned the effort because the illicit gun buyers learned how to evade detection efforts.
For the past year and a half, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has been investigating the operation, asking for documents from the Justice Department. The Justice Department examined 140,000 documents, and committee members say at least 80,000 are likely responsive to their subpoena. The Justice Department, however, has turned over 7,600 documents.
There has been a simmering feud between House Republicans and Attorney General Eric Holder over his refusal to release the documents. That impasse reached a new level Wednesday when the Obama administration invoked executive privilege in its refusal to disclose the documents and the House committee voted to hold Holder in contempt, adding a constitutional-level battle to the issue. The House is scheduled to vote on the contempt issue this week.
That has led to Democrats and Republicans pointing fingers at each other and accusing each other of political posturing. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, tried to connect the document battle to civil liberties, noting that Holder is the official in charge of enforcing cvil liberty and right-to-vote laws. “These very same people who are holding him in contempt are part of a nationwide scheme to suppress the vote,” she claimed. Meanwhile, Rep. Darrell Issa, a Republican also from California, has questioned whether the gun-walking operation was intended by the Obama administration as a means to promote tougher gun-sales laws in the United States.
Much of this controversy could have been avoided had there simply been more honesty to start with. Justice officials told Congress in February 2011 that ATF had made every effort to intercept guns headed for Mexico, then nearly a year later admitted that statement was incorrect — but only because whistle-blowers had gotten information about the gun-walking operation to U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.
That it took whistle-blowers to expose a lie is a red flag that should concern Democrats as well as Republicans.
But for all the political wrangling and constitutional posturing, the core issue comes down to something House Speaker John Boehner said Thursday. Brian Terry died in the line of duty. He died in service to his country and, at the very least, his country owes his family the full story about the circumstances that took their loved one from them.