UPDATE: The full transcript of the hearing from 2/21/17 can be read here in PDF format. So far, it would seem that the justices of the Supreme Court are dismissive of the U.S drone argument. More to come as we closely follow this case.
In the sweltering summer of June 2010, Sergio Hernandez was playing a game of chicken with his friends. The dare? To run up and touch the border fence separating Juarez, Mexico from El Paso, Texas before making a quick retreat to safety. This seemingly innocent game played by youth ended in tragedy.
U.S Border Patrol agent Jesus Mesa rolled up on the boys on his bicycle while they were playing at the border fence. He was able to detain one of the boys on the U.S side while the others fled. At least all but one. Sergio Hernandez was left hiding behind a column under a bridge on the Mexican side of the border.
A cellphone video shows Sergio peeking out from around the column before Mesa leveled his gun and ended the boy’s life. Sergio Hernandez, age 15, had his life ended that day under a hot June sun in the summer of 2010. His crime? Being a Mexican boy playing a game with his friends a little too close to the land of the free and the home of the brave.
According to NPR, Mesa claims the boys surrounded him and were throwing rocks. Mesa’s claim does not appear to be verified by the video. However, the highest court in the U.S isn’t hearing a case of Mesa’s possible cross-border murder, a crime Mesa is charged with in Mexico.
According to NPR’s report:
“The Justice Department decided against prosecuting Mesa because the department said it did not have jurisdiction on the Mexico side of the border. Mexico charged the agent with murder, but the U.S. refused to extradite him, so the prosecution could not move forward.”
“The Hernandez family sued Mesa for damages, saying that the border agent violated their son’s rights — and this is the question that the Supreme Court faces: Can foreigners sue for damages under the U.S. Constitution?”
“The government said in its court filing that the right to sue “should not be extended to aliens injured abroad.” Mesa’s lawyer says a ruling in favor of the Hernandez family would mean foreigners could also sue over drone attacks.”
The implication of being able to sue over collateral war damage would mean that every innocent bystander who’s life is cut short by American drone strikes and bombings, of which there have been many, would be able to seek compensation by suing the government for damages.
According to key findings from the Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs at Brown University:
“Approximately 210,000 Afghan, Iraqi, and Pakistani civilians have died violent deaths as a direct result of the wars.
War deaths from malnutrition, and a damaged health system and environment likely far outnumber deaths from combat.
In 2014 Steve Inskeep of NPR interviewed then Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection Gil Kerlikowske.
During this interview, Kerlikowske said that the decision made by a U.S appellate court to allow the Hernandez family to sue Mesa was “chilling”.
However, Kerlikowske also admitted that there was a transparency issue.
“Frankly, we need to be better at admitting when we’re wrong or where we’ve made a mistake. There is a certain sense in law enforcement that if we just keep our heads down, all of this will go away — meaning media scrutiny and nongovernmental organizations. That doesn’t happen.”
So the question is, should the United States be held accountable for the innocent lives it destroys in other nations? Would that have the effect of making the U.S a more responsible player on the world stage? Would our government operate in a more responsible way if the loss of innocent lives, what is referred to as collateral damage, had actual repercussions instead of simply being a call for thoughts and prayers?
As the Supreme Court prepares to hear the case today, February 21st, we wait with bated breath to see if any justice will be given to the Hernandez family or if the U.S simply views people on the other side of a fence as less than human.