Talking heads and newspapers are severely criticizing the FBI for not arresting Joran Van der Sloot in Aruba when they had the chance. On May 10, Van der Sloot accepted money from an attorney on behalf of the Natalee Holloway family in return for learning where her body is buried. The critics would have you believe the FBI agents, who were in Aruba monitoring Van der Sloot’s meeting, had better things to do like snorkeling and drinking beer on the beach.
They’re not psychics.
Van der Sloot received a $15,000 wire transfer to his bank, and $10,000 in cash from the attorney, as a down payment of the $250,000 he demanded before revealing where Natalee Holloway’s body is buried. Soon after the meeting, he flew to Peru for a poker tournament and allegedly killed another young woman, Stephany Flores.
Critics forget that Aruba is a Netherlands territory, and does not fall under the jurisdiction of the United States. Even though the FBI coordinated with Dutch law enforcement authorities, Van der Sloot did not violate Dutch law. Had Dutch authorities arrested or detained one of its own citizens it would be unlawful. This is as unlikely to happen as it would be if the Dutch police asked the FBI to arrest a U.S. citizen for them in Birmingham, Alabama.
As a DEA special agent on diplomatic assignment in Islamabad, Pakistan in the mid-1990s, I was responsible for processing and monitoring all formal extradition requests made by the U.S. It was there I learned how arduous the extradition process is, especially in a place like Pakistan.
The FBI agents in Aruba had to report their findings to the U.S. attorney’s office so it could seek an indictment of Van der Sloot for his extortion and wire fraud activities. Most federal grand juries don’t meet every day, and you’re lucky to get grand jury time within a week. Once indicted, a federal judge issues an arrest warrant.
Then, in order to seek Van der Sloot’s formal extradition, the Department of Justice’s International Affairs office has to review the entire investigation, indictment and arrest warrant, complete voluminous paperwork and present it to the attorney general personally for his signature. He cannot delegate this responsibility to a deputy. Next, the State Department ships the entire package, sometimes adorned with red ribbons and the U.S. seal pressed into red wax, through diplomatic channels to our embassy in Amsterdam, along with a provisional arrest warrant. A U.S. diplomat there presents the package to the appropriate Dutch authorities. At this point, the U.S. has to rely on The Netherlands to locate, arrest and initiate extradition proceedings against Van der Sloot. Once arrested, extradition proceedings and appeals could literally take years, making a successful prosecution less likely because witnesses become unavailable or their memories fade.
To cover all bases, the FBI probably was simultaneously coordinating with its Interpol representative to secure an international “red warrant” for Van der Sloot’s arrest. Interpol calls it this because there is literally a red strip down the left side of the cover sheet. This red warrant is necessary in case the fugitive is located in a third country so authorities there take him into custody. Without an Interpol red warrant, a disinterested third country, such as Peru, would be reluctant to make the arrest.
Keep in mind that the FBI’s middle name is “Bureau,” and its bureaucracy, grown over the years, makes it sometimes slow to act. Knowing this, the FBI agents in Aruba were probably relieved Van der Sloot went on a gambling junket in order to buy them time to get a red warrant and receive several levels of permission to start the extradition process.
Nobody could have predicted that Van der Sloot would kill again, and to suggest that the FBI agents in Aruba were somehow negligent in their duties is unfair. If FBI agents were psychics, they’d have the winning numbers for the next Power Ball drawing.
DEA and FBI agents have successfully conducted “extrajudicial renditions” to capture fugitives when formal extradition is not an option. These controversial renditions, or as defense attorneys like to call them, “kidnappings,” have been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. I’ve personally participated in several of them. The FBI probably considered doing this with the playboy gambler.
So, don’t blame the FBI for what happened to Ms. Flores in Peru. It was following international law, and that’s what it’s supposed to do.