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Interview with a hitman

Todd Bensman interviews a former Mexican soldier who changed sides, joining a drug cartel.

Confiscated weapons are displayed during a presentation of members of the Beltran Leyva drug cartel to the media at the federal police headquarters in Mexico City Feb. 12, 2009. (Jorge Dan Lopez/Reuters)

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — Through Department of Homeland Security contacts, Texas journalist Todd Bensman arranged in November 2008 to interview a former Mexican special forces soldier who went AWOL and joined the Gulf Cartel's notoriously brutal The Zetas enforcement gang. The Zetas are responsible for thousands of murders and for operating houses of torture all along the Mexican side of the Texas border.

The cartel foot soldier had left the organization several years prior to the interview, and had become a cooperating witness for the U.S. government in the upcoming trial of extradited Gulf Cartel leader Osiel Cardenas Guillen in Houston.

The former gunman was produced for Bensman to interview on strict condition that his name and other revealing details not be publicly disclosed, for his protection. Bensman questioned the Zeta about how his gang procured American weapons.

How long were you in the military?

Seven years.

Then in the cartel, what was your job? What did you do?

Basically, I was a hitman.

Your job was to do what?

Bodyguard and things like that. Kill people, kidnap, all kind of stuff like that.

That's an interesting change from the military.

Yeah. It's almost the same, but without permission.

What does it pay? How much did you make?

About $500 per week.

You would be an expert from your military training. Were you ever involved in the procurement of weapons?

Not directly, but I saw little things of how they introduced the weapons in the country, into Mexico.

How did it work?

The same person that works for the organization here in the United States, they get the weapons and they carry them to Mexico ... They never had any problems to cross them into Mexico at the border. Sometimes they use secret compartments to hide the weapons, but not all the time. The principal way was crossing the river or by the international bridges.

Who would buy the weapons?

I'm not sure about that because I never was there. But the same people that work for the organization here in the U.S., I don't know how to explain in English, they have to be U.S. citizens to buy the weapons. They get some people to buy the weapons, every kind of them, and then pay them for it ... . The people who was working here in U.S. selling the drugs, they were the same that get the weapons. It was people who was working directly for my boss, so he said "don't bring me money, bring me weapons."

What kinds of weapons did you have, did you carry?

When I was in the organization, we asked for them to bring weapons like Heckler and Koch, MP5, and M-16 or something like that, AR-15, but the most we wanted Heckler and Koch and Colt AR-15 'cuz they were the better weapons. We knew about weapons, so we ask them for the best weapons we could use for that work.