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Drug Laws: Terrorists Best Friends

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PRESIDENT BUSH, when signing the Drug-Free Communities Act on December14, announced: If you quit drugs, you join the fight against terror in America. Bush could also have added: If you quit drug laws, you join the fight against terror.

How many more Americans should die in order to perpetuate the fiction that the U.S. government can completely control every farmer in the world? This is the phantasm at the heart of the U.S. war on drugs on efforts by the U.S. government to intervene anywhere in the world to suppress any product that offends or frightens American politicians.

Afghanistan produces about 70 percent of the worlds opium. Revenue from opium production helped finance both the Taliban government (until production was banned) and the al-Qaeda terrorist network. Because narcotics are illegal, they tend to attract violent, ruthless people and organizations to carry out their production and marketing. The only reason that opium is more profitable for terrorists than beer is that governments criminalize the possession and distribution of opium while tolerating the possession and distribution of beer.

Drug Enforcement Agency chief Asa Hutchinson told Congress in October,

DEA will continue to aggressively identify and build cases against drug-trafficking organizations contributing to global terrorism. In doing so, we will limit the ability of drug traffickers to use their destructive goods as a commodity to fund malicious assaults on humanity and the rule of law.

Hutchinsons statement is typical of the Bush administrations efforts to bury illicit drugs with overheated rhetoric. But if Hutchinson is really serious about defunding terrorist groups, he should fetch up the courage to look at drug laws themselves.

Federal officials have admitted that the federal government fails to interdict up to 90 percent of the drugs being smuggled into the United States. That is the sort of failure rate that is absolutely intolerable when illicit drugs finance terrorism. And yet, regardless of how hard Hutchinson and other drug warriors huff and puff, the profits from smuggling will continue to overpower the competence of law enforcement.

Afghanistan and the drug war

Since the Taliban regime was effectively destroyed, opium growing is now skyrocketing, which is creating a conundrum for American policymakers. The Washington Post reported on December 25 that controlling opium farming is a major front-burner issue for the Bush administration. Some top Bush administration officials are now advocating that the U.S. government use tax dollars to buy opium directly from the farmers a one-time buy-back to help farmers make the transition to other crops.

There is precedent for this in U.S. farm policy it has conducted many one-time buy-backs of specific crops over the last 50 years. Many of those buy-backs were so successful that the Agriculture Department extended them indefinitely. And the more generous the buy-backs, the more farmers plant with the expectation of receiving more buy-backs.

Afghan farmers can easily earn 10 times more from growing opium than from growing legal crops. The effort to persuade Third World farmers to give up illicit crops is as likely to succeed as a program to persuade stockbrokers and law firm partners to abandon their high-paid jobs, move to Mexico, and make a piece-work living assembling toilet brushes for sale at Wal-Mart.

Other drug-enforcement officials prefer to rely on a law-enforcement approach using the threat of punishment to deter opium growing. Some drug warriors are encouraged by the fact that opium production in Afghanistan fell by 90 percent after the Taliban announced that opium growing was un-Islamic. The Department for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, which was the Talibans equivalent of the DEA, threatened supreme penalties on growers. UN officials gushed over the Talibans success. Bernard Frahi of the UN Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention, praised the Taliban for a remarkable achievement. Reuters noted that UN officials stated that the Taliban might be credited with carrying out the most successful drug eradication program in history. (Some experts think that the Taliban banned opium production in order to create a relative shortage and drive up the value of the opium stockpiles the government allegedly controlled.)

Perhaps the DEA should lobby Congress to authorize the agency to impose summary executions, amputations, and other maimings on anyone suspected of violating drug laws which of course was part of the secret of the Talibans success.

It is ironic to see the Taliban criticized for one other aspect of their reign of tyranny. Bush denounced the Taliban on November 6: Children are forbidden to fly kites, or sing songs, or build snowmen. A girl of seven is beaten for wearing white shoes.

But what about the children in this country who have been killed in no-knock drug raids? What about the children who are expelled from school for having cold tablets in their pockets a violation of federally mandated zero tolerance for drugs school policies? What about the children who may be suffering far more than necessary because of the DEAs war on painkillers and on the doctors who prescribe them to patients? What about the children who are given Ritalin because theyre bored with their public-school classes?

The Bush administration has offered numerous photo-ops with the president as he announces the seizure and shutdowns of Muslim charities suspected of aiding terrorists. When asked how much evidence or involvement was necessary to shut down a nonprofit organization, President Bush replied that one dime of money into a terrorist activity is one dime too much.

Drug laws provide far more than one dime to terrorists. Abolishing drug prohibitions would be a far more effective means to defund terrorist groups than chasing every two-bit charity that might forward donations to suspect addresses. In fact, if the Bush administration does not gut drug laws, then its high-profile charity busts are little more than a distraction to prevent people from realizing how the U.S. governments drug war aids terrorists.

It should also be noted that in the name of the drug war, the federal government is conducting a chemical-warfare campaign in Colombia, fumigating much of the countryside with deadly herbicides to suppress coca production. Unfortunately, the campaign has devastated the crops of many law-abiding farmers and left children gasping and ill.

The futility of the drug war

While DEA chief Hutchinson talks tough about his agencys focus on terrorism, in reality the drug warrior is as pettifogging as ever. One month after September 11, the DEA announced that it was banning the use of any hemp products in beer, cheese, coffee, or veggie burgers. (In a peacemaking gesture to moderates, the DEA announced that it would permit the use of hemp products in birdseed and in hats, shirts, and shoes.)

A few weeks later, DEA agents swooped in on a cannabis club in southern California that was providing marijuana to cancer patients. Though the club operated in harmony with the law in California where a voter referendum recognized the medical benefits of marijuana the feds struck to prevent a single chemo patient from illicitly dodging nausea. The DEA is cracking down on the manufacturer of OxyContin, one of the best anti-pain medicines simply because some scofflaws use or sell it for kicks. The feds, as usual, are far more concerned about people enjoying illicit pleasure than they are about the reduction of deathly pain.

Before September 11, the U.S. government spent more than three times as much on the drug war as it did in fighting terrorism. While drugs can leave a person in the gutter, they do not destroy 110-story buildings. While drugs can blur peoples vision, they do not cause airliners to crash. While drugs can perforate a persons sense of responsibility, they do not leave large holes in the side of the Pentagon.

Are politicians more interested in controlling people or in protecting them? Unless President Bush can guarantee that none of the profits from illicit drugs will seep back into terrorist organizations, he should do the honorable thing and end the war on drugs.

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    James Bovard serves as policy adviser to The Future of Freedom Foundation. He has written for the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, New Republic, Reader's Digest, Playboy, American Spectator, Investors Business Daily, and many other publications. He is the author of a new e-book memoir, Public Policy Hooligan. His other books include: Attention Deficit Democracy (2006); The Bush Betrayal (2004); Terrorism and Tyranny (2003); Feeling Your Pain (2000); Freedom in Chains (1999); Shakedown (1995); Lost Rights (1994); The Fair Trade Fraud (1991); and The Farm Fiasco (1989). He was the 1995 co-recipient of the Thomas Szasz Award for Civil Liberties work, awarded by the Center for Independent Thought, and the recipient of the 1996 Freedom Fund Award from the Firearms Civil Rights Defense Fund of the National Rifle Association. His book Lost Rights received the Mencken Award as Book of the Year from the Free Press Association. His Terrorism and Tyranny won Laissez Faire Book's Lysander Spooner award for the Best Book on Liberty in 2003. Read his blog. Send him email.