by Doreen Miller
September 23, 2002
Looking at any aspect of the U.S. government, one can readily observe two very telling principles at work. The first represents total incompetence, real or feigned: "The right hand does not know what the left hand is doing." The second one I simply refer to as the Teflon Principle: "Always point the finger of blame at someone else." Taken together, they are symptomatic of a highly dysfunctional society unwilling to accept responsibility for its actions. Nowhere is that more obvious than in our ineffective, decades long struggle in the War on Drugs.
On the one hand, the U.S. has been waging a war on drugs, carried out for the most part in low socio-economic classes, mainly against blacks and other minorities. Between 1985 and 1999 the number of people imprisoned for illegal drug use quadrupled, with blacks making up nearly 50 percent of prison inmates although they total just 12 percent of the U.S. population. (1) At the height of the drug war in 1989, blacks were being arrested five times more often than whites, even though both groups were using drugs at the same rate. (2)
A class war based upon racial discrimination is blatantly evident in a criminal justice system that differentiates between crack cocaine, the drug of choice in the ghettos, and powder cocaine, the preferred drug of the wealthy, mostly white, upper classes. Mandatory penalties for crack are up to 100 times more severe than for powder cocaine. (3)
Any intelligent human being has to wonder on what basis it is decided that certain drugs are illegal while other equally or more addictive substances like tobacco and alcohol are not. It can't possibly be due to lethal effects since the annual number of deaths from illegal drugs lies well below the deaths caused by tobacco, alcohol and prescription drugs. The most recent statistics from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the American Medical Association (AMA) peg the annual death rates as follows: Tobacco: 406,290; Alcohol: 116,000; Prescription Drugs: 106,000; and illegal drugs (excluding marijuana to which there has never been a fatality attributed): 19,102. (4)
Next, one has to question why addiction to a legal substance is handled so differently from an addiction to an illegal one? For tobacco, alcohol or prescription drug addiction, all sorts of treatment facilities and outreach programs are offered to help people overcome their addiction. On the contrary, those addicted to and in possession of illegal drugs are first and foremost strictly punished. Not only are they thrown into the slammer, but their assets are confiscated, their families and relatives evicted from public housing, their eligibility for federal assistance or publicly financed college loans taken away.
My cynical side tells me it's all tied in with an ongoing legitimized form of class warfare, racial targeting and discrimination. After all, who would dare question the noble intentions behind the War on Drugs and society's efforts to purge itself of those "evil, second-class citizens" engaged in the vile act of illicit drug use?
It's a different story entirely when first-class, wealthy citizens are caught with drugs. Take Noelle Bush, for instance, daughter of Jeb Bush, governor of Florida. When she was caught trying to procure pharmaceutical drugs with a forged prescription last January, she was put into a rehab program. This past July while in rehab, she was again found in possession of stolen prescription pills belonging to one of the workers at the rehab. Now, two months later, she was discovered in the possession of crack cocaine. Do you really believe for one moment she will do any serious jail time for these felonies? Do you think she would be receiving this same kind of preferential treatment if she were a nobody from some inner-city slum?
In keeping with my initial premise of a dysfunctional society in which "one hand does not know (whether real or feigned) what the other hand is doing," the very same system that so viciously wages war on drugs (read: on the poor and minorities) also has a hand in bringing these very same drugs into the country. CIA involvement in drug smuggling dates at least as far back as the Vietnam War when the CIA was conducting its secret war in Laos in the late 60's. Our allies were opium growing tribesmen whose heroin trade was supported and augmented under General Secord from 1966- 68. (5) This coincided with a sudden monumental influx of drugs into urban areas, totally devastating inner-city communities.
In his book, "The Politics of Heroin," Professor Alfred McCoy of the University of Wisconsin states that before the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, zero percent of U.S. consumption of heroin came from the Pakistan/Afghanistan region. By 1985-86, a full 40 percent was coming from that region, now controlled by the CIA which protected and oversaw six heroin labs run by the locals with Osama Bin Laden as one of the pointmen.
Normally at that time, under federal law, any employee of the CIA caught breaking a federal law had to be reported. This minor problem was circumvented by then-U.S. Attorney General William French Smith in a 1982 letter to the CIA, wherein Smith stipulated that all non-case officers in the CIA were now designated as "non-employees" of the CIA. Voilą, problem solved! Any drug-related activities of these "non-employees" no longer needed to be reported.
During the 80's, the Iran-Contra scandal involving guns for drugs was brought to light. In Costa Rica, an American rancher and CIA agent by the name of John Hull received shipments of illegal contra weapons from the United States via planes landing on air strips on his ranch. These planes were then refueled and sent back to the United States filled with cocaine. Retired Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agent Celerino Castillo exposed direct CIA involvement in drug smuggling operations run from a CIA hangar at Llopango airfield in El Salvador. (6)
The CBS program "West 57th," aired on April 6, 1987, featured jailed American pilots who testified in front of millions of viewers how they would fly arms down to the contras, return with their planes loaded with cocaine and land, guided in by radar, at Homestead Air Force base in Florida. The trucks would come up, unload the drugs and take them away to be distributed on the streets of America. Much of this information and more is documented in the Kerry Report issued in 1988 by the sub- committee chaired by Senator Kerry investigating the allegations of arms and drug smuggling by the CIA during the Contra War.
The Teflon-coated U.S. continues to live in denial and rejection of responsibility for its drug problems. Instead, it dysfunctionally points the finger of blame at the coca and poppy growers in oil-rich Colombia where U.S. helicopters and equipment are currently being used to wage chemical warfare on poor farmers as part of Plan Colombia initiated two years ago. The chemical of choice being used to destroy the coca and poppy plants is produced by none other than U.S. corporate giant Monsanto.
Roundup Ultra, a combination of poisons twenty-two times more toxic than glyphosate alone according to biologist Elsa Nivia, is being sprayed in concentrations as high as 26 percent, whereas the Roundup sold in U.S. stores may not exceed concentrations of one percent due to health hazards.
According to an article in the National Catholic Reporter (16 Nov. 2001) written by Luis Angel Saaverda, between December 2000 and February 2001, 150,000 gallons of Roundup Ultra were sprayed over 30,000 hectares of which only ten percent were actually planted in coca. Traditional food crops of coffee, bananas, cassava, manioc, corn, rice, palms, and sugar cane were destroyed. Drinking water was contaminated, and fish went belly up. Animals and livestock were killed. During this time, thousands of indigenous people reported symptoms of rashes, vomiting, diarrhea, skin lesions, difficulty breathing, fever, severe headaches, nausea, and vision problems - all indicative of mass herbicide poisonings.
By all accounts, the spraying campaign has been a failure, endangering local residents and causing extreme harm to food crops and livestock. Colombia's chief anti-narcotics officer, Ruben Olente, testifies that in spite of spraying efforts, coca production continues to rise. The U.S. trains and supports the Colombian army which in turn works together with paramilitary groups, responsible for many of the egregious human rights abuses in Colombia, who finance their operations by selling the very drugs the U.S. is allegedly out to eradicate. (7) Talk about a conflict of interests!
A Rand Corporation study found that funds spent on domestic drug treatment were 23 times more effective than "source country control" (Plan Colombia). (8) So, why are we wasting our money waging war in Colombia? Of the $1.3 billion in aid to Colombia, 70 percent goes to the U.S. weapons and chemical corporations and the U.S. military: Monsanto produces the herbicide, United Tech and Sikorsky receive millions from the sale of Hueys and Blackhawk helicopters, and Rockwell benefits from its sale of surveillance systems. (9) War is profitable for big business. The number one reason the U.S. is involved in Colombia is, to quote a 1997 Pentagon document stating the purpose of the use of U.S. military, "to protect U.S. interests and investments." Spelled out in plain English: O-I-L and M-O-N-E-Y.
Addiction is both a symptom of and contributor to dysfunctional relationships to oneself, to one's family, to others in society. Whether it be an addiction to alcohol, prescription or illegal drugs, or in the case of the United States an addiction to oil and money, everyone ultimately suffers the consequences of behaviors driven by mindless addictions.
The world has suffered enough from U.S. addiction to oil and to our country's incessant pursuit of money, power, and control. It's time for the U.S. to admit its addictions, wean itself from its hunger and greed for oil and money, and put itself on the road to rehabilitation and healthier relationships with other nations. The whole world would be much better off for it in the long run.
Doreen Miller, mother, musician and poet, is currently a Senior Lecturer and educator of international students. She dedicates part of her time to serving the elderly and Alzheimer patients. This article first appeared at Yellow Times.org. She encourages your comments: dmiller@YellowTimes.org
(1) Economist, London, March 20, 1999, p. 30.
(2) R. Donziger, ed., "The Real War on Crime," NY, Harper Collins, 1996, pp. 115-116.
(3) Ibid., p. 118-119.
(5) Documentary: "Coverup: Behind the Iran-Contra Affair," The Empowerment Project.
(6) "CIA and Drug Trafficking by Contra Supporters," Affidavit by Peter Dale Scott, Ph.D., September 30, 1996.
(7) Seattle Times, "In Colombia, Pipeline is safe, but people aren't," September 15, 2002.
(8) House Committee Report 106-521 on H.R. 3908, March 14, 2000.
(9) Linda Panetta, Plan Colombia- Plan of Death, http://www.soaw-ne.org/Pccrops.html.