WAR ON DRUGS IN PARAMETERS
By the way, if the authors of the article care to respond, I am more than willing to provide them with space on this web site for any accurately documented rebuttals they might wish to make.
I wrote this letter in response to an article appearing in the summer 1997 issue of PARAMETERS, the official journal of the US Army War College. It is a point by point (more or less) refutation of an article which advocated an increased military role in the war on drugs.
WAR ON DRUGS IN PARAMETERS
By the way, if the authors of the article care to respond, I am more than willing to provide them with space on this web site for any accurately documented rebuttals they might wish to make.
20 May 1998
US Army War College
Carlisle Barracks, Carlisle, PA 17013-5238
I recently was doing some research on contemporary military affairs (I am the editor of Strategy & Tactics, a military history and simulations magazine) when I happened to come across the article in your summer 1997 issue, "The Drug Threat: Getting Priorities Straight". This article advocated increased military participation in the war on drugs. My first reaction to this article was it was some sort of satire, in the same vein as Lt. Colonel Charles Dunlap's marvelous piece, "The Origins of the American Military Coup of 2012". But upon further inspection, it seems that the article's authors were quite serious. So I'd like to address some of the article's key points, bearing in mind that I hold a MS in criminal justice and have done considerable work in the analysis of Low Intensity Conflict (or OOTW, as it is now sometimes called).
1. The article claims...
€ The President has declared drugs to be a threat to American national security. This has to be seen in light of previous declarations of "threats to American national security": the internment of Japanese-Americans, during World War Two, the stigmatization of homosexuals as seditious during the 1950s, the Palmer raids against European immigrants in the 1920s, and the general disenfranchisement of minorities through segregation and denial of civil rights until recent times. There is a long and tragic history of witch hunts in this country, going back to the days of the Puritans. Given this history, the mere fact that national leaders have declared some group of Americans to be a "threat" ought to give us cause for concern.
€ 25,000 Americans die annually from illegal drug use every year. So? Every year 40,000+ Americans die in automobile accidents. Does this mean we should have a war on automobiles? Every year legal prescription and over-the-counter drugs kill 100,000 Americans (extrapolated to one million Americans in a decade, this figure becomes close to the total of all Americans killed in combat in all its wars). Does this mean we should have a war on legal drugs? Or let us take the well known fact that people incarcerated in prisons have high death rates owing to disease, assaults, suicide, and so forth. More people are probably killed by enforcement of drug laws than by drugs themselves. Does this mean we should close the prisons?
Let me also note that one can debate the article's selection of "25,000" as the number of drug related deaths. According to "Annual Emergency Room Data: Data from the Drug Abuse Warning Network," (National Institute on Drug Abuse, Division of Epidemiology and Prevention Research, Rockville, Maryland, 20857), the number of illegal drug related deaths is closer to 10,000. Moreover, many deaths reported as "drug related" are not due to the drug itself, but rather to adulteration with toxic substances, to intentional overdoses for suicide, combination with alcohol, or external causes (e.g., people who have been murdered while under the influence of drugs are sometimes [and with little logic] reported as "drug related" deaths).
€ Drug cartels are undermining democracy among Latin American nations. This charge is incredible in light of the history of US involvement in Latin America. In 1954 the US, through the CIA, supported the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Guatemala, ushering in several decades of civil war, insurgency, and state sponsored terrorism. In the 1980s, the US supported the Nicaraguan Contras against the Sandinistas, an action condemned by the World Court. In 1989 the United States invaded Panama and displaced its government. While there may have been legitimate geopolitical reasons for the United States launching these interventions (justifications which I myself have defended in print) it is the highpoint of hypocrisy to criticize the drug cartels for engaging in a fraction of the subversion that the US has practiced routinely in this area of the world. One might also note that the cartels are only subverting their own governments, and then in response to a campaign of repression which has been advocated by an outside power. If the US is going to sponsor an assault on the drug cartels, ought we not to expect them to fight back? And when they do so, they use the usual weapons of low intensity conflict: guerrilla warfare and subversion.
It is the forces of the governments of Peru and Colombia that commit the majority of human rights violations in these countries. It is the police and military, and government allied paramilitary forces, that routinely attack political dissidents, opposition party leaders, union organizers, human rights activists, and just about anyone else who gets in their way. According to the Andean Commission of Jurists, for example, 70% of political murders in Colombia are committed by the police, military and paramilitary forces. The so-called "narco-terrorists" commit about 2% of the murders, with various leftwing insurgent groups accounting for the rest (see http://www.igc.apc.org/csn [Colombia Support Network] for more details).
If we are really to protect the peoples of these countries, then our first priority ought to be demanding strict compliance with the laws of land warfare from government forces. Unfortunately, US policy, motivated by the war on drugs, is encouraging greater human rights violations. The US government has economically pressured Latin American governments to force them to join in on the war on drugs, and promoted extra-judicial measures such as "faceless justice" and paramilitary forces.
It has been the war on drugs that has created the widespread alienation of the peasant sector that has shifted mass popular support to the guerrilla-cartel alliance. The end result has been that in Colombia the insurgents have grown in strength and have a presence in some 40% of the country. The peasant sectors are responding to the US war on drugs by rising up in armed resistance (just as, presumably, Americans would responded with armed resistance were a foreign power to intervene militarily within the United States).
History demonstrates that prohibition, as practiced in the United States in the 1920s, invariably leads to corruption and lawlessness. Rather than learn this historical lesson, the United States has instead chosen the path of least effectiveness. By involving the other country's armed forces in the war on drugs, the United States has set up the situation in which the cartels have effectively corrupted and gained control of them, as the corruption of senior Mexican military officials demonstrates (if the purpose of the war on drugs is to push entire nations into supporting anti-US insurgents then it has succeeded admirably). US drug war strategy has proven to an example of reinforcing defeat. But the war on drugs has created a blindness in American leaders, keeping them from understanding reality.
€ Drug users spread disease. The unclean needle problem exists largely because drug paraphernalia is illegal. Were clean needles freely available, then the spread of disease would be minimized. Many cities in Europe have needle exchange programs and these programs have proven very effective in reducing this problem. Incidentally, the claim that a certain group "spreads disease" is very common in hate literature. For example, a common theme in anti-Semitic propaganda historically has been that Jews "spread disease".
Drug related emergency room visits amount to about 1% of total emergency room cases. This is not a national health crisis crisis, and, again, the number of emergency room visits generated by illegal drugs is still only a fraction of those generated by legal pharmaceuticals. Moreover, many of these visits are the result of the illegality of drugs, as drugs are adulterated with toxic substances. By any objective standards, illegal drugs are not the source of a national health care crisis.
€ Hundreds of thousands of babies are exposed to illegal drugs in utero. This is a reference to the "crack baby" scare of a few year ago. Every serious study, including those conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, has demonstrated that there is no epidemic of "crack babies". The human uterus and fetus proves to be quite resilient. Many of the children claimed to be "crack babies" were suffering from the usual symptoms of the underclass: low birth weight, malnutrition, lack of prenatal medical care, and so forth. Arresting their mothers for using drugs is blaming the victims of inequitable social policies. As social services are cut back, and unemployment generated by corporate downsizing increases, we will see more low birth weight babies. And no doubt more poor women will be jailed, while the real culprits continue to propagandize against illegal drugs. (Incidentally, if I am wrong in this assessment, then I would challenge anyone to provide me with a scientifically demonstrable number of "crack babies".)
€ Illegal drugs reduce the profits of American companies. Now we are coming to the real issue. True enough, alternative medicines, such as a cannabis, undermine the government enforced corporate monopoly on pharmaceuticals. And it is also true that many people who use illegal drugs decide that they have better things to do with their lives than work in a corporate dominated economic system in which executives make on the average 200 times as much as the worker on the assembly line. So what? Are the articles' authors saying that corporate profits must take precedent over individual liberties? Are the armed forces to become a labor police, rounding up recalcitrant workers to ensure the corporate bottom line?
The last decade has seen a massive corporate assault against the working class, taking the form of leveraged buyouts, downsizing, export of jobs abroad, violation of safety regulations, and attacks on labor unions. Estimates show that anywhere from 5000 to 30,000 workers die every year from management violations of workplace safety rules. As an example, coal mine operators have been responsible for the deaths of thousands of miners due to black lung disease--management intentionally violates safety procedures and provides fraudulent tests of coal dust content in the mines to government inspectors. Presumably, these crimes are acceptable to the government (as evidenced by the failure of law enforcement to take any serious actions against corporate violations). But let a worker smoke a joint on his or her own time and suddenly we are told this is a "threat" to our national security.
The corporate sector has been one of the primary proponents for, and beneficiaries of, the US war on drugs. It was corporate money which sponsored the formation of the Partnership for a Drug Free America. It is corporate media which runs anti-drug public service announcements. And it is the corporations, though through unconstitutional policies such as drug testing and worker surveillance, which run much of the apparatus necessary to maintain the war on drugs' impetus. (For more information on this, you might check my online article on the Partnership for a Drug Free America at: http://home.earthlink.net/~jamiranda/corpptfa1.html)
The corporate sector is profiting by the war on drugs in any number of ways. One is through the suppression of alternative pharmaceuticals. Another is through the growth of the prison industry (again, fed by the war on drugs). The corporations make money by investing in the expanding prison construction and staffing industry, and by exploiting non-union labor in the prisons. Prison stocks are one of the hottest items on the market (now that is a Kafka-esque thought). The threats of corporate downsizing, export of jobs, homelessness (in the face of welfare cuts) and imprisonment have proven to be a way to keep labor unions in check. Abroad, American corporations profit from the attacks on indigenous drugs like coca, opium and cannabis which are widely used by third world peoples. American alcohol and tobacco companies conduct much of their business through export of their own drugs to third world nations. This is done in partnership with the United States government, through State Department pressuring on third world governments to open their markets to American drugs and, obviously, through counterdrug missions which attack the peasant sector that produces drugs which have been declared threats to US national security--and which compete with US corporate drugs.
€ Drug related crime and violence. American politicians frequently assert that illegal drugs are responsible or the majority of crime in America as "addicts steal to support their habits". The only problem is that the claim that drugs cause the majority of crime is a deliberately falsified position. The record of the lies by politicians to support drug prohibition is rather well documented. I recommend reading Edward Jay Epstein's book, "Agency of Fear" (available on the world wide web at: http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/History/aof/index.html, especially chapters 2 and 22).
The number of murders generated by drug related crime amounts to about 1500 annually (given normal fluctuation of statistics). This comes out to around 7% of the total number of murders in the US [i.e., given that drug users are about 10+ percent of the populace, the "drug related" murder rate is not appreciably different than the non-drug related rate]. Similarly, every serious study of drugs and crime demonstrates that illegal drug users have no higher propensity for violent crime than any other group. Most drug related crime is directly related the illegality of drugs (as in disputes between rival dealers).
Moreover, the majority of people who do use drugs are not addicts, and do use drugs sensibly. According to the US government's own statistics, there are an estimated 20-40 million Americans who use drugs at least once annually. Of these, about 6 million use drugs once a week, and of these less than a million can seriously be claimed to be addicts in any clinical sense. Even then, drug addiction is not necessarily a debilitating condition. Given the fact that the majority of drugs are fairly cheap (and many, like cannabis, can be produced at home at small cost) there is little sense claiming that the need to steal money to buy drugs motivates the majority of crime in America.
And if I am wrong in this assessment, then let us see the article's authors provide any of the following statistics: dollar value stolen by drug addicts; number of drug addicts who steal to support their habits; percentage of these addict to total drug populace. And then let us see them compare this to total property and personal loss caused by all crimes. Such an analysis would demonstrate that drugs are only responsible for a small amount of crime in America (as I will demonstrate later in this piece).
According to Department of Justice studies, the only drug which demonstrably and consistently causes people to become violent is alcohol (a drug which is legal and quite popular among politicians and law enforcement personnel). Department of Justice statistics demonstrate that people under the influence of alcohol commit a disproportionate number of crimes as compared to those using drugs alone‹approximately 21% under the influence of alcohol alone as opposed to 8% for drugs alone; combination of the two amounts for anther 6%. A further 46% are "not known." Similarly, about 13% of convicted prisoners said they committed their offense to "obtain money for drugs." (Source: U.S. Department of Justice, "Drugs and Crime Facts," Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics. Or check the Department of Justice studies on the Internet at: http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/GOVPUBS/psycviol.htm). [Also, see the dicussion of corporate and government crime, below. Since these latter criminals are rarely arrested, this provides another skew to official statistics. ]
€ The majority of people arrested test positive for drugs. This claim falls apart the moment a scientific analysis is made. In the first, place, a considerable proportion of people are arrested for offenses such as drug possession or trafficking [ or curfew violations, or not wearing a seat belt, or other such henious offenses] and not for crimes against person or property, so these offenders have to be deducted from the total. Law enforcement in the US is concentrated against groups which are more likely to use illegal drugs (especial among the underclass), and this skews the statistics. Moreover, much drug use is only incidental to the crimes committed (in other words it is a correlation, not a causation argument. It's like stating that since the majority of people arrested possess a driver's license so therefore driver's licenses cause crime).
In point of fact, the overwhelming majority of crime in the United States is in the form of corporate crime. Corporate crime includes fraud, embezzlement, antitrust violations, and violations of safety, environmental and labor laws. Corporate crime is responsible for well over $250 billion annually in losses (compared to a total of $15 billion or so in street crime, according to FBI Uniform Crime Reports). Corporate crime kills 56-200,000 people annually (depending upon how you read the statistics, to include illegal pollution, production of legal but lethal drugs, violations of worker and consumer safety laws, etc.), compared to about 20,000 murders annually. And please note that the figures for corporate crime are far in excess of any damage claimed for illegal drugs.
One of the most damaging forms of corporate crime is the unsafe and illegal dumping of toxic wastes. For example, a subdivision of Occidental Petroleum was responsible for the Love Canal fiasco, where thousands of people were victimized by toxic wastes, to include deaths, injuries and birth defects. The responsible corporate executives did not jail time for this massacre. Several major American pharmaceutical companies have be been responsible for exporting substandard drugs and defective birth control devices on third world markets (sometimes with the assistance of the US Agency for International Development, as in the case of the Dalkon Shield). Dumping has resulted in thousands of cases of injury, deaths and birth defects worldwide. Yet corporate executives are not jailed for this practice.
Pharmaceutical companies are some of the worst offenders, with a long record of fraudulent testing of legal drugs which leads to deaths and injury among thousands of people. For example, in 1985, Eli Lilly Pharmaceutical plead utility to concealing the hazards of Oraflex, one of its painkillers, which caused death and injury to several hundred Americans. Eli Lilly received a total fine of $40,000. [As a side note, former president George Bush served on the board of directors of Eli Lilly, 1977-79.] Compare this to the often decade long sentences handed down to minority youths for simple drug possession. If we are to have a "war" on drugs, then should we not start by directing operations against the boards of directors of those pharmaceutical corporations which have committed these crimes? Or another example, C.R. Bard Inc. (a member of the Partnership for a Drug Free America), admitted to making faulty heart catheters and then covering up the defects. Two deaths and several emergency cases have been traced to these defective devices.
If we want to talk about "threats" to national security, then surely corporate crime must rank high among them. For example, Northrop corporation has been indicted for allegedly falsifying tests on cruise missile components and has plead guilty to to defrauding the government over Harrier jets. General Electric (a member of the Partnership for a Drug Free America, incidentally) has dumped toxic chemicals in community water supplies, been charged with antirust violations such as price fixing, and has fired personnel who have exposed unsafe nuclear practices. (For more details on corporate crime, I would recommend checking the Multinational Monitor at http://www.ratical.com/corporations/mm10worst95.html)
When the profiles of corporate criminals are analyzed, we find that the majority of these offenders are white, middle to upper class, and have no history of drug use (in other words, the people who commit the most serious crimes in this country are the types least likely to be targeted by law enforcement). Corporate criminals are rarely arrested for their crimes (owing to their political privileges) and even more rarely receive prison sentences, so they do not show up in the normal criminal justice statistics. (I have included a copy of a chart from a book I use to teach a university course on corporate crime which demonstrates this point. For more information on corporate crime, check my web site at http://home.earthlink.net/~jamiranda/corpindex.html)
I want to reemphasize this point: the overwhelming majority of corporate criminals, the people who commit the most serious crimes in this country, have NO RECORD OF DRUG ABUSE.
Paralleling corporate crime are civil rights violations committed by government officials, including excessive use of force, malicious prosecutions of political radicals and minorities, frame ups (the recent controversy here in Los Angles over the wrongful prosecution of Geronimo Pratt is but one example), seizures of property without due process, harassment of dissidents, and even the murder of innocent citizens. In the latter case, I would refer to the numerous citizens who have been killed by narcotics officers in the course of illegal actions, such as the murder of Donald Scott in October 1992 by a drug enforcement task force in Ventura, California during the course of an illegal raid. And that's just in the United States. Narcotics agencies abroad routinely practice torture, assassination, kidnapping, extortion, and mass murder. Again, if we want to talk about narco-terrorism, then we need to talk about the terroristic attacks that narcotics agencies conduct against innocent people. Given all this, it might make more sense to have a a war on corporate crime and civil rights violators.
€ The war on drugs has to be seen in light of the 1980s, a period of untrammeled corporate crime and abuse. The biggest corporate crime was the Savings & Loan crisis, a series of crimes which were responsible for the looting of an estimated $500-1000 billion from Americans, and which destroyed thousands of lives. Abroad, we have had the Bhopal massacre, in which Union Carbide was responsible for an industrial disaster which causes tends of thousand deaths, injuries and birth defects. In other words, corporate crime commits all those offenses which illegal drugs are routinely accused of. And the spread of the maquiladoras (multinational corporate owned factories in third world countries) has also seen the spread of labor law violations, pollution, and worker abuse.
Yet what has been the government's response to the crimes of the corporate elite? To blame illegal drugs and arrest increasing numbers of the underclass! The tendency in the last decade has been for national leaders to blame groups who have no political power‹such as drug users, unwed mothers, and illegal aliens‹for America's problems. Meanwhile the political and corporate leaders actually responsible for growing social inequities and major crimes are not held accountable.
Now I realize that Parameters is a military magazine and that you cannot openly criticize America's politicians for reasons of protocol and such. But it is worthwhile to research political leaders of the last decade and note their links to various corporations which have been responsible for these crimes. You might also raise the ethical question of what is the military's response to political leaders who routinely lie, break the law, and fail to enforce the Constitution.
part 2 of letter