Published September 26, 2002
On the heels of the "I Helped …" commercials that began last January, the Drug Enforcement Administration has again engaged in a propaganda campaign aimed at likening drug-using Americans to the most notorious financiers of terrorism.
This time, it's a traveling museum exhibit entitled "Target America: Traffickers, Terrorists and You." The exhibit harmonizes chunks of World Trade Center rubble and pictures of the scarred Pentagon with paraphernalia seized in international drug busts, and offers a "history" of the links between the drug trade and terrorism.
The aim? Stain the hands of the growing decriminalization movement with the blood of Sept. 11 victims. It's shameless, exploitative and not even remotely accurate.
It's also hypocritical. Because it is the actions of the U.S. government in its tedious drug war -- not drug users -- that has supported international terrorists, rained domestic terror down on U.S. citizens and created the black market that proves to be so lucrative for shady international villains.
Consider just two recent foreign policy decisions effected by drug war blinders, both enacted in just the last 18 months:
-- In May of 2001 -- just months before Sept. 11 -- the U.S. State Department announced a $43 million gift of aid to Afghanistan and its ruling Taliban regime. The grant was widely recognized as a reward for a Taliban edict banning the cultivation of opium poppies.
-- Just recently, the U.S. Congress approved a $440 million anti-drug aid package earmarked for the Colombian military -- despite warnings from human rights groups that the Colombian military has yet to satisfactorily sever its ties with the narco-terrorist groups responsible for the country's rash of kidnappings, bombings and murders.
On the domestic front, drug war exuberance has led to the deaths of dozens of innocents over the years. Just a few examples:
-- On May 20, 1997, Esquiel Hernandez was herding sheep on his family's farm just inside the U.S.-Mexican border in Redford, Texas. U.S. Marines patrolling the border for drug smugglers spied Hernandez and his pre-World War I rifle (which he used for scaring off wild animals) and shot him in the back, killing him. Hernandez had no drugs on him.
-- Motivated by asset forfeiture laws that would have given the local police department possession of his $5 million ranch if they found marijuana plants on the premises, cops raided the home of 61-year-old Donald Scott on Oct. 2, 1992. They shot him dead when he attempted to defend himself. Not only did they find no plants, friends later told police that Scott deplored the use of drugs.
-- John Adams, 62, and Ismael Mena, 45, a father of nine: both shot dead during no-knock raids on their homes. In both cases, authorities had the wrong address.
-- Roni Bowers, 36, and her daughter Charity, 7 months, were killed in April 2001 when the small aircraft that was taking them to missionary work in Peru was shot out of the sky as part of a "drug interdiction" program sponsored and paid for by the United States.
More recently -- in fact, just a few months after Sept. 11, 2001 -- Attorney General John Ashcroft announced that federal law enforcement agents would begin raiding medicinal marijuana clinics in the state of California, where state law allows the drug's use for therapeutic purposes.
On Oct. 25, 2001, federal agents stormed Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Center with guns and riot gear. The ward was populated with terminally ill patients who used marijuana -- as well as other drugs -- to treat their symptoms. Federal agents confiscated medical files and emptied medicine cabinets. To this day, most of those patients haven't had either their records or their medication returned to them.
And just earlier this month, federal agents stormed a Santa Cruz, Calif., hospice where 80 percent of the patients are terminally ill. Suzanne Pfeil, an elderly post-polio patient, told columnist Mitch Albom that she awoke that morning to find five federal agents pointing guns at her head. They told her to get up. She couldn't. She's crippled. They told her to raise her arms. Again, she wasn't able. So they left her on her bed, handcuffed, for over an hour.
When asked of the raid, DEA Administrator Asa Hutchison was incredulous. "Our responsibility is to enforce our controlled substances laws," he said, "and one of those controlled substances is marijuana."
We taxpayers are footing the bill for all of this. And at the same time, we're paying for a propaganda campaign sponsored by these same federal agencies, a campaign that says those same old ladies and cancer patients harassed and handcuffed at gunpoint ought to earn our scorn.
Because they're the real sponsors of terrorism.
Radley Balko is a writer living in Arlington, Va. He also maintains a weblog at www.theagitator.com.