Drugs

Drug War Briefs: A Number Ten Earthquake

This week, the Supreme Court agrees to rule on the constitutionality of the guidelines for federal criminal sentences; the Tajikistan general in charge of battling the drugs trade in his country and in Afghanistan has been arrested amid claims of murder and corruption; and U.S. Drug "Czar" John Walters admits that Plan Colombia has been a failure, but insists we must continue to stay the course.
August 3- The New York Times reports: The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to rule on the constitutionality of the guidelines for federal criminal sentences. By acting in its summer recess, the court signaled a sense of urgency about resolving some of the turmoil in the lower courts stirred up by a decision from the Supreme Court itself.

The court set a hearing for the afternoon of opening day of the justices' new term, Oct. 4, to review two appeals by the Justice Department.

At the heart of the cases is the impact, if any, on federal sentencing guidelines of a ruling that the court issued less than six weeks ago, in the case of Blakely v. Washington, involving state sentencing guidelines. In the aftermath of that ruling, which strictly limited judges' power to increase sentences, lower courts have issued more than three dozen rulings, sometimes flatly contradictory, in federal cases.

Many of those judges have ruled the guidelines unconstitutional. A federal judge in Boston, Nancy Gertner, said in an opinion last week that the Blakely decision "has effected nothing less than a sea change" in federal criminal sentencing.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who dissented in the 5-to-4 Blakely decision, told a group of federal judges last month that the decision "looks like a No. 10 earthquake to me."

August 6- BBC News reports about Tajikistan: The Tajik general in charge of battling the drugs trade has been arrested amid claims of murder and corruption.

Ghaffor Mirzoyev is being held in the capital Dushanbe while inquiries go on.

He is accused of involvement in a murder, hoarding weapons including an anti-aircraft missile, and cheating the state out of a helicopter contract.

Correspondents say he is one of the most powerful people in Tajikistan and had also been set to go to Athens as head of the national Olympic committee.

Tajik Prosecutor General Bobojon Bobokhonov said no charges had yet been laid against Lt Gen Mirzoyev.

Tajikistan's Drug Control Agency is seen as having a crucial role in trying to tackle the booming regional drug market centered in neighboring Afghanistan.

August 6- The Philadelphia Inquirer reports: After flying over blackened coca fields, White House drug czar John Walters conceded that seizing cocaine, destroying coca crops, and locking up drug traffickers in Colombia have had little impact on the flow of cocaine on U.S. streets.

But in an interview with the Associated Press, Walters insisted that Washington must stay the course with so-called Plan Colombia, a $3.3 billion, five-year program mainly to train, equip and provide intelligence to Colombian forces spearheading the war on drugs.

"We have a history in the United States of not following through on programs like this," Walters said Wednesday at an antidrug police base near this coastal city after touring fumigated fields in the nearby mountains by helicopter.

During his three-day visit, Walters also met with President Alvaro Uribe and attended a funeral for nine police officers killed in apparent retaliation for a drug seizure.

The U.S.-funded Plan Colombia has led to a huge increase in drug seizures, with 48 tons of cocaine confiscated in Colombia last year compared with 8 tons in 1999. Closer judicial cooperation has led to extradition of 120 alleged traffickers to the United States in two years.

Aerial eradication, a key part of the aid package in which crop dusters spray fields of coca – cocaine's raw ingredient – with herbicides, has drawn sharp criticism, despite its success in reducing the area under cultivation.

The amount of cultivated coca crops across the country fell to 280,000 acres last year, from 420,000 acres in 2001 – a 33 percent drop, officials say.

Peasants in the sprayed zones complain of health problems; rights groups say the herbicides kill banana and yucca plants. The U.S. and Colombian governments insist spraying is safe.

Another problem is security. Though escorted by helicopter gun ships, spray planes are hit by gunfire two dozen times a month, according to a U.S. report. Walters said he believed fumigation remained important and effective, but that money could be used elsewhere.

U.S. cocaine prices are unchanged, a sign there is no shortage. "Thus far we have not seen a change of availability in the United States," Walters said. He contends traffickers have tons of cocaine stored along transport routes and draw on this stock to keep prices low.
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