Drugs

Terrorism, Drugs And You

The newest exhibit in the DEA's museum is a desperate attempt by the flailing agency to hitch its wagon to the 'war on terrorism.'
Every day Mary Lucey takes AIDS medications to stay alive. Without medical marijuana she gets so nauseous she can't keep the pills down. Lucey, a veteran activist and Interim AIDS Coordinator for the city of Los Angeles, serves on the board of the L.A. Cannabis Resource Center. When the LACRC was raided by the DEA in October, 2001, Lucey lost her safe, reliable source of medicine.

Jim and Roni Bowers and their children, religious missionaries working in South America, were in a plane shot down over Peru on April 20, 2001. It was a U.S. government-coordinated "drug interdiction" that went bad and Roni and her 1-year-old daughter Charity were killed. According to the Washington, DC-based Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), "This summary execution of suspected drug smugglers was carried out without benefit of evidence, a trial or any opportunity for the Bowers family to defend" itself. Suspended for a while, drug interdiction flights are expected to resume shortly.

Esequiel Hernandez was tending his father's goats 100 yards from his home in Redford, Texas when he was killed in May 1997 by U.S. Marines looking for marijuana smugglers. Hernandez, who had never been in trouble with the law, lived in a location sometimes frequented by marijuana smugglers. "His death," says the MPP, "was the inevitable result of a 'War on Drugs' fought with a real war's disregard for human life."

Trafficking Jam

These are some of the stories that you won't find at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's Arlington, Va.-based Museum & Visitor's Center. The agency recently announced it was expanding the facility by 1,500 square feet. The first exhibit in the new gallery is devoted to the "connection" between drugs and terrorism.

The new exhibit, "Target America: Traffickers, Terrorists & You," reflects the Bush Administration's recent anti-drug mantra that the "war on terrorism" is inextricably linked to the "war on drugs." The "use drugs/support terrorism" campaign organized by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP, the office of the "Drug Czar"), was unveiled with a $3.5 million ad buy during this past February's Super Bowl.

The Super Bowl ads received a resounding thumbs-down from political columnists, editorial writers, entertainers and citizens across America. Matthew Briggs of the Drug Policy Alliance accused the drug czar's office of "hid[ing] their failed war on drugs behind the war on terrorism. That's bad enough," he added, "but what's truly appalling is that they would stoop to blaming our own children."

Evolution of Opium Dens

The DEA Museum's current exhibit, "Illegal Drugs in America: A Modern History," traces the impact of drugs on society from the "opium dens in the mid-1800's to the international drug mafias of today." The exhibit "follows the evolution of the Drug Enforcement Administration to its present-day status.... highlights major trends in illegal drug use as well as milestones and accomplishments that DEA and its predecessor agencies have made."

Krissy Oechslin, assistant director of communications for the MPP, visited the museum last year with a group of students. She says "the exhibit lacked credibility, was bereft of context and provided no opposing points of view."

A timeline, running the length of the museum depicts the opium wars of the late 19th century, the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s and marijuana use through the years as part of the same seamless drug problem. There were no references to the growing piles of documentation of the cynical role U.S. agencies have played in the drug trade.

Targeting Americans

Here's how the DEA describes "Target America: Traffickers, Terrorists & You":

The exhibit "traces the historic and contemporary connections between global drug trafficking and terrorism. Starting with the horrific events of September 11, 2001 and moving back in time to the ancient Silk Road, this exhibit . . . will present the visitor with a global and historical overview of this deadly connection. The visitor will have many opportunities to explore the often-symbiotic relationships that exist between terrorist groups and drug trafficking cartels and the personal impact those connections have on the visitor."

"When I saw the press release announcing the new exhibit I felt sick to my stomach," Oechslin said in a telephone interview. "I was disgusted by the use of a drawing of the twisted metal shards of the World Trade Center inside of a wraparound banner advertising the new exhibit."

Not Exactly Fighting Terrorism

A recent press release from the California chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) noted that, "Since September 11, when the federal government promised to focus their resources on fighting terrorism, federal agents have raided medical cannabis buyers cooperatives in Los Angeles, Santa Rosa and San Francisco."

Steph Sherer, the executive director of Americans for Safe Access, which she describes as "a network of patients, advocates and caregivers who defend patients' access to medical marijuana," said "There have been more arrests for medical marijuana cultivation and distribution since September 11, than there have been for any acts of terrorism in California."

In response to these raids, in early June Dr. Mitch Katz, director of public health for San Francisco, sent a letter to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, calling for hearings on the DEA's priorities. Katz wrote: "these actions [the San Francisco raids] have resulted in 4,000 persons with chronic illness left without access to critical treatment upon which they rely."

Their Own Medicine

The Marijuana Policy Project's website offers a counter-exhibit called Target America: The DEA and You.

Parodying the DEA's language, the MPP's Bruce Mirken says the online exhibit "examines the deadly connection between the 'war on drugs' and terrorism, the often-symbiotic relationship between drug warriors and terrorist drug cartels and the personal impact those relationships have on the average American."

MPP focuses on the victims of the DEA – AIDS patients deprived of medicine, medical marijuana dispensaries raided and shut down, and stories about innocent people killed by the DEA and other "drug war" agencies. Each of the sections contains photos, graphics and extensive documentation.

In a November 2001 Zogby Poll commissioned by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), pollsters asked: "In light of the tragic events of Sept. 11th and the increased attention to the threat of terrorism, do you strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose arresting and jailing nonviolent marijuana smokers?"

Three-fifths (61%) of likely voters said they opposed the arresting and jailing of nonviolent marijuana smokers; one-third (33%) supported arrests and jail time; and 6% said they were not sure.

"The public is waking up to the futility and destructiveness of the so-called 'war on drugs,'" Mirken said. "This exhibit's dishonest, hypocritical attempt to hitch the DEA's wagon to the popular effort against terrorism is a sign of how desperate they've become."
Bill Berkowitz is a freelance writer covering right-wing groups and movements.
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