The Two Wars

While the drug reform movement debates the seemliness of pointing out the connection between drug prohibition and the funding of the Osama bin Laden network, hardliners and drug warriors in Washington and elsewhere are showing no such scruples. Even before the dust had settled around the site of the World Trade Center, US and foreign political figures were attempting to make political hay out of the drugs-terror link.

Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee with presidential aspirations, was quick off the mark, telling the Associated Press last week that bid Laden's Al-Qaeda network had profited handsomely from the drug trade. He did not present any evidence to buttress his claim. Then, seemingly possessed by the ghost of Harry Anslinger, who in the 1950s warned that heroin was a devious plot designed by the Red Chinese to weaken the nation's moral fabric, Kerry added that Islamic fundamentalists have as an additional goal to "get as many people in the West drugged out and screwed up as they can. That's part of their revenge on the world," he explained.

Kerry was not alone in jumping on the "drugs fund terrorism" bandwagon. Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-IL) last week called a press conference to announce the reinvigoration of the Speaker's Task Force for a Drug Free America in order to combat drug trafficking, which Hastert linked to terrorism.

"By going after the drug trade, we reduce the ability of these terrorists to launch attacks against the United States and other democracies," said Hastert. "The illegal drug trade is the financial engine that fuels many terrorist organizations around the world, including Osama bin Laden."

Among Hastert's cohorts on the task force are such drug policy hardliners as Reps. John Mica (R-FL), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Mark Souder (R-IN). Also reappointed to the task force was Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA), the Jekyll-and-Hyde congressman from suburban Atlanta who is an ardent foe of government intervention into citizens' lives -- except when it comes to drugs. Barr came very close to blaming American drug consumers for the attacks in his comments at the news conference.

"As our nation enters into sustained conflict with terrorist organizations, and those states, such as Afghanistan, which harbor them, all Americans have a responsibility to do what they can to support this effort," said Barr. "One way to not only strike a blow against terrorism, but to promote security at home, is to strongly oppose the use and proliferation of mind-altering drugs. The statistics from America's Drug Enforcement Administration are clear," Barr claimed, "terrorist organizations abroad are supported in large part by the sale of illegal substances on the streets of America."

[That is a sweeping generalization. As DRCNet noted last week, Middle Eastern terrorist organizations derive an estimated 25-30 percent of their funds from the drug trade. That percentage may be even lower for Al-Qaeda, which benefits from bin Laden's personal fortune and the network of businesses he has established. Other sources of funding for such groups include remittances from expatriates working in wealthy countries, donations from charities, and other criminal activities, including counterfeiting and gunrunning. The Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), for example, derived some income from the heroin trade, according to the Geopolitical Drug Dispatch, but also got generous remittances from the Albanian diaspora and from strong-arm "taxation" of Albanian businesses. Paramilitary formations on both sides of the Northern Ireland dispute have dabbling in drug retailing as a source of funds, but according to the Government Accounting Office, there is little evidence of substantial drug involvement by either the Irish Republican Army (IRA) or the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). Some conflicts, however, are clearly driven by illicit drug profits, with Colombia being a case in point. There, both the leftist FARC guerrillas and the rightist paramilitaries tax the coca/cocaine trade. In widely published comments, Carlos Castano, until recently head of the paramilitaries, admitted that drug money constituted 70 percent of his group's finances. Lebanese groups, such as Hezbollah, on the other hand, could not have profited from the Lebanese hash trade in recent years because the crop had been successfully suppressed until this year.]

Bob Weiner, former spokesman for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (the drug czar's office) has also jumped on the attacks to push his drug war agenda. Only days before the attacks, Weiner had been full of critical questions for drug czar nominee John Walters, but he then reversed himself, calling for Walters' quick confirmation as part of the broader "war on terrorism."

"The drug czar can make an enormous contribution to the current war against terrorism by emphasizing terrorism's link to drug trafficking," wrote the hyperactive Weiner in a self-generated press release.

This week, in a letter to the Washington Post, Weiner strove to hammer home the drug-terror connection. "We could stop a huge portion of the funding for terrorism if we went after the money of the drug traffickers," wrote Weiner. "The attorney general, the secretary of state, and the new drug czar should devote resources to find and block the funding base of the drug traffickers in key terrorist states such as Afghanistan and Colombia."

Such arguments have not been limited to politicians from the US. Russian leaders, for example, have been quick to apply the terrorist label against the Moslem rebels in Chechnya, and to link them to both bin Laden and the Afghan opium trade.

Colombian nationals have also been quick to pick up on the potential. According to Colombian political analyst Carlos Franco, quoted in the Associated Press last week, US assistance in the Colombian government's civil war against the FARC "will be even easier to obtain now that Colombia can argue that it needs the assistance in the name of fighting terrorism." Colombian National Police General Tobias Duran was also quick to begin making that case. "There's no doubt the FARC has connections to other terrorist groups," he told the AP.

[The Colombian government's mouthpieces, however, are less quick to denounce political violence by the government's allies, particularly the right-wing paramilitary groups, who receive quiet support from the military. Such organizations, who field the notorious "death squads," also commit atrocities, in fact the clear majority of them according to all credible sources. Classifying one side as terrorists, while implicitly condoning the violence of the other sides by silence, makes it easier to bolster support for controversial efforts such as Plan Colombia that are expected to escalate the ferocity of the nation's decades-long civil war. Colombia's conflict may be a case where terms such as "human rights violations" or "war crimes" are more accurate descriptors even for heinous acts of political violence: In an intractable conflict such as Colombia's, where all sides are guilty and neither can be shut down, violence can only effectively be stemmed through negotiations for peace.]

The drug-terror link is now being exploited by politicians around the globe, eager to advance their drug war or counterinsurgency agendas. Hence, whether the drug reform movement should jump into this debate or not, is a question that may be answered by the drug warriors themselves. In the face of such an onslaught, drug reform advocates may have no choice but to start talking about how prohibition fuels the huge illicit profits that in turn fuel political violence.

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