Terrorism and Drugs: What's the Real Connection?

"It's important for Americans to know that trafficking of drugs finances the world of terror, sustaining terrorists; if you quit drugs, you join the fight against terrorism."

- George W. Bush, December 14, 2001


The message is clear - BE AMERICAN, DON'T DO DRUGS. The government's opportunistic link between drugs and terrorism attempts to bolster the failing war on drugs by riding the wave of patriotic sentiment and was just given a huge push in the public with the airing of the 3.5 million dollar ads during the Superbowl. Equating drug trafficking and use to terrorism will conveniently allow the government to extend the drastically expanded police and prosecutorial powers of the war on terrorism into the war on drugs.

As the dust settles on the military actions in Afghanistan, it is important to reflect on the legacy of the past few months and examine where the war on terrorism leaves us here at home. In response to the horrifying terrorist acts of 9/11, the government has put in place extraordinary laws and procedures to fight terrorism domestically, but has done so at the gouging expense of a widespread assault on civil liberties. The recent measures expanding police and prosecutorial powers -military tribunals, freezing assets of suspected associates of terrorism, eavesdropping on client-attorney privileges, easier access to email and phone taps - are all extensions of the very kind of tools that the American public has rejected in the war on drugs.

Yet these measures do not make society safer at an acceptable cost. With the exchange of our liberties for the false sense of security in the increased ability to wiretap, detain and deport individuals, we have unknowingly fortified our failed war on drugs in a time when the public has lost faith in the tools used. As military action in Afghanistan comes to an end and the Administration is attempting to side-step the Geneva Convention on Human Rights, we are left with the machinery of the domestic war which will need to transition into something new to sustain itself. Or something old - like the war on drugs.
The transition will be easy. The domestic tools of the war on terrorism will be applied to major drug traffickers, fortified by the claim that the illegal drug trade funds terrorists. The traffickers will soon become terrorists in public perception. We see it in the advertising campaign launched during the Superbowl blaming people who use drug for supporting terrorism. A glance into the not so distant future: International drug traffickers will be tried as narco-terrorist in military courts, deprived of stringent requirements to prove guilt and appeal a conviction; defendants in drug related cases will be deprived of attorney-client confidentiality when prosecutors claim that they may have knowledge of future exchanges that could eventually "fund terrorism"; international drug rings will be easy targets for wiretaps, initially over financial connections to terrorism, but as with mandatory minimums, the low-level buyers and sellers rather than "kingpins," will bear the brunt of the prosecutions and excessive penalties. Drug use does not constitute terrorism, nor really have anything to do with it, although current rhetoric would have you believe otherwise.
Although the number of actual "terrorists" affected by the loss of rights may be slim, as soon as these measures are employed by the war on drugs, millions of Americans will be denied constitutional rights. In the U.S., 76.3 million people have tried marijuana and in 2000, there were 1,579,566 drug law violation arrests. These are our neighbors, associates, friends, and relatives and their lives and liberties will be directly impacted by the abridgement of rights pursued in the name of anti-terrorism.

If we are truly concerned about drug misuse, lets take this moment of increased national compassion to work to shift our national drug policy away from the punitive war on drug and towards solutions which address the harms caused by drug use.

By protecting civil liberties, we are protecting America and the principles which make us an open society rather than a repressive regime.

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