'It's Like a Conveyor Belt'

This week, a major crackdown on a powerful Mexican drug cartel puts a slight damper on illegal drug flow from Mexico; drug addiction soars as Afghanistan residents cope with life in a violent anarchy; and John Ashcroft orders federal prosecutors to alert him to judges who give lighter sentences than the federal mandatory minimums.

August 3 -- The Arizona Republic reports: The international crackdown on a powerful Mexican drug cartel last week put a damper on the stream of cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana coming into the United States across the Arizona border.

But it won't do much to stop the overall flow of drugs pouring into the country from Mexico every day, officials said. "It's a great victory, but it isn't like we're not going to see any more drugs come across," said Sgt. Tom Hayden of the Pima County Sheriff's Department in Tucson.

"Operation Trifecta," a 19-month investigation that has led to 240 arrests, including 10 in Arizona, most likely will force Mexican drug kingpin Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada-Garcia to re-evaluate his smuggling methods, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration said. It could force the 55-year-old Zambada-Garcia to turn to other cartels to keep his drugs moving while he re-establishes his distribution cells in the United States.

Authorities expect more arrests in the investigation, which involves the cooperation of the United States, Mexico and Colombia. "I think there are some people that are very shocked and taken aback," said DEA Supervisory Agent Tony Ryan, a spokesman in Tucson. "I don't think anybody saw this coming. I think we sent sound waves across the organization."

Despite the setback, the cartel likely will recoup.

"It's like a conveyor belt," Sanchez said. "If something is dismantled or not working, they will fix it." After all, she said, the demand for drugs in this country is too strong to allow operations to come to a halt. "It's basically Economics 101," she said. "If the people from the East Coast and Los Angeles continue to want drugs, you can be assured someone out there will provide them with it."

August 7-- BBC News reports: The first ever assessment of drugs usage in the Afghan capital Kabul has shown that heroin, opium, alcohol and pharmaceutical drugs are being used by thousands of people across the city.

The assessment, made by the United Nations, also shows that many returning refugees and women are among the drug users. The findings were based on interviews with 200 drug users and with 100 specialists, such as doctors, health workers and police.

The final report concludes there are at least 24,000 hashish users, nearly 11,000 opium users and 7,000 heroin users in the Afghan capital, as well as nearly 7,000 who drink alcohol. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime emphasises that these are minimum estimates and that actual numbers of drug users are bound to be much higher.

The authors of the report say drug use has been growing in Kabul because of the easy availability as the illegal narcotics trade has grown. In addition, the war, poverty and unemployment have meant that many people suffer from anxiety and emotional and health problems and turn to drugs as an escape.

August 7 -- The Boston Globe reports: Attorney General John Ashcroft has ordered federal prosecutors across the country to become more aggressive in reporting to the Justice Department cases in which federal judges impose lighter sentences than called for in federal sentencing guidelines.

The directive, contained in a July 28 memo to prosecutors from Ashcroft, is the latest salvo in an escalating battle over how much discretion federal judges should have in handing down sentences in criminal cases. The more extensive reporting could lay the groundwork for the Justice Department to appeal many more of those sentencing decisions than it has in the past.

Justice Department lawyers, who had championed even tougher measures to limit judicial discretion in sentencing, say the change was needed because some judges have become more willing to ignore sentencing guidelines. The fact that nearly all departures from the guidelines resulted in more lenient sentences further angered Ashcroft and conservative-minded attorneys, officials said.

In his memo to prosecutors, Ashcroft quoted approvingly from a May 5 speech by Rehnquist in which the chief justice said it was up to Congress to set sentencing policies. The memo did not quote another section of the same speech in which Rehnquist said that gathering information on sentencing practices could help Congress make decisions, but also ''could amount to an unwarranted and ill-considered effort to intimidate individual judges in the performance of their judicial duties.''

Send tips and comments to Kevin Nelson.


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