Drug War Fails While Hypocrisy Rules by Penelope Purdy

This story originally appeared in the Denver Post

Reproduced under the Fair Use exception of 17 USC 107 for noncommercial, nonprofit or educational use.


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Tuesday, May 15, 2001 - A child is summarily executed by high-tech weapons of war. Peasants and workers nearly shut down Bolivia's capital city. And a federal judge says it's becoming harder for cops to investigate real crime.

Welcome to America's war on drugs. It has been, says one judge, "a colossal failure." But our politicians still want to pour billions of tax dollars down this black hole. And they will keep doing so until Americans of all political stripes say publicly and loudly, "This is crazy. We've got to come up with something more effective, and more humane. Let's at least start a national dialogue about alternatives."

Recent events underscore why it's so important

One episode was widely reported.

In April, a Peruvian Air Force jet gunned down a small plane carrying American missionaries, slaughtering a 7-month-old infant and her mother. As usual, the feckless twits in our federal government ducked responsibility and instead blamed the Peruvians. But the Peruvians fly drug-interdiction missions only because Uncle Sam demands it (and provides the money, aircraft and bullets to carry it out).

In Vietnam, top generals issued orders, wholly contrary to international law, that declared some areas to be "free-fire zones" in which civilians could be shot on sight. U.S. drug war policies essentially have made Latin America's skies a new kind of free-fire zone. At the missionary plane wreckage, someone should erect a sign: Your U.S. tax dollars at work.

But the second event wasn't even reported in mainstream American media. In early May, Bolivian protesters stopped traffic, shut down factories and took to the streets, revolting against their government's kowtowing to U.S. drug war demands. The Bolivians don't want their food crops sprayed with lethal chemicals or their people subjected to military repression, all to stop Americans from buying drugs. Bolivians say their country really doesn't have a drug problem; it's the United States that does. America has less than 5 percent of the global population but consumes 50 percent of the world's cocaine.

Yet, U.S. news services apparently didn't think a popular revolt triggered by American drug war policies was worth reporting. They did, however, blindly accept President Bush's recent claim that Bolivia is an example of where U.S. drug policies have been successful. Some success.

Meantime, John Kane, a senior federal district judge on the bench in Colorado, addressed the University of Denver's faculty. In the metro area and across America, he noted, police departments have pulled officers away from investigating crimes like burglaries and put them on drug details. The war on drugs thus leaves fewer cops to catch the crooks who most citizens really want captured.

Kane, in fact, systematically eviscerated the entire drug war. For more than a generation, our country has poured hundreds of billions of dollars into the war on drugs and sacrificed its civil liberties. Yet there is no objective evidence — none — that the policy has worked.

In March, a report from the highly respected National Academy of Sciences found that our ability to evaluate the nation's drug policies is no better today than it was 20 years ago. The chair of the committee that wrote the report, economics professor Charles F. Manski at Chicago's Northwestern University, said, "It is unconscionable for this country to continue to carry out a public policy of this magnitude and cost without any way of knowing whether, and to what extent, it is having the desired result."

Instead, Kane argues, the drug war makes things worse. Kids sent to prison for drug crimes come out using harder drugs. Local, state and federal governments spend more than $9 billion a year to imprison drug offenders. Every year since 1989, more people have been sent to jail for drug crimes than for violent crimes.

Meantime, we've transformed Latin America's skies and hillsides into war zones and mocked our own professed devotion to human rights. But we've not only failed to stop drug smuggling, we've given drug lords more profit incentive to keep churning the stuff out: A 1992 U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee found that interdiction actually increased cocaine production and supply.

On the campaign trail, George W. Bush mouthed platitudes about the importance and effectiveness of education and treatment programs. But his budget proposes to squander $100 on interdiction for every $1 spent on treatment.


Penelope Purdy ( ppurdy@denverpost.com ) is a member of The Denver Post editorial board. Ms. Purdy has been an outspoken advocate of domestic violence laws and practices that favor women. The Denver Post, and Ms. Purdy have consistently failed to report on abused men.



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Last modified 6/18/03