Posts Tagged ‘Barry McCaffrey’

McCaffrey Caught In Another Lie

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

[digg-reddit-me]Tim Lynch from Cato@Liberty appeared on CNN with former drug czar Barry McCaffrey and was outraged at the blatant lies he told. Lynch points to two specific lies:

  • that it is a “fantasy” with “zero truth” that “the Drug Enforcement Administration or any other federal law enforcement ever threatened care-givers or individual patients” regarding medicinal marijuana; and
  • that it was “nonsense” that the DEA was “going to threaten doctors simply for discussing the pros and cons of using marijuana with their patients” until the Ninth Circuit held that such a restriction was unconstitutional.

Of course, McCaffrey is no stranger to eliding the truth. I posted a video a while back pointing out another whopper McCaffrey told – this time to an audience at the Council on Foreign Relations:

De facto legalized? Yet McCaffrey himself attacked those politicians who suggested even allowances for medicinal marijuana:

After California passed a compassionate use initiative in 1996, McCaffrey warned doctors in the state that their privileges to prescribe narcotics would be stripped by the DEA if they prescribed or recommended marijuana use. In July 1998, as part of the anti-pot campaign, the drug czar claimed that Holland, a country with liberal drug laws, had a murder rate double that of the United States. In fact, although robberies have increased in the Netherlands since pot was made widely available in the late 1980s, the country’s murder rate is scarcely a quarter of the U.S. rate. McCaffrey never corrected himself. When Gary Johnson, New Mexico’s maverick Republican governor, spoke in favor of decriminalization, McCaffrey flew out to the state and claimed that Johnson had said “heroin is good.” [my emphasis]

If we are to believe his comments now, he apparently secretly did not oppose legalization while he was drug czar – as I reported earlier, he said at the same event as the above:

QUESTIONER: …[W]hy not just legalize drugs?

Former Drug Czar, General BARRY MCCAFFREY (retired): …[S]ince I’m not in public life, [I can say] I actually don’t care.  I care about 6th graders through 12th graders.  If you’re 40 years old, and you’re living in Oregon, and you have 12 giant pot plants in the back of your log cabin, knock yourself out.

Yet despite the fact that he claims marijuana is de facto legalized and that he secretly didn’t care if it was legalized, under his leadership as drug czar continuing through his successor’s term, arrests for mere marijuana possession went way up [pdf] – and not just for large amounts as he suggests here. Yet arrests related to marijuana surpassed that of both heroin and cocaine in McCaffrey’s first year as drug czar – and almost matched that of all non-marijuana-related drug offenses.

According to a study by Ryan S King and Marc Mauer [pdf], “Marijuana arrests increased by 113% between 1990 and 2002, while overall arrests decreased by 3%” – and the bulk of these arrests (over 50%) were of small users.

Under Barry McCaffrey, the War on Drugs became the War on Marijuana – yet he claims marijuana was de facto legalized; Barry McCaffrey himself personally attacked politicians who supported medical marijuana laws, supervised an agency that deliberately went after people following state laws allowing medicinal marijuana, and threatened any doctor who mentioned to a patient that marijuana might help him or her with prosecution – yet any recitation of these facts documented at the time and afterwards, he refers to as “fantasy” and “nonsense.”

On top of it all, he now claims to have not even opposed the legalization of marijuana as he supervised the War on Marijuana.

Former Drug Czars Against the War on Drugs (cont.)

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

Postscript to this post: A minute or so later, General McCaffrey went on to explain that marijuana possession is effectively a “non-prosecutable offense” today:

This statement seems at odds with the more than 6.2 million arrests since 1990 for simple marijuana possession that a 2006 study analyzed [pdf]. According to that report, arrests for possession of marijuana have actually risen – as the War on Drugs was transformed from a war primarily against heroin and cocaine to one against marijuana. The main reason for this discussed by the report is that marijuana arrests pad arrests statistics, although other studies have measured a discernable increase in violent crimes as a result of every police resource wasted on combating marijuana.

Perhaps what General McCaffrey was referring to was of the enormous number of those arrested for marijuana possession, only a very small number of those arrested, booked, and otherwise put through the system are convicted of or even charged with any crime.

Former Drug Czars Against the War on Drugs

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

[digg-reddit-me]

Updated.

When I reported this a few weeks ago, I think I was the first to see significance in what former Drug Czar Brigadier General Barry McCaffrey said – and to be honest, I’m surprised it hasn’t been picked up more. (The full video of the Council on Foreign Relations event on US-Mexico relations is here.) One of our more aggressive drug czars who vehemently attacked those politicians who suggested even allowances for medicinal marijuana and under whom arrests for mere marijuana possession went way up [pdf] now says this:

QUESTIONER: …[W]hy not just legalize drugs?

Former Drug Czar, General BARRY MCCAFFREY (retired): …[S]ince I’m not in public life, [I can say] I actually don’t care.  I care about 6th graders through 12th graders.  If you’re 40 years old, and you’re living in Oregon, and you have 12 giant pot plants in the back of your log cabin, knock yourself out.

(Laughter.)

(For those watching the video, the first questioner who did not identify himself sounded like Ted Sorenson, the venerable former Kennedy speechwriter who is a frequent guest at Council on Foreign Relations events. )

McCaffrey is not the first drug czar to reveal more nuanced views after his tenure was over. Matthea Falco, a drug czar in the 1970s, has become a strong proponent of the harm reduction over the prohibition approach. When asked why by PBS, she responded:

It’s very hard not to change your vision if you stay in the field long enough

If you look over the sweep of time, what changed for me from 1980 until about 1990, and continuing today, is that the price of drugs has just plummeted in this country…So that’s got to be a failure [of the War on Drugs]…

It’s also a flawed strategy. Many people argue that it just hasn’t been implemented enough, that, “If you just put ten times as much money into it, it would change everything.” But, in fact, it’s a flawed strategy at its very core. [my emphasis]

Yet another former Drug Czar Peter Bourne commented on the evolution of the War on Drugs into the war on marijuana – beginning here with the claims that marijuana had significantly bad health effects:

It was policymakers trying to hide behind the skirts of science, trying to say that marijuana poses a threat to the health of young people.

Taking any drugs is probably not a good idea. But [marijuana] certainly posed no significant public health problem. In many ways, it’s somewhat reminiscent of 50 years ago when moralists argued that masturbation was morally wrong. They couldn’t just argue that it was morally wrong, so they argued that it made you insane. They were able to get enough physicians to say, “Yes, masturbation makes you insane,” and people argued that this was causing insanity. Therefore, you were justified in condemning masturbation. I see the same sort of process with the use of marijuana, which is a trivial health problem. 

These are the men and women who were in charge of the War on Drugs – and in running this war, they have come to see it’s madness.  As Matthea Falco said, “It’s very hard not to change your vision if you stay in the field long enough.” Those who are engaged with these issues begin to see the obvious:

The War on Drugs is a war on our citizenry which has led us to imprison a higher percentage of our population than any other country on earth. It is destabilizing our neighbors and other countries essential to our national security with the Pentagon going to far as to claim that Mexico is at risk of a complete collapse due to the effects of the Drug War. Domestically, it competes with police resources leading to a measurable rise in non-drug related serious crimes [pdf] as police attention is diverted. It competes with counterterrorism measures and resources. The War on Drugs is actively making us less safe – and it has failed to stop or even reduce the availability or price of drugs. As one wise senator said in 2004:

The war on drugs is an utter failure.

Now that senator is president of the United States of America – and though he offers better policies and a softening of the hardest edges of the Drug War (which includes refraining from calling it a war), he does not offer the bold action that we need to make us safer. The Obama administration seems content to maintain the prohibitionist policies “firmly rooted in prejudices, fears and ideological visions” that have failed decisively (in the words of the major report on the Drug War by the former presidents of Mexico, Brazil, and Columbia.) But the War on Drugs and the prohibition it is based on endanger both our liberty and our security. Both must end.

(more…)

Funding Both Sides of Mexico’s Drug War

Wednesday, March 4th, 2009

[digg-reddit-me]We’re supplying the weapons and funding to both sides in the civil war between the Mexican drug cartels and the central government.

Republican state senator from Arizona, John Paton, is quoted by Randal C. Archibold in The New York Times summarizing our relationship with Mexico:

They send us drugs and people, and we send them guns and cash.

Though he probably didn’t intend it so, this remark works on several levels, illustrating how some of our current policies are the largest factors contributing to the destabilization of Mexico.

On the one hand, as Rick Perry, Republican governor of Texas, recently acknowledged:

Many of the guns aimed at Mexican law enforcement passed through our state, as did so many of the dollars funding those violent gangs.

It is estimated that $12 – $15  billion dollars is funneled to Mexico through the illegal drug trade and as James C. McKinley, Jr. in the New York Times reported:

A.T.F. officials estimate 90 percent of the weapons recovered in Mexico come from dealers north of the border.

In addition to weapons from legitimate dealers, some significant number of weapons have apparently been stolen from U.S. military bases and gotten into the hands of the Mexican cartels, which are now more heavily armed than the local police and in some cases, the military. Many members – and indeed, some entire police forces – have been coopted by the cartels through a combination of bribery and violence. Mexico’s former drug czar was arrested for taking bribes from the cartels; the Juarez police chief resigned after the cartels began systematically killing police officers until he resigned; just last week, a top investigative police officer was killed along with 10 members of his family.  More than 6,000 people were killed last year in Mexico’s war. Even allowing for politically expedient exaggeration, the fact that a top Mexican cabinet official would claim that the power of the drug cartels has grown to such a level that “the next president of the republic [could] be a narco-trafficker” demonstrates how serious a force the drug cartels are.

At the same time as American dollars and American guns have been powering the cartels, the America government has been funding the Mexican government’s war against the cartels. Most recently, with the Mérida Initiative, American has begun to funnel almost half a billion dollars a year to the Mexican government – most of it in the form of weaponry. A local television station described it as:

a plan to give 1 point four billion dollars in weapons and training to Mexico called the Merida Initiative is still under fire. Critics say arming Mexico could backfire…like it has in the past with other countries. But Kilburn says this plan seems well thought out.

“You are talking about buying heavy equipment, machinery, surveillance helicopters, airplanes and these things are less likely to get in the wrong hands.”

The cartels have taken to smuggling drugs in submarines; they have stolen U.S. army equipement; they often outgun the Mexican police; former Drug Czar General Barry McCaffrey described the situation:

The outgunned Mexican law enforcement authorities face armed criminal attacks from platoon-sized units employing night vision goggles, electronic intercept collection, encrypted communications, fairly sophisticated information operations, sea-going submersibles, helicopters and modern transport aviation, automatic weapons, RPG’s, Anti-Tank 66 mm rockets, mines and booby traps, heavy machine guns, 50 [caliber] sniper rifles, massive use of military hand grenades, and the most modern models of 40mm grenade machine guns.

But these items we are giving now are “less likely to get in the wrong hands.” I’m relieved.

The violence in Mexico is escalating. The San Francisco Chronicle recently called Mexico:

the latest and most sweeping test of the “too big to fail” imperative as White House policymakers try to steady a shaky world…

Given our current situation – funding and supplying weapons to both sides of this war on our border – it’s hard to see how can prevent Mexico from failing. The gun laws – and enforcement of laws preventing gun smuggling across the border – can be tweaked and made more effective. But this is not enough. We are contributing $400 odd million to combat the cartels and supplying the cartels with tens of billions of dollars at the same time. Yet, we cannot allow these violent gangs to take over Mexico – and we should not countenance their undermining of the rule of law in Mexico. Our prohibitionist approach is failing; our war is failing; what we must do is take a step back and evaluate our Drug War policies from a strategic perspective and see what changes we can make that might help stabilize our neighbor. 

Arizona’s attorney general, Terry Goddard, is careful not to suggest he supports the decriminalization of marijuana, but the facts he offers do suggest a course of action:

Right now, the item that’s fueling the violent cartels, the murders in Mexico, the cartel wars that are going on right now that have resulted in over 1,000 deaths this year, I think we need to take a very aggressive stand on that and marijuana is the number one producer for the cartels. Sixty to 70 percent of their gross profits comes from marijuana. So, I think we need to look very hard at something we haven’t looked at for years.

As the report recently issued by the former presidents of Mexico, Brazil, and Columbia stated:

Current drug repression policies are firmly rooted in prejudices, fears and ideological visions. 

The report went on to suggest what is beginning to look like the consensus, common-sense approach: if we can’t win while funding both sides of this war, we should try to dry up the source of funding and decriminalize, perhaps even legalize, marijuana.

Former Drug Czar McCaffrey Doesn’t Care If Marijuana Is Legalized

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

[digg-reddit-me]QUESTIONER: …[W]hy not just legalize drugs?

Former Drug Czar, General BARRY MCCAFFREY (retired): …[S]ince I’m not in public life, [I can say] I actually don’t care.  I care about 6th graders through 12th graders.  If you’re 40 years old, and you’re living in Oregon, and you have 12 giant pot plants in the back of your log cabin, knock yourself out.

Discussing Mexico and US drug policy at the Council on Foreign Relations on February 23, 2009.

General McCaffrey as drug czar vehemently opposed medical marijuana; he accelerated the militarization of the Drug War in Columbia and Mexico; and during his time as drug czar, arrests for marijuana possession soared above those for harder drugs (See graph on page 3 of pdf). After years of failure to dent domestic demand for drugs, this chief drug warrior now admits he doesn’t care if drugs are legalized and that he sees nothing wrong with growing your own marijuana. It is incredible that someone could pursue the policies he did – and now state that he either didn’t or doesn’t strongly believe drugs should be illegal. 

Two weeks ago, another group of former drug warriors produced a report describing the failure of America’s prohibitionist policy in Latin America and in the United States:

Prohibitionist policies based on the eradication of production and on the disruption of drug flows as well as on the criminalization of consumption have not yielded the expected results. We are farther than ever from the announced goal of eradicating drugs…

Current drug repression policies are firmly rooted in prejudices, fears and ideological visions…

[T]he available empirical evidence shows that the harm caused by [marijuana] is similar to the harm caused by alcohol or tobacco. More importantly, most of the damage associated with cannabis use – from the indiscriminate arrest and incarceration of consumers to the violence and corruption that affect all of society – is the result of the current prohibitionist policies.

From Drugs and Democracy, a report by César Gaviria (former president of Columbia), Ernesto Zedillo (former president of Mexico), Fernando Henrique Cardoso (former president of Brazil) and numerous other prominent Latin American figures released February 11, 2009.

As former Governor William Weld recently explained:

There’s no one so brave and wise as the politician who’s not running for office and who’s not going to be.

It is notable that so many of our prominent politicians reveal after they leave office that they don’t really agree with the premise of the War on Drugs – a war which is consuming billions of dollars, waging war on our citizenry, jailing a higher percentage of our citizens than any other nation, destabilizing our neighbors, competing with and undermining anti-terrorism measures, and making America less safe

Instead, the best our current leaders offer is to soften the roughest edges of the Drug War on American citizens.1

Obama has taken a number of sensible positions on Drug War issues – but he has not publicly acknowledged what most informed observers can see – that the War on Drugs has failed, is wasting money, and making us less safe. It is inconceivable that a reflective, informed policy-maker such as Obama does not realize this as well.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt used to tell all of the favor-seekers who came to impress upon him the importance of certain issues:

I agree with you. I want to do it. Now make me do it.

In other words, we must put pressure on Obama if the hopes of reform advocates and Obama administration insiders are to be realized.

(more…)

  1. Yes, I know about the San Francisco Assemblymen Ammiano introduced a bill in California to legalize marijuana and tax it – but he’s clearly the exception. Texas Congressman Ron Paul would be another exception. []

The War on Drugs is Making Us Less Safe (cont.)

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

[digg-reddit-me]I’ve been writing for some time about how the War on Drugs is both undermining our national security at home and abroad. The Pentagon, with their Joint Operating Environment Report for 2008 [pdf], confirmed this:

In terms of worst-case scenarios for the Joint Force and indeed the world, two large and important states bear consideration for a rapid and sudden collapse: Pakistan and Mexico.

The Pentagon understands that the escalating drug gang violence (with casaulty rates higher than Iraq) is destabilizing our neighbor to the south. Sam Quinones, writing for Foreign Policy, describes the changes in the levels of violence in the past four years (when he last lived in Mexico):

When I lived in Mexico, the occasional gang member would turn up executed, maybe with duct-taped hands, rolled in a carpet, and dropped in an alley. But Mexico’s newspapers itemized a different kind of slaughter last August: Twenty-four of the week’s 167 dead were cops, 21 were decapitated, and 30 showed signs of torture. Campesinos found a pile of 12 more headless bodies in the Yucatán. Four more decapitated corpses were found in Tijuana, the same city where barrels of acid containing human remains were later placed in front of a seafood restaurant. A couple of weeks later, someone threw two hand grenades into an Independence Day celebration in Morelia, killing eight and injuring dozens more. And at any time, you could find YouTube videos of Mexican gangs executing their rivals—an eerie reminder of, and possibly a lesson learned from, al Qaeda in Iraq.

The former U.S. drug czar, Gen. Barry McCaffrey, commenting on the same situation warned that:

The outgunned Mexican law enforcement authorities face armed criminal attacks from platoon-sized units employing night vision goggles, electronic intercept collection, encrypted communications, fairly sophisticated information operations, sea-going submersibles, helicopters and modern transport aviation, automatic weapons, RPG’s, Anti-Tank 66 mm rockets, mines and booby traps, heavy machine guns, 50 [caliber] sniper rifles, massive use of military hand grenades, and the most modern models of 40mm grenade machine guns.

The situation is clearly dire. Which makes last week’s report by the former presidents of Mexico, Brazil, Columbia, and other nation’s all the more significant. They see the status quo as unacceptable – and insist that we must decriminalize marijuana and stop treating the problem of drugs as a war lest we end up with nothing but failed states and military dictatorships in Latin America, or as the diplomatic language of the report states, current drug policies have”enormous human and social costs” and are “threats to democratic institutions.” In part, this is due to the “criminalization of politics and the politicization of crime, as well as the proliferation of the linkages between them, as reflected in the infiltration of democratic institutions by organized crime.” But it describes further threats arising more directly from the policies themselves.

The report describes the problem of the status quo in stark terms:

Current drug repression policies are firmly rooted in prejudices, fears and ideological visions. The whole issue has become taboo which inhibits public debate. The association of drugs with crime blocks the circulation of information and segregates drug users in closed circles where they become even more exposed to organized crime.

Hence, breaking the taboo and acknowledging the failure of current policies and their consequences is the inescapable prerequisite for opening up the discussion about a new paradigm leading to safer, more efficient and humane drug policies.

This does not mean the outright rejection of [all Drug War] policies…

There are two main strategies for combatting drugs which it describes – both of them critically – the prohibitionist strategy, or Drug War of the United States, which is reflected in Columbia, Mexico, America, and Afghanistan; and the harm reduction strategy of Europe. The report is most critical of the prohibitionist strategy. In the United States itself, the Drug War’s “policy of massive incarceration of drug users [is] questionable both in terms of respect for human rights and its efficiency.” Describing the effect of the Drug War on Columbia, the report is harsher:

For decades, Colombia implemented all conceivable measures to fight the drug trade in a massive effort whose benefits were not proportional to the vast amount of resources invested and the human costs involved…

The traumatic Colombian experience is a useful reference for countries not to make the mistake of adopting the US prohibitionist policies and to move forward in the search for innovative alternatives.

At the same time, the report finds fault with the European method of dealing with the problem of drugs, saying that:

[H]arm reduction minimizes the social dimension of the problem [and] the policy of the European Union fails to curb the demand for illicit drugs that stimulates its production and exportation from other parts of the world.

In other words, the European Union’s approach merely attempts to quarantine the problem as it exists within their own societies while doing nothing about the gang warfare and destabilization the production and smuggling of drugs means abroad. Apparently, at the same time drugs themselves are taking a greater toll on Latin America:

The levels of drug consumption continue to grow in Latin America while there is a tendency toward stabilization in North America and Europe

This collection of prominent Latin American politicians has a number of suggestions to help reverse the destabilizing effects of current drug policies. One of the most prominent is to descriminalize marijuana. While considered “the king crop” by the Mexican gangs thanks to the steady and broad market and it’s cheapness to produce (as opposed to the riskier cocaine and heroin production, sale, and smuggling), the report states that:

[T]he available empirical evidence shows that the harm caused by this drug is similar to the harm caused by alcohol or tobacco. More importantly, most of the damage associated with cannabis use – from the indiscriminate arrest and incarceration of consumers to the violence and corruption that affect all of society – is the result of the current prohibitionist policies.

Another major change in policy the report suggests is to treat “those who have become addicted to drugs” as “patients of the health care system” instead of :buyers in an illegal market.” 

As I wrote before:

The War on Drugs isn’t just failing. The War on Drugs isn’t just causing us to imprison a greater percentage of our population than any other in the world. The War on Drugs isn’t just eroding our laws and institutions. The War on Drugs doesn’t just undermine the War Against Terrorism. The War on Drugs isn’t just making our efforts in Afghanistan harder. The War on Drugs isn’t just wasting law enforcement resources, and costing America gold medals.  

No – it is also destabilizing nations right next to us.

This is what makes a reevaluation of our Drug War a national security priority as well as a civil liberties issue. The former presidents of Mexico, Brazil, and Columbia all saw hope in the administration of Barack Obama, citing him in the report, hope that he will finally tackle this long-festering issue. He may on his own – and he has made some remarks which constitute progress.

But the issue may be, to paraphrase FDR’s oft-repeated line: Obama agrees with us in principle; now we need to put political pressue on him to do something about it.

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