Editorial: Drug Prohibition from Colombia to Afghanistan This Week
from Drug War Chronicle, Issue #498, 8/17/07
David Borden, Executive Director
One of the less memorable moments in US official activity (well, fairly memorable to people like us, actually) came about five years ago when Rand Beers, then the Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, later a campaign advisor to John Kerry, was forced to recant a claim he had made in a sworn statement in defense of a US corporation being sued by 10,000 Ecuadorans who claimed they had poisoned them. The corporation was DynCorp, whom the State Dept. had hired to carry out aerial spraying of coca fields in Colombia. The Ecuadorans charged that chemicals from the defoliation program had blown across the border, damaging crops and livestock and causing health problems among the human population. Beers wrote, "It is believed that FARC terrorists have received training in Al Qaeda terrorist camps in Afghanistan." Following an expose by UPI, Beers recanted. "I wish to strike this sentence," he wrote. "At the time of my declaration, based on information available to me, I believed this statement to be true and correct." Quotes from intelligence experts in the article, however, cast some doubt on even that. "That statement is totally from left field. I don't know where Beers is getting that," said one. "There doesn't seem to be any evidence of FARC going to Afghanistan to train. We have never briefed anyone on that and frankly, I doubt anyone has ever alleged that in a briefing to the State Department or anyone else," said another. "My first reaction was that Rand must have misspoke," said a congressional staffer. "But when I saw the proffer signed under oath, I couldn't believe he would do that. I have no idea why he would say that."
Colombia and Afghanistan are both in the news this week, as often happens, with the drug war playing an adverse role. In Colombia, a military official who served along the country's Caribbean coast was removed from his post; if allegations are true, profits from the illegal cocaine industry -- which exists because of drug prohibition -- tempted Rear Admiral Gabriel Arango to join the party. Several Army officers are being investigated too, for alleged collaboration with the Norte del Valle cartel, the country's most violent drug trafficking organization. In Afghanistan, US officials are citing links between the illicit opium trade -- which also exists because of drug prohibition -- and Taliban and Al Qaeda militants, as rationale for escalating the forced opium eradication program.
And that's a big mistake, as numerous Afghanistan analysts have pointed out. For example, at a forum here in Washington last March, CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen, responding to a question I had posed him on the topic, said, "[E]radication doesn't work. There's a vast amount of academic literature showing that it just pushes the growers into the arms of the insurgents." Because of prohibition, both opium growing and opium eradication now help our enemies. It's not a success story for the prohibition policy -- but then again, what is?
I hope this escalation does not include spraying -- the Ecuadorans are not the only ones to explain how reckless and inhumane the practice is. Given that it can't possibly work either -- as long as there's demand, the supply will just move around, and the Afghan farmers need the money -- there is no justification for such risks based on any legitimate hopes for success. The Karzai government has thus far resisted using chemicals, and hopefully they will continue to do so. US drug czar John Walters, however, announcing an expanded US military involvement in the opium operations this week, made an ominous sounding comment on which he would not elaborate, "We expect a more permissive environment for these operations."
Given what has happened in Colombia the last several decades, given what has happened in Afghanistan -- and how it has affected us here -- is any more evidence needed of how morally and intellectually defunct is our drug war? It's time to end drug prohibition -- to legalize drugs -- and finally rescue Colombians, Afghans, and addicts here and around the world from the hell into which prohibition has plunged them.