Tuesday, January 19, 2010

US, UK, Canada assist Afghan drug trade

A senior Iranian anti-drug official has accused the US, Britain and Canada of playing a major role in Afghanistan's lucrative drug trade. On the sidelines of an anti-drug conference in Tehran, deputy head of Iran's Drug Control Headquarters Taha Taheri said that Western powers are aiding the drug trade in Afghanistan. "According to our indisputable information, the presence of the United States, Britain and Canada has not reduced the dug trade and the three countries have had major roles in the distribution of drugs," IRIB quoted Taheri as saying on Thursday. Iranian officials have always criticized Western countries over their policies towards Afghanistan, where poppy cultivation has drastically increased since the US-led military occupation of the country in 2001. Taheri added that drug catalysts are being smuggled into Afghanistan through borders that are controlled by US, British and Canadian troops. Some 13,000 tons of drug catalysts are brought into Afghanistan every year as the war-torn country is the producer of 90 percent of the world's opium. The UN office on drugs and crime said last month that the 2009 potential gross export value of opium from Afghanistan stood at $2.8 billion. Iranian police officials maintain that drug production in Afghanistan has had a 40-fold increase since the US-led invasion of the country in 2001. "More than 340 tons of drugs have been seized all over Iran in the past nine months," IRNA quoted the commander of the drug squad, General Hamid Reza Hossein-Abadi, as saying earlier this month. The UN has praised Tehran for its commitment to the fight against drug trafficking.

US waves white flag in disastrous 'war on drugs'
After 40 years, Washington is quietly giving up on a futile battle that has spread corruption and destroyed thousands of lives

After 40 years of defeat and failure, America's "war on drugs" is being buried in the same fashion as it was born - amid bloodshed, confusion, corruption and scandal. US agents are being pulled from South America; Washington is putting its narcotics policy under review, and a newly confident region is no longer prepared to swallow its fatal Prohibition error. Indeed, after the expenditure of billions of dollars and the violent deaths of tens of thousands of people, a suitable epitaph for America's longest "war" may well be the plan, in Bolivia, for every family to be given the right to grow coca in its own backyard.
The "war", declared unilaterally throughout the world by Richard Nixon in 1969, is expiring as its strategists start discarding plans that have proved futile over four decades: they are preparing to withdraw their agents from narcotics battlefields from Colombia to Afghanistan and beginning to coach them in the art of trumpeting victory and melting away into anonymous defeat. Not surprisingly, the new strategy is being gingerly aired in the media of the US establishment, from The Wall Street Journal to the Miami Herald.
Prospects in the new decade are thus opening up for vast amounts of useless government expenditure being reassigned to the treatment of addicts instead of their capture and imprisonment. And, no less important, the ever-expanding balloon of corruption that the "war" has brought to heads of government, armies and police forces wherever it has been waged may slowly start to deflate.
Prepare to shed a tear over the loss of revenue that eventual decriminalisation of narcotics could bring to the traffickers, large and small, and to the contractors who have been making good money building and running the new prisons that help to bankrupt governments - in the US in particular, where drug offenders - principally small retailers and seldom the rich and important wholesalers - have helped to push the prison population to 1,600,000; their imprisonment is already straining federal and state budgets. In Mississippi, where drug offenders once had to serve 85 per cent of their sentences, they are now being required to serve less than a quarter. California has been ordered to release 40,000 inmates because its prisons are hugely overcrowded.
At the same time, some in the US are confused and fear that the new commission proposed by Congressman Eliot Engel, a man with a record of hostility to the Cuban and Venezuelan governments, may prove to be a broken reed. As he brought in his bill he added timidly: "Let me be absolutely clear that this bill has not been introduced to support the legalisation of illegal drugs. That is not something that I would like to see."
Part of the reason for the slow US retreat from the "war" is that the strategy of fighting it in foreign lands and not at home has proved valueless. Along the already sensitive frontier with Mexico the effect of US attempts to enforce a hard line by blasting drug dealers away has been bloody. Anxious to keep in check the flood of illegal immigrants into territory that once belonged to Mexico, Washington is building a wall and fence comparable to that which once cut through Berlin and that which is today causing havoc between Israelis and Palestinians.
In the areas of Mexico closest to the US frontier the toll of deaths in drug-related violence exceeded 7,000 people in 2009 (1,000 of them dying in January and February). This takes the death toll over three years to above 16,000, figures far in excess of US fatalities in Afghanistan. The bloodshed has continued despite - or perhaps because of - the intense US pressure on President Felipe Calderon to station a large part of the Mexican army in the region. It is deploying 49,000 men on its own soil in the campaign against drugs, a larger force than the 46,000 Britain sent to take part in the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003. But still the blood flows.
As in Colombia, where a multibillion-dollar US subsidy maintains that country's armed forces, there are well-founded suspicions that military operations are often rendered futile because the miserably paid local commanders and individual soldiers are easily bought off by drug dealers.
The quiet expiry of the "war" has dawned slowly on a world focused on the US's more palpable conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Last month, the US House of Representatives gave unanimous approval to a bill creating an independent commission to reconsider domestic and international drug policies and suggest better ones. Congressman Engel, a Democrat from the Bronx and the sponsor of the bill, declared: "Billions upon billions of US taxpayer dollars have been spent over the years to combat the drug trade in Latin America and the Caribbean. In spite of our efforts, the positive results are few and far between."
As far back as last May, Gil Kerlikowske, the former police chief of Seattle who was named head of the US Office of National Drug Control Policy and thus boss of the campaign, announced he would not be using the term "war on drugs" any more. A few weeks earlier, former Latin American presidents of the centre and right - Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico and Cesar Gaviria of Colombia - had told the new US President that the "war" had failed and appealed for greater emphasis on cutting drug consumption and the decriminalisation of cannabis.
For the lives and sanity of millions, the seeing of the light is decidedly late. The conditions of the 1920s, when the US Congress outlawed alcohol and allowed Al Capone and his kin to make massive fortunes, have been re-created up and down Latin America.
Mexico's President has not been afraid to point out to Washington that official corruption is at the root of drug trafficking in the US just as it is in Mexico. "I say we should investigate on both sides. I'm cleaning my house and I hope that on the other side as well the house is being cleaned," he said pointedly last April before President Obama came visiting.
Furthermore, President Calderon says that lax gun control laws in the US caused an influx of firearms into Mexico. He has declared that 90 per cent of the 30,000 weapons that government forces seized from drug dealers in Mexico came from north of the border. For their part, the Latin Americans, under a new generation of more self-confident leaders, are tired of being hectored about their failings by the US, the world's principal source of cannabis whose agents continue the drug dealing they indulged in during the Iran-Contra affair of the Reagan years.
Evidence points to aircraft - familiarly known as "torture taxis" - used by the CIA to move captives seized in its kidnapping or "extraordinary rendition" operations through Gatwick and other airports in the EU being simultaneously used for drug distribution in the Western hemisphere. A Gulfstream II jet aircraft N9875A identified by the British Government and the European Parliament as being involved in this traffic crashed in Mexico in September 2008 while en route from Colombia to the US with a load of more than three tons of cocaine.
In 2004, another torture taxi crashed in a field in Nicaragua with a ton of cocaine aboard. It had been identified by Britain and the European Parliament's temporary committee on the alleged use of European countries by the CIA for the transport and illegal detention of prisoners as a frequent visitor in 2004 and 2005 to British, Cypriot, Czech, German, Greek, Hungarian, Spanish and other European cities with its cargo of captives for secret imprisonment and torture in Iraq, Jordan and Azerbaijan.
Given the circumstances, it is unremarkable that US strictures are being politely ignored. President Evo Morales of Bolivia - criticised by the US for defending Bolivians' practice of chewing coca leaves to assuage hunger and altitude sickness - wants to allow every Bolivian family around the city of Cochabamba to cultivate coca bushes for their own use. He also wants to export coca leaves to his country's neighbours. Mr Morales's authority, recently reinforced by winning a second presidential term in fair elections and by a strengthening of Bolivia's economy, has no need to worry about US criticism.
Venezuela and Bolivia have expelled US narcotics officers from their territory. At the end of last month, President Rafael Correa of Ecuador ended Washington's lease of a large air base on the Pacific from where US aircraft were engaged in the struggle against the region's increasingly powerful left.
This year should be the year that common sense vanquishes the mailed fist in an unwinnable war against an invisible enemy.

Despite beefed-up countermeasures, illegal drug use persists in US prisons

Richard Pillajo, a wellness education officer at a Florida state prison, strayed beyond his job description, according to investigators who arrested him last year. He allegedly planned to smuggle cocaine, marijuana and hydrocodone pills to inmates for a payoff of $2,500.
Florida's corrections secretary, Walt McNeil, praised the investigators from his own department who cracked the case. Yet official annual reports suggest these investigators, like their counterparts in many states, are playing a frustrating version of Whack-a-Mole as they try to keep illegal drugs out of America's prisons.
In many large state prison systems, a mix of inmate ingenuity, complicit visitors and corrupt staff has kept the level of inmate drug abuse constant over the past decade despite concerted efforts to reduce it. A recent boom in cell phone smuggling has complicated matters, with inmates sometimes using phones to arrange drug deliveries.
"The prison wall is not a boundary anymore," said Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman for California's corrections department, which seized about 5,000 contraband cell phones in 2009 — more than triple the 2007 total.
Roughly 1,000 "drug incidents" are reported annually at California prisons — seizures of marijuana, heroin and other drugs. Between 2006 and 2008, 44 inmates in the state died of drug overdose deaths.
Florida has implemented anti-contraband strategies that its legislative watchdog office says match or exceed those in other states — including drug-detecting dog teams, metal detector searches of staff and visitors at all prisons, and even random pat-down searches of staff, rarely done in other states.
Yet despite these efforts, 1,132 random drug tests of inmates in 2008-09 were positive — the same positive rate of 1.6 percent as 10 years earlier. Even more striking, officers seized 2,832 grams of marijuana and 92 grams of cocaine at the prisons during the year, by far the highest figures of the past decade.
"People are always trying to smuggle drugs in," said Gretl Plessinger, the Florida Correction Department's spokeswoman. "Our ultimate goal is to get rid of it, but I'd be a fool to tell you that will ever be realized."
The canine teams are given partial credit for the surge in marijuana seizures, but there are only nine teams — rotating among 60 prisons.
Drugs reach inmates in numerous ways — via visiting relatives, by mail, through the complicity of prison staff, by inmates themselves who smuggle in drugs dropped off by associates at off-prison work sites.
Josh Gelinas, spokesman for South Carolina's corrections department, said smuggling tactics shifted after the state installed X-ray machines and metal detectors at all medium- and high-security prisons. Drug packets now are sometimes launched over prison walls by paintball guns and homemade launchers known as "spud guns."
"The imagination and creativity of people under lock and key boggles the mind," said Dr. Westley Clark, director of the federal Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, who suggested that the cost of creating drug-free prisons nationwide would be prohibitive.
Corrections officials say much of the prison drug trade is controlled by gangs — and one result is sky-high prices. Tommy Johnson, Hawaii's deputy corrections director, says the going price for heroin behind bars is sometimes 10 times the street price.
In California, gang-related drug activity is the No. 1 cause of prison violence, according to Mike Ruff, a corrections department special agent.
"Something that appears to be a riot between different gangs is not necessarily because they're rivals — it's more because of a drug deal gone bad," he said. "All of the gangs are actively involved in narcotics."
Ruff cited some of the gangs' favored smuggling tactics — drugs passed from a visiting wife or girlfriend via a seemingly passionate kiss, and drugs secreted in legal documents which are supposed to be exempt from thorough searches in prison mailrooms.
Some states have had far more success than others in ridding their prisons of illegal drugs.
Pennsylvania, widely credited as a leader, instituted a zero-tolerance policy in 1995 at a time when 6 percent of inmate drug tests were positive. The Corrections Department began using canine detection teams, installed X-ray machines in prison mailrooms, stepped up drug testing, expanded search policies affecting prisoners and staff, and punished violators with loss of visiting privileges.
The positive drug test rate is now negligible, according to department spokeswoman Susan McNaughton, who said the result is greater safety for staff and inmates.
The policy has attracted interest in other states. In California, for example, corrections officials have suggested adopting Pennsylvania's vulnerability analysis program — in which specially trained staff from one prison test security systems at another prison.
Experts who work with ex-offenders in Pennsylvania agree that the anti-drug efforts have been effective — inside the prisons — but say problems elsewhere serve to limit the benefits to society.
Ray Jones of Philadelphia-based Impact Services said many inmates who underwent effective treatment programs in prison are released into community corrections programs where supervision is less rigorous and relapses into drug abuse commonplace.
He also said the anti-drug strategies in the state prisons are not replicated in the county jails — which house prisoners awaiting trial or serving sentences under two years.
Federal prisons haven't been spared from the drug blight. A 2003 report by the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General said the Bureau of Prisons was falling short in efforts to address "a continuing problem with inmate drug use and drug smuggling in almost every institution."
Since then, the Bureau of Prisons has expanded use of ion spectrometry devices, which detect trace amounts of drugs, and began searches of staff — who are now required to walk through a metal detector and have their property X-rayed before entering prisons' secure areas.
Bryan Lowry, president of a union group representing many federal prison officers, said his Council of Prison Locals 33 supports tougher interdiction efforts, even when staff are affected. But he added that corrupt employees are apt to find cracks in almost any system.
"We have a lot of manipulative inmates — they didn't get in there by going to church on Sunday, and some of them have money," he said. "We have a lot of staff who do get caught — it happens."
Garnett Wilson, a former inmate who now counsels ex-offenders at the Fortune Society in New York City, says illegal drugs are widely available in many of the state's prisons — a problem aggravated by the fact that more than 80 percent of New York inmates had substance abuse problems as they went behind bars.
Even some inmates who eschewed drugs on the outside may acquire the habit in prison, Wilson said, "to deal with the stress of doing time."
Erik Kriss, spokesman for New York's corrections department, said only two correctional officers had been arrested for drug smuggling in the past two years. But he confirmed that illegal drug use by inmates persists despite extensive countermeasures, with positive test rates hovering between 2.9 and 3.8 percent since 2001.
One reason for the steady inflow of drugs, Kriss said, is a relatively accommodating visiting policy — aimed at sustaining inmates' family ties to maximize their chances of post-prison success.
"If you have a liberal visiting policy, the attempt to smuggle drugs in is always going to be there," Kriss said.
He said his department is considering emulating Pennsylvania by curtailing visits for inmates caught abusing drugs.
Last year, Human Rights Watch criticized New York's corrections department for punishing some inmate drug abusers with long stints in solitary confinement in what prisoners call "the box" — during which time they are excluded from drug treatment programs.
The Human Rights Watch report said that between 2005 and 2007, New York inmates were sentenced to a total of 2,561 years in the box for drug-related charges.
"We have numerous and varied substance abuse treatment programs," Kriss said when asked about the report. "But for the smuggling of illicit drugs — actions that can lead to extortion and violence in prisons that we are expected to keep safe and secure — we believe disciplinary sanctions are entirely appropriate."

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