DEA Launches Exhibit Proclaiming Drugs = Terrorism

August 27, 2002

Bill Berkowitz,

Every day Mary Lucey takes AIDS medications to stay alive. Without medical marijuana she gets so nauseous she can't keep the pills down. Lucey, a veteran activist and Interim AIDS Coordinator for the city of Los Angeles, serves on the board of the Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Center. When the LACRC was raided by the Drug Enforcement Administration in October, 2001, Lucey lost her safe, reliable source of medicine. Jim and Roni Bowers and their children, religious missionaries working in South America, were in a plane shot down over Peru on April 20, 2001. It was a U.S. government- coordinated 'drug interdiction' that went bad and Roni and her one-year-old daughter Charity were killed. According to the Marijuana Policy Project, 'This summary execution of suspected drug smugglers was carried out without benefit of evidence, a trial or any opportunity for the Bowers family to defend' itself. Suspended for a while, drug-interdiction flights are expected to resume shortly. Esequiel Hernandez was tending his father's goats 100 yards from his home in Redford, Texas when he was killed in May, 1997 by U.S. Marines looking for marijuana smugglers. Hernandez, who had never been in trouble with the law, lived in a location sometimes frequented by marijuana smugglers. 'His death,' says the MPP, 'was the inevitable result of a 'War on Drugs' fought with a real war's disregard for human life.' These are some of the stories that you won't find at the United States Drug Enforcement Administration's Museum & Visitor's Center. Despite the failed drug war, the agency recently announced it was expanding the facility by 1,500 square feet. The first exhibit in the new gallery, timed for 9/11, will be devoted to the 'connection' between drugs and terrorism. Beginning September 10 -- in time for the one year anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon -- the DEA's Arlington, Va.-based Museum & Visitor's Center will present a new exhibit called 'Target America: Traffickers, Terrorists & You.' The new show will reflect the Bush administration's recent anti-drug mantra that the 'war on terrorism' is inextricably linked to the 'war on drugs.' The 'use drugs/support terrorism' campaign organized by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP, the office of the 'Drug Czar'), was unveiled with a $3.5 million ad buy during this past February's Super Bowl. have made in this global conflict.' Krissy Oechslin, the assistant director of communications for the Washington, DC-based Marijuana Policy Project, visited the museum last year with a group of students. She told that 'the exhibit lacked credibility, was bereft of context and provided no opposing points of view.' A timeline, running the length of the museum depicts the opium wars of the late 19th century, the crack-cocaine epidemic of the 1980's and marijuana use through the years as part of the same seamless drug problem. There were no references to the growing piles of documentation of the cynical role U.S. agencies have played in the drug trade. Targeting Americans President Richard Nixon created the Drug Enforcement Administration by merging its predecessor agency, the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs with various law- enforcement and intelligence-gathering agencies in July 1973. According to the agency's Web site, it is 'charged with the responsibility of enforcing the nation's federal drug laws and works closely with local, state, federal and international law enforcement organizations to identify, target and bring to justice the most significant drug traffickers in the world.' The DEA currently has more than 9,000 employee with 4,500 agents located in cities throughout the United States and in offices in 50 countries around the world. Here's how the DEA describes 'Target America: Traffickers, Terrorists & You.' The exhibit:
    traces the historic and contemporary connections between global drug trafficking and terrorism. Starting with the horrific events of September 11, 2001 and moving back in time to the ancient Silk Road, this exhibit ... will present the visitor with a global and historical overview of this deadly connection. The visitor will have many opportunities to explore the often-symbiotic relationships that exist between terrorist groups and drug trafficking cartels and the personal impact those connections have on the visitor.
'When I saw the press release announcing the new exhibit I felt sick to my stomach,' Oechslin told me in a telephone interview. 'I was disgusted by the use of a drawing of the twisted metal shards of the World Trade Center inside of a wraparound banner advertising the new exhibit.' Former Arkansas Sen. Asa Hutchinson became President Bush's Director of the Drug Enforcement Administration on August 8, 2001. While raiding medical marijuana clubs has not been his only focus, in his first year as agency director Hutchinson has conducted an assault on several California medical marijuana facilities. The DEA's February 2002 raid on a San Francisco medical marijuana distribution facility was 'an outrageous, unfounded attack on an organization that has a long history of working with local police authorities,' said Bruce Mirken, MPP's communication director. In an early-June article in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, Lori Carter reports that 'Despite the DEA's denials that it is targeting marijuana clubs, court records show that last week's federal raid on a Santa Rosa club had been four months in the making.' A recent press release from the California chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws noted that 'Since September 11, when the federal government promised to focus their resources on fighting terrorism, federal agents have raided medical cannabis buyers cooperatives in Los Angeles, Santa Rosa and San Francisco.' Steph Sherer, the executive director of Americans for Safe Access, which she describes as 'a network of patients, advocates and caregivers who defend patients' access to medical marijuana,' told me that 'There have been more arrests for medical marijuana cultivation and distribution since September 11, than there have been for any acts of terrorism in California.' In response to these raids, in early June Dr. Mitch Katz, director of public health for San Francisco, sent a letter to Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, calling for hearings on the DEA's priorities. Katz wrote: 'these actions [the San Francisco raids] have resulted in 4,000 persons with chronic illness left without access to critical treatment upon which they rely.' Targeting the DEA 'The new exhibit appears to be a grotesque desecration of the memories of the people who were killed on September 11,' Mirken, said. 'Imagine if Osama bin Laden sent squads of armed men into the U.S., stormed medical clinics, stole confidential patient records and literally took medicine from the sick and dying, how would George W. Bush respond? He'd be promising to hunt these terrorists to the end of the earth. All he's got to do is to look at the DEA. What the DEA is doing in California sure looks like terrorism to me.' The Marijuana Policy Project is preparing to counter the DEA's much publicized exhibit with one of their own. However, lacking taxpayer funds, MPP's exhibit, called 'Target America: The DEA and You' is slated to be a Web-only production. Although the exhibit wasn't online as of this writing -- it is scheduled to go up the week of September 2 -- Mirken gave a sneak preview. Parodying the DEA's own language, he told me that MPP's counter Web- exhibit 'examines the deadly connection between the 'War on Drugs' and terrorism, the often-symbiotic relationship between drug warriors and terrorist drug cartels and the personal impact those relationships have on the average American.' MPP's exhibit focuses attention on the victims of the DEA -- AIDS patients deprived of medicine, medical marijuana dispensaries raided and shut down, and stories about innocent people killed by the DEA and other 'Drug War' agencies. Each of the three sections contains photos, graphics and extensive documentation. The Web-exibit deconstructs the DEA's myths and public relations gimmickry. The DEA's 'Traffickers ...' exhibit appears to be following the script of the Bush administration's effort to link drug use -- including marijuana -- with terrorism. That is about as accurate a depiction of the 'drug wars' as Quinn Martin's late '60s television series 'The FBI' was about J. Edgar Hoover's agency. In a November 2001, Zogby Poll commissioned by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), pollsters asked: 'In light of the tragic events of September 11th and the increased attention to the threat of terrorism, do you strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose arresting and jailing nonviolent marijuana smokers?' Three-fifths (61 percent) of likely voters opposed the arresting and jailing of nonviolent marijuana smokers; one-third (33 percent) supported arrests and jail time; and 6 percent are not sure. 'The public is waking up to the futility and destructiveness of the so-called war on drugs,' Mirken said. 'This exhibit's dishonest, hypocritical attempt to hitch the DEA's wagon to the popular effort against terrorism is a sign of how desperate they've become. I wonder how Asa Hutchinson sleeps at night.' Bill Berkowitz is a long time political observer and columnist.

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