Our drug czar, retired Army General Barry McCaffrey, appearing on National Public Radio's Talk of the Nation program on Tuesday, July 25th, demonstrated that disinformation is used not only against war time opponents, but also as a debate tactic against a war's domestic critics. (Visit http://search.npr.org/cf/cmn/cmnpd01fm.cfm?PrgDate=07/25/2000&PrgID=5 for a Real Audio archive of the show.)
The topic was the US aid package to Colombia, and a good discussion took place, thanks to the efforts of host Juan Williams and many well informed callers. McCaffrey, however, got a few deceptions in that were not quite answered.
For example, responding to a caller criticizing foreign anti-drug operations that don't work, instead of spending the money dealing with addiction here at home, McCaffrey said:
"Well, you know, we shouldn't argue about facts. They're either facts or not facts. We ought to argue about conclusions. The facts of the matter are, if you look at the US counter-drug budget, it's primarily focused on enhancing prevention, education and treatment."
Unfortunately, when the drug czar speaks, what are presented as facts often turn out to be fiction. According to the 2000 National Drug Control Strategy, published by McCaffrey's own office, the FY2001 budget includes $12.9 billion on criminal justice and interdiction and source country programs, versus only $6.3 billion on treatment and prevention combined, not at all the "primary focus" of the budget that McCaffrey claimed (see http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/policy/budget00/exec_summ.html).
When Williams read a statement by Sen. Slade Gorton (R-WA) warning of a growing involvement in a civil war and attendant human rights violations, McCaffrey responded:
"Well, I think that this debate has had tremendous impact on the program we ended up with. I think Senator Leahy and Kennedy and Slade Gorton's views have influenced the way the legislation was written. There are some safeguards in here. We are vetting Colombian military and police units [for human rights violations]."
On Friday of the preceding week, however, the Associated Press reported that McCaffrey aide Brad Hittle said that while the administration wants to comply with "the spirit of the law" and work with Colombia on human rights, the top priority is "to get the aid flowing," suggesting that the administration may waive the human rights requirement and supply helicopters and funding to Colombian army units implicated or suspected of complicity in torture and murder.
Rationalizing the package, McCaffrey said, "We've got to remind ourselves, this is 52,000 dead in the US a year and these people are three hours' flight from Miami. This is not North Korea we're talking about."
The official government figures on deaths from drugs is about 20,000 per year from illegal and prescription drug abuse combined. McCaffrey has used the 52,000 figure over and over, but his office has never explained how they define a drug-related death or where the figure originated at all. Multiple attempts by drug policy reform groups to get an explanation have yielded no better reply than to attribute it to an unidentified, unpublished study.
These 20,000 are deep personal tragedies for the individuals and their friends, families and communities, but that in no way absolves the drug czar of his responsibility to be truthful with the public. Maybe it was a study similar to that overseen by former McCaffrey aide James McDonough, now the Florida drug czar, which gave a figure for club drug deaths in the state that was literally twice the actual number. According to the Orlando Sentinel, McDonough's study included:
The NPR ombudsman can be reached through http://www.npr.org/inside/ombudsman/ on the NPR web site. Thank NPR for the good quality discussion that host Juan Williams facilitated, but note how McCaffrey abused the platform they provided to subject listeners to his dishonest propaganda. Send us a copy of your comments, to firstname.lastname@example.org.