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Prohibition: Drug War is a Failure, Associated Press Reports

In a major, broad-ranging report released Thursday, the Associated Press declared that "After 40 Years, $1 Trillion, US War on Drugs Has Failed to Meet Any of Its Goals." The report notes that after four decades of prohibitionist drug enforcement, "Drug use is rampant and violence is even more brutal and widespread."

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The AP even got drug czar Gil Kerlikowske to agree. "In the grand scheme, it has not been successful," Kerlikowske said. "Forty years later, the concern about drugs and drug problems is, if anything, magnified, intensified."

The AP pointedly notes that despite official acknowledgments that the policy has been a flop, the Obama administration's federal drug budget continues to increase spending on law enforcement and interdiction and that the budget's broad contours are essentially identical to those of the Bush administration.

Here, according to the AP, is where some of that trillion dollars worth of policy disaster went:

  • $20 billion to fight the drug gangs in their home countries. In Colombia, for example, the United States spent more than $6 billion, while coca cultivation increased and trafficking moved to Mexico -- and the violence along with it.
  • $33 billion in marketing "Just Say No"-style messages to America's youth and other prevention programs. High school students report the same rates of illegal drug use as they did in 1970, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says drug overdoses have "risen steadily" since the early 1970s to more than 20,000 last year.
  • $49 billion for law enforcement along America's borders to cut off the flow of illegal drugs. This year, 25 million Americans will snort, swallow, inject and smoke illicit drugs, about 10 million more than in 1970, with the bulk of those drugs imported from Mexico.
  • $121 billion to arrest more than 37 million nonviolent drug offenders, about 10 million of them for possession of marijuana. Studies show that jail time tends to increase drug abuse.
  • $450 billion to lock those people up in federal prisons alone. Last year, half of all federal prisoners in the US were serving sentences for drug offenses. [Editor's Note: This $450 billion dollar figure for federal drug war prisoners appears erroneous on the high side. According to Department of Justice budget figures, funding for the Bureau of Prisons, as well as courthouse security programs, was set at $9 billion for the coming fiscal year.]

The AP notes that, even adjusted for inflation, the federal drug war budget is 31 times what Richard Nixon asked for in his first federal drug budget.

Harvard University economist Jeffrey Miron told the AP that spending money for more police and soldiers only leads to more homicides. "Current policy is not having an effect of reducing drug use," Miron said, "but it's costing the public a fortune."

"President Obama's newly released drug war budget is essentially the same as Bush's, with roughly twice as much money going to the criminal justice system as to treatment and prevention," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the nonprofit Drug Policy Alliance. "This despite Obama's statements on the campaign trail that drug use should be treated as a health issue, not a criminal justice issue."

"For the first time ever, the nation has before it an administration that views the drug issue first and foremost through the lens of the public health mandate," said economist and drug policy expert John Carnevale, who served three administrations and four drug czars. "Yet... it appears that this historic policy stride has some problems with its supporting budget."

Of the record $15.5 billion Obama is requesting for the drug war for 2011, about two thirds of it is destined for law enforcement, eradication, and interdiction. About one-third will go for prevention and treatment.

The AP did manage to find one person to stick up for the drug war: former Bush administration drug czar John Walters, who insisted society would be worse if today if not for the drug war. "To say that all the things that have been done in the war on drugs haven't made any difference is ridiculous," Walters said. "It destroys everything we've done. It's saying all the people involved in law enforcement, treatment and prevention have been wasting their time. It's saying all these people's work is misguided."

Uh, yeah, John, that's what it's saying.

Feature: Obama Nominates Drug Warrior Michele Leonhart to Head DEA -- Reformers Gird for Battle

The Obama administration announced this week that it is nominating acting DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart to head the agency. Drug reformers responded with a collective groan and are preparing to challenge -- or at least question -- her nomination when it goes before the Senate Judiciary Committee for confirmation.

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Michele Leonhart
From a law enforcement perspective, Leonhart's career trajectory has been inspiring and exemplary. Growing up black in St. Paul, she developed an interest in law enforcement when someone stole her bicycle as a young girl. After graduating from college with a degree in criminal justice, she worked as a police officer in Baltimore before joining the DEA in 1980. She put in stints as a field agent in Minneapolis and St. Louis before being promoting to DEA's supervisory ranks in San Diego in 1988. She became the agency's first female Special Agent in Charge (SAC) there and later became SAC for the DEA's Los Angeles field division, the third largest in the country. She was confirmed as DEA deputy administrator in 2003 and named acting administrator upon the resignation of agency head Karen Tandy in 2007, a position she has held ever since.

But Leonhart's career has also coincided with scandal and controversy. (A tip of the hat here to Pete Guither at Drug War Rant, who profiled her peccadillos in an August 2003 piece). Her time in St. Louis coincided with a perjuring informant scandal, her time in Los Angeles coincided with the beginning of the federal war against California's medical marijuana law, and as acting administrator, she blocked researchers from being able to grow their own marijuana for medical research, effectively blocking the research. As head of the DEA last year, Leonhart (or her staff) spent more than $123,000 of taxpayer money to charter a private plane for a trip to Colombia, rather than using one of the 106 airplanes the DEA already owned.

While Leonhart's role in the persecution of California medical marijuana patients and providers is drawing the most heat, it is her association with one-time DEA supersnitch Andrew Chambers that is raising the most eyebrows. Chambers earned an astounding $2.2 million for his work as a DEA informant between 1984 and 2000. The problem was that he was caught perjuring himself repeatedly. The US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals called him a liar in 1993, and the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals echoed that verdict two years later.

But instead of terminating its relationship with Chambers, the DEA protected him, failing to notify prosecutors and defense attorneys about his record. At one point, DEA and the Justice Department for 17 months stalled a public defender seeking to examine the results of DEA's background check on Chambers. Even after the agency knew its snitch was rotten, it refused to stop using Chambers, and it took the intervention of then Attorney General Janet Reno to force the agency to quit using him.

Michele Leonhart defended Chambers. When asked if, given his credibility problems, the agency should quit using him, she said, "That would be a sad day for DEA, and a sad day for anybody in the law enforcement world... He's one in a million. In my career, I'll probably never come across another Andrew."

Another Leonhart statement on Chambers is even more shocking, as much for what it says about Leonhart as for what Leonhart says about Chambers. "The only criticism (of Chambers) I've ever heard is what defense attorneys will characterize as perjury or a lie on the stand," she said, adding that once prosecutors check him out, they will agree with his DEA admirers that he is "an outstanding testifier."

While Chambers snitched for the DEA in St. Louis while Leonhart was there and snitched for the DEA in Los Angeles while Leonhart was there, the exact nature of any relationship between them is murky. Reformers suggest that perhaps the Judiciary Committee might be able to clear it up.

Leonhart was also there at the beginning of the federal assault on California's medical marijuana law. She stood beside US Attorney Michael Yamaguchi when he announced in a January 1998 press conference that the government would take action against medical marijuana clubs. And as SAC in Los Angeles up until 2004, she was the ranking DEA agent responsible for the numerous Bush administration raids against patients and providers.

Her apparent distaste for marijuana extended to researchers. In January 2009, she overruled a DEA administrative law judge and denied UMass Professor Lyle Craker the ability to grow marijuana for medical research.

And it wasn't just marijuana. She was in full drug warrior mode when she attacked ecstasy use at raves in 2001, telling the New York Times that "some of the dances in the desert are no longer just dances, they're like violent crack houses set to music."

Drug reformers responded to Leonhart's nomination with one word: disappointing.

"It's disappointing that we didn't see anyone other than a career narcotics officer and DEA employee get the nomination," said Allen St. Pierre of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). "But considering that his choice is a groundbreaker at DEA, perhaps there is a certain degree of political correctness for Obama. Leonhart is acceptable to conservatives because she comes from the DEA ranks, and at the same time, as a black woman who has risen from street officer to head of the DEA, she is certainly heralded by many in the Congressional Black Caucus."

"What a disappointment that was," said Dale Gieringer, head of California NORML. "We've been waiting for change ever since Obama got elected, we're still sitting here with the same Bush-appointed US Attorneys, we were hoping at least he would appoint a new DEA administrator, but no. That really shows political cowardice at the top level, I think."

"We're obviously very disappointed about this," said Aaron Houston, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project. "She presided over the worst abuses of the Bush administration raids against patients and providers, she presided over some of the worst periods of activity in Los Angeles as Special Agent in Charge, she rejected the Craker application, she doesn't have a clue about the fact that the Mexicans are begging us to change our drug laws."

"The Leonhart nomination is very disappointing, but not surprising," said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Allliance. "We need to use her confirmation hearing to get her on record as promising to abide by the Obama administration guidelines on medical marijuana enforcement. She may just be someone who goes along to get along, but it would be good to get her on record on whether the DEA is going to continue to waste law enforcement resources going after low-level offenders."

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) was more than disappointed by the nomination. "This nomination is disconcerting, to say the least," said LEAP media relations director Tom Angell. "It's hard to see how giving the DEA directorship to someone who went out of her way to block medical marijuana research aligns with President Obama's pledge to set policies based on science and facts."

One question for reformers is how much Leonhart was following her own lead during her career and how much she was just following orders. "Now that she will be a permanent agency head, maybe she can establish a clearer doctrine under this administration," said St. Pierre. "When she made her Craker ruling, she was operating under Bush doctrine. The hope is that now perhaps she will get in line with Obama and Holder's articulation of criminal justice and drug war priorities."

Reining in the raids on medical marijuana providers is one of those, St. Pierre noted. "Since last May's executive order on preemption and the October Justice Department memo on medical marijuana, it doesn't look like the DEA has really interfered very much with these dispensaries, especially in places like Montana and Colorado, where there were none and now there are hundreds," he said. "It looks like Leonhart has abated a bit compared to the marching orders she was under when she was first named acting administrator."

"It's possible she will change her tune on getting orders from above," said Gieringer. "I don't know to what extent she was taking orders from above on indefensible things like deciding to disallow the research at UMass."

Another question facing reformers is how to respond to the nomination. "We are contemplating how we are going to approach this," Houston said. "A lot of our members want us to ask senators to hold her nomination."

"People should try to stop it, but we shouldn't get our hopes up," said Piper. "Democrats are going to rally around the president, and stopping one of Obama's nominees may be too much for Democrats to do. But we can still campaign against her, and one of the great things about that is that you can use the campaign to box them in, to get them to promise to do -- or not do -- a range of things. For instance, when we had the campaign to stop Asa Hutchinson from being nominated DEA head, we got him to go on record in favor of eliminating the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity and diverting more people to treatment. Even if we fail to stop the nomination, it can still lead to good things. It's certainly worth launching an all-out effort. "

"Reformers should take the approach that a thorough hearing is called for," said Eric Sterling, director of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. "I don't know that they should argue she should be blocked, but that her role in these matters needs to be examined. That's a politically smarter way for us to approach her nomination."

Sterling expressed real concern about Leonhart's role in the Chambers scandal. "I hope that the Judiciary Committee looks aggressively at her career, and what role she may have played in promoting the career of this informant who seems to be a career perjurer," he said. "If her practice was to knowingly tolerate perjury and encourage the use of an informant who is a perjurer, she is not qualified to be head of DEA by any stretch. The danger of perjury and the overzealousness of being willing to tolerate it is one of the greatest dangers any law enforcement agency faces. Given the enormously long sentences that exist in federal cases, the risks of injustice are monumental," he noted.

"To the extent that she has a reputation on the street that she promoted or used a perjuring informant, that is a terrible signal within the agency -- if that is really the case," Sterling continued. "I think it is extremely important that the Judiciary Committee inquire into this before they vote on her nomination. I can only hope that the Obama administration has vetted her more scrupulously than some of their earlier nominees whose tax problems were either undiscovered or ignored. This is a much more sensitive position, and both good judgment regarding truth telling and punishing those who violate that trust by tolerating perjury are essential features of this job."

Another area for senatorial scrutiny is medical marijuana, said Sterling. "With respect to medical marijuana, I don't know that I would fault her given the position of the agency and the Bush administration," he said. "It would be an extraordinary DEA manager who is going to fight for medical marijuana within the agency and block raids recommended by Special Agents in Charge or US Attorneys or the Justice Department. Yes, there were some really egregious cases during her time in Los Angeles, but I'm not sure those got handled at the level she was at. This is another area senators would be justified in inquiring about. If the committee just rubber stamps this nomination, that's a mistake."

Sterling even had some questions ready for the senators. "One question to ask is what scientific evidence she would need to reschedule marijuana," Sterling suggested. "Another is what state actions would her agency honor and not carry out raids. And she could be asked why the DEA needs to be involved with medical marijuana in California, the largest state in the nation and one with a functioning medical marijuana law. Has the DEA so completely eliminated the state's heroin and methamphetamine problems that the DEA can now turn its attention to medical marijuana purveyors?"

Chances are that Michele Leonhart is going to be the next head of DEA. But she is going to be under intense scrutiny between now and then, and reformers intend to make the most of it.

Cop Wants His Job Back After Planning the Sting That Killed Rachel Hoffman

The death of Rachel Hoffman in a botched drug sting was one of the most disturbing drug war outrages of 2008, and apparently the person most directly responsible for what happened thinks everyone's forgotten about it by now.

Former Tallahassee Police Officer Ryan Pender is fighting to get his job back after a botched drug sting cost a young police informant her life.

Pender's attorney claims there was a lack of policy in the buy/bust operations at TPD and Pender did what he was trained to do.

Pender - who recruited Hoffman and arranged the drug sting that evening - was fired in September, 2008 after an internal affairs review found that he violated nine department policies. [http://www.wctv.tv/home/headlines/80699197.html " target="_blank">WCTV]

So Pender says he "did what he was trained to do," and internal affairs says he "violated nine department policies." Perhaps he was trained to violate those policies? Actually, that wouldn’t entirely surprise me, but it's still no excuse for Pender's participation in one of the most ridiculously ill-conceived drug operations that's ever been brought to light.

The great injustice here is not that Ryan Pender got fired for his role in this fatally flawed fiasco, but rather that he was the only person held accountable for it.

Search and Seizure: Ohio Supreme Court Rules Police Need Warrant to Search Cell Phones

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that police officers must obtain a search warrant before reviewing the contents of a suspect's cell phone unless their safety is in danger. The ruling came on a narrow 5-4 vote of the justices.

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hands off, at least in Ohio
The ruling came in State v. Smith, in which Antwaun Smith was arrested on drug charges after answering a cell phone call from a crack cocaine user acting as a police informant. When Smith was arrested, officers took his cell phone and searched it without his consent or a search warrant. Smith was charged with cocaine possession, cocaine trafficking, tampering with evidence and two counts of possession of criminal tools.

At trial, Smith argued that evidence derived through the cell phone search should be thrown out because the search violated the Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches and seizures. But the trial judge, citing a 2007 federal court ruling that found a cell phone is similar to a closed container found on a defendant and thus subject to warrantless search, admitted the evidence. Smith was subsequently convicted on all charges and sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Smith appealed, but lost on a 2-1 vote in the appeals court. In that decision, the dissenting judge cited a different federal court case that found that a cell phone is not a container.

In the majority opinion Tuesday, state Supreme Court Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger wrote that the court did not agree with the appeals court and trial judge that a cell phone was a closed container. "We do not agree with this comparison, which ignores the unique nature of cell phones," Lanzinger wrote. "Objects falling under the banner of 'closed container' have traditionally been physical objects capable of holding other physical objects. ... Even the more basic models of modern cell phones are capable of storing a wealth of digitized information wholly unlike any physical object found within a closed container."

"People keep their e-mail, text messages, personal and work schedules, pictures, and so much more on their cell phones," Craig Jaquith, Smith's attorney, said in a statement. "I can't imagine that any cell phone user in Ohio would want the police to have access to that sort of personal information without a warrant. Today, the Ohio Supreme Court properly brought the Fourth Amendment into the 21st century."

But Greene County prosecutor Stephen Haller complained to the Associated Press that the high court had gone too far. "I'm disappointed with this razor-thin decision," Haller said. "The majority here has announced this broad, sweeping new Fourth Amendment rule that basically is at odds with decisions of other courts."

Search and Seizure: Ohio Supreme Court Rules Police Need Warrant to Search Cell Phones

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that police officers must obtain a search warrant before reviewing the contents of a suspect’s cell phone unless their safety is in danger. The ruling came on a narrow 5-4 vote of the justices. The ruling came in State v. Smith, in which Antwaun Smith was arrested on drug charges after answering a cell phone call from a crack cocaine user acting as a police informant. When Smith was arrested, officers took his cell phone and searched it without his consent or a search warrant. Smith was charged with cocaine possession, cocaine trafficking, tampering with evidence and two counts of possession of criminal tools. At trial, Smith argued that evidence derived through the cell phone search should be thrown out because the search violated the Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches and seizures. But the trial judge, citing a 2007 federal court ruling that found a cell phone is similar to a closed container found on a defendant and thus subject to warrantless search, admitted the evidence. Smith was subsequently convicted on all charges and sentenced to 12 years in prison. Smith appealed, but lost on a 2-1 vote in the appeals court. In that decision, the dissenting judge cited a different federal court case that found that a cell phone is not a container. In the majority opinion Tuesday, state Supreme Court Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger wrote that the court did not agree with the appeals court and trial judge that a cell phone was a closed container. "We do not agree with this comparison, which ignores the unique nature of cell phones," Lanzinger wrote. "Objects falling under the banner of 'closed container' have traditionally been physical objects capable of holding other physical objects. ... Even the more basic models of modern cell phones are capable of storing a wealth of digitized information wholly unlike any physical object found within a closed container." "People keep their e-mail, text messages, personal and work schedules, pictures, and so much more on their cell phones," Craig Jaquith, Smith's attorney, said in a statement. "I can't imagine that any cell phone user in Ohio would want the police to have access to that sort of personal information without a warrant. Today, the Ohio Supreme Court properly brought the Fourth Amendment into the 21st century." But Greene County prosecutor Stephen Haller complained to the Associated Press that the high court had gone too far. "I'm disappointed with this razor-thin decision," Haller said. "The majority here has announced this broad, sweeping new Fourth Amendment rule that basically is at odds with decisions of other courts."
Location: 
Columbus, OH
United States

Drug War Chronicle Book Review: "Drug War Zone: Frontline Dispatches from the Streets of El Paso and Juarez," by Howard Campbell (2009, University of Texas Press, 310 pp., $24.95 PB)

Phillip S. Smith, Writer Editor

Howard Campbell's "Drug War Zone" couldn't be more timely. Ciudad Juárez, just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, is awash in blood as the competing Juárez and Sinaloa cartels wage a deadly war over who will control the city's lucrative drug trafficking franchise. More than 2,000 people have been killed in Juárez this year in the drug wars, making the early days of Juárez Cartel dominance, when the annual narco-death toll was around 200 a year, seem downright bucolic by comparison.

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The violence in Mexico, of which Juárez is the current epicenter, has been setting off alarm bells in Washington, and the US has responded with thousands more law enforcement agents on the border and more than a billion dollars in aid to the Mexican government. In other words, what we've been doing hasn't worked, so let's do even more of it, even more intensely.

We've all seen the horrific headlines; we've all seen the grim and garish displays of exemplary violence; we've read the statistics about the immense size of the illegal drug business in Mexico and the insatiable appetites of drug consumers in El Norte ("the north," e.g. the US). What we haven't had -- up until now -- is a portrayal of the El Paso-Juárez drug trade and drug culture that gets beneath the headlines, the politicians' platitudes, and law enforcement's self-justifying pronouncements. With "Drug War Zone," Campbell provides just that.

He's the right guy in the right place at the right time. A professor of sociology and anthropology at the University of Texas-El Paso who has two decades in the area, Campbell is able to do his fieldwork when he walks out his front door and has been able to develop relationships with all sorts of people involved in the drug trade and its repression, from low-level street dealers in Juárez to middle class dabblers in dealing in El Paso, from El Paso barrio boys to Mexican smugglers, from journalists to Juárez cops, from relatives of cartel victims to highly-placed US drug fight bureaucrats.

Using an extended interview format, Campbell lets his informants paint a detailed picture of the social realities of the El Paso-Juárez "drug war zone." The overall portrait that emerges is of a desert metropolis (about a half million people on the US side, a million and a half across the river), distant both geographically and culturally from either Washington or Mexico City, with a long tradition of smuggling and a dense binational social network where families and relationships span two nations. This intricately imbricated web of social relations and historical factors -- the rise of a US drug culture, NAFTA and globalization -- have given rise to a border narco-culture deeply embedded in the social fabric of both cities.

(One thing that strikes me as I ponder Campbell's work, with its description of binational barrio gangs working for the Juárez Cartel, and narcos working both sides of the border, is how surprising it is that the violence plaguing Mexico has not crossed the border in any measurable degree. It's almost as if the warring factions have an unwritten agreement that the killings stay south of the Rio Grande. I'd wager they don't want to incite even more attention from the gringos.)

Campbell compares the so-called cartels to terrorists like Al Qaeda. With their terroristic violence, their use of both high tech (YouTube postings) and low tech (bodies hanging from bridges, warning banners adorning buildings) communications strategies, their existence as non-state actors acting both in conflict and complicity with various state elements, the comparison holds some water. Ultimately, going to battle against the tens of thousands of people employed by the cartels in the name of an abstraction called "the war on drugs" is likely to be as fruitless and self-defeating as going to battle against Pashtun tribesmen in the name of an abstraction called "the war on terror."

But that doesn't mean US drug war efforts are going to stop, or that the true believers in law enforcement are going to stop believing -- at least most of them. One of the virtues of "Drug War Zone" is that it studies not only the border narco-culture, but also the border policing culture. Again, Campbell lets his informants speak for him, and those interviews are fascinating and informative.

Having seen its result close-up and firsthand, Campbell has been a critic of drug prohibition. He still is, although he doesn't devote a lot of space to it in the book. Perhaps, like (and through) his informants, he lets prohibition speak for itself. The last interview in the book may echo Campbell's sentiments. It's with former Customs and Border Patrol agent Terry Nelson. In the view of his former colleagues, Nelson has gone over to the dark side. He's a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

If you're interested in the border or drug culture or the drug economy or drug prohibition, you need to read "Drug War Zone." This is a major contribution to the literature.

Latin America: Mexican Drug War Update--October 22

by Bernd Debussman Jr. Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year trafficking illegal drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed over 12,000 people, with a death toll of over 5,800 so far in 2009. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest of several high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war: Friday , October 16 In Michoacan, three bodies were found , all with messages attached. The messages were directed at the Zetas organization, and appear to have been from La Familia. La Familia was once part of the Zetas organization, but the two groups have been fierce rivals since the group split from the Gulf Cartel (and the Zetas) in 2006. In other parts of Mexico, two men were assassinated in Tijuana, and a boy who was jogging was killed after being caught in a firefight between gunmen and the army in Tamaulipas. Five people were murdered in Culiacan, Sinaloa, three in Hermosillo, Sonora, one in Durango, and six in the Ciudad Juarez area. Saturday , October 17 In Tijuana, the nude, mutilated body of a man was found hanging from an expressway overpass. It is the second such discovery found in the last two weeks. Local news outlets reported that the man’s tongue had been cut out, which suggests that drug traffickers suspected he was an informant. Additionally, a gun battle between police and drug traffickers left one police officer dead and two wounded. A suspected cartel member was also killed in the incident. Police recovered five assault rifles and vests with federal insignia from several vehicles used by the gunmen. The day before, the the decapitated body of a woman whose hands and feet had been bound were found in a different part of the city. Monday , October 19 Two people were killed after being ambushed by a group of heavily armed gunmen in Guerrero. One of the dead was a policeman, and the other was a civilian who was riding a bus that was caught in the crossfire. Additionally, five bodies showing signs of torture were recovered from various parts of Acapulco. Attached to each of them were notes threatening “kidnappers, thieves and traitors” and signed by Arturo Beltran-Leyva, the boss of the Beltran-Leyva cartel. 18 people were killed in drug-related killings in Ciudad Juarez. At least 21 other drug-related homicides were reported in Mexico, including nine beheaded bodies found in Tierra Caliente. Tuesday , October 20 In Guerrero, at least three banners were found which threatened police and Genaro Garcia Luna, the Secretary of Public Safety. The signs were signed by what appears to be a new, Guerrero branch of the “La Familia” cartel which is based in Michoacan. The signs also accused Garcia Luna of protecting the Beltran-Leyva cartel and the allied Zetas organization. In another part of Guerrero, the body of a bus driver was found by the side of the road, and showed signs of torture. A second body was found near Acapulco. Near the city of Ciudad Mante, police arrested a man who had 107 kilos of marijuana in a hidden compartment of his pick-up truck. Wednesday , October 21 A suspected member of the Juarez Cartel was added to the FBI’s ten most wanted list. Eduardo "Tablas" Ravelo, 41, is allegedly a high-ranking member of the Barrio Azteca gang. In exchange for a steady supply of narcotics, Barrio Azteca performs enforcement tasks for the cartel on both sides of the border, and can effectively be considered part of the Juarez cartel which operates on American soil. Ravelo is suspected of ordering the killing of another high-ranking gang member, David "Chicho" Meraz, during an internal power struggle. Meraz was killed in Ciudad Juarez last year. Ravelo is reportedly hiding in Juarez under the protection of the cartel. Earlier in the week, another man with suspected cartel connections was also added to the FBI’s ten most wanted list. Jose Luis Saenz, of Los Angeles, is suspected of killing at least four people (including his girlfriend) and is allegedly an enforcer for an unnamed Mexican drug trafficking organization. In October 2008 he shot and killed another gang member in LA County who apparently owed $620,000 to the cartel. Across Mexico, 40 drug-related homicides were reported in a 24-hour period, bringing the 2009 total to over 6,000. Thirteen of these were in Chihuahua, and of these, nine were in Ciudad Juarez. According to a running tally by El Universal, 1,000 people were killed in drug-related violence in Mexico in the last 40 days. The previous 1,000 had been killed over 41 days, and the 1,000 before that in 44 days. Since August 1st, an average of 24 homicides were reported daily, approximately one every hour. One out of every three drug-related homicides was in Ciudad Juarez. Much of the violence is due to the conflict being fought by the Sinaloa Federation and the Juarez cartel over control of the Ciudad Juarez-El Paso drug trafficking corridor. Total body count for the week: 113 Total body count for the year: 5,928 Read the last Mexico Drug War Update here.

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A quiet week on the corrupt cops front, but the two stories we do have share a common theme: problems with snitches. Let's get to it:

In Gaffney, South Carolina, a Cherokee County sheriff's officer was arrested Tuesday and fired Wednesday for exchanging drugs for sex with a female confidential informant. Now former Officer Troy Cooper, 56, is accused of providing marijuana, money, and other contraband to the informant in return for sexual favors between March 2008 and last week. Investigators from the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) were called in by Sheriff Bill Blanton. A search warrant in the case indicates that SLED has recorded telephone conversations between Blanton and the informant.

In St. Louis, police commanders are at odds with the police union over departmental demands that up to 20 officers reveal details about their confidential informants. The department has acknowledged in court filings that "one or more" officers "have included false information in affidavits" for warrants, and says the investigation is aimed at stopping "the concerns of police abuse and violation of civil rights." At least two officers, Shell Sharp and William Noonan, have already resigned, and prosecutors have dropped 39 cases in which one or the other officer was involved. But the police union has won a temporary restraining order to block the revealing of informant information, saying it would endanger snitches and officers. Whether they can win a permanent injunction will be decided next week.

Drug War Chronicle Book Review Essay: "Righteous Dopefiend" and "This is for the Mara Salvatrucha: Inside the MS-13, America's Most Violent Gang"

Drug War Chronicle Review Essay: "This is for the Mara Salvatrucha: Inside the MS-13, America's Most Violent Gang," by Samuel Logan (2009, Hyperion Press, 245 pp., $24.99 HB) and "Righteous Dopefiend," by Philippe Bourgois and Jeff Schonberg (2009, University of California Press, 392 pp., $24.95 PB)

Phillip S. Smith, Writer/Editor

These two books have little in common except that they focus on two deviant subcultures of interest to people curious about various facets of drug policy: Central American immigrant gang-bangers in the former and, less obviously, middle-aged, homeless San Francisco heroin addicts in the latter. Neither group has much to do with the other, except that perhaps some of the gang members could have peddled some of the heroin that went into those addicts' arms. What makes both groups -- and both books -- of interest to the Chronicle is that neither group would exist as presently constituted absent the regime of drug prohibition.

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"This is for the Mara Salvatrucha" is described as journalist Samuel Logan's effort to peek behind the curtain of one of America's largest street gangs, but with the exception of a few passages scattered through its pages, the book concentrates almost exclusively on the fate of Brenda Paz, a Honduran teenager who got caught up in the gang in Dallas and was quickly brought into local inner circles because she was the girlfriend of a local leader. When Paz's gang-leader boyfriend killed another Dallas area teenager in Paz's presence to steal his car, Paz fled to northern Virginia to avoid prosecution. There, she hooked up with another murderous local Mara leader, got arrested, and turned informant.

Thanks to Paz's extensive interviews with local, state, and federal law enforcement officials, police got their best insights yet into the group's murky inner workings, its origins, and its breadth. Unfortunately, Logan devotes little attention to such things, preferring instead to craft a police procedural, which, while a page-turner in its own right, leaves this reader at least hungry for more solid information.

While Logan asserts that the Mara Salvatrucha is into extortion, dope dealing, and human smuggling, he doesn't really demonstrate it, nor does he demonstrate that the Mara is indeed "America's most violent gang." Logan shows us localized incidents of thuggery, some of them truly mindless and savage, but doesn't describe how the gang actually works, nor compare it in size and scope to other criminal gangs. Nor is there much material about Mara's presence in Central America -- it is particularly strong in El Salvador and Honduras -- a strange omission given Logan's acknowledgement of the gang's origin among Salvadoran immigrants in Los Angeles in the 1980s.

"This is for the Mara Salvatrucha" is an entrancing read in its own right, it does open some windows on the much feared organization -- although not nearly enough -- and it makes the reader develop an interest in Brenda Paz and her trip from innocent if troubled teenager to hardened gang-banger to the federal witness protection program. And that's sort of a shame, given how she ends up. I'll say no more; I don't want to spoil it for you.

Logan left me wishing that anthropologists Philippe Bourgois and Jeff Schonberg had written "This is for the Mara Salvatrucha," but that is a bit unfair. The urban ethnographers were able to spend a decade with the subjects of "Righteous Dopefiend," and those subjects, while constantly engaged in petty criminality, were not hardened, violent tough guys. Instead, they were middle-aged long-term heroin addicts, most definitely nowhere near as scary as a face-tattooed Mara killer. Still, whether it was differences in approach -- journalistic vs. anthropological -- or access to subjects -- limited and fraught with danger vs. long-term and fraught with being asked for spare change -- "Righteous Dopefiend" left me much more fulfilled.

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Bourgois and Schonberg came to be on intimate terms with a group of homeless heroin addicts camped in obscure spaces under freeway exchanges in San Francisco. Some were black, some white, a few Hispanic, a few were women. Good anthropologists that they are, there is plenty of theory mainly of interest to grad students, but it is nicely mixed in with real world observation, field notes, striking photographs (and the theory of the photographic gaze), and numerous transcripts of interviews with the aging junkies. (Before some reader jumps up to object to the term, let me just say I prefer the self-selecting "junkie" to the therapeutically-imposed and disempowering "addict.")

The junkie/addict distinction has a parallel in one of the distinctions Bourgois and Schonberg discovered among their homeless chronic heroin users. The white guys were much more likely to be alienated from their families than the black ones. The white guys sometimes didn't even know where their parents lived anymore, but the black guys would go home for birthdays, weddings, funerals, and other important occasions. They were more likely to be accepted as errant but still loved family members, while their white counterparts were more likely to be shunned. The junkies' own self-images reflected these contrasting familial responses, with the white ones adopting a hang-dog "outcast" persona compared to the black guys' graying Superfly "outlaw" persona.

The world of the "Righteous Dopefiend" isn't pretty. There are ugly abcesses and necrotizing fasciitis, there is the violence among the users and directed at them, they live in filth and squalor (although some try harder than others to rise above it), they are constantly driven by the need for the next fix and the fear of getting dopesick if they can't come up with the money to buy it.

But, like any of the rest of us, they are capable of acts of kindness and generosity. In the group Bourgois and Schonberg hung with, there was always at least a heroin-soaked bit of cotton for the person going without. There was romance, too, and a friendship and intimacy among "running partners" probably as genuine as any best friendship among non-homeless non-junkies.

By the way, that kindness and generosity often means sharing needles and cooking equipment. If three of you are going in on a $20 bag of Mexican tar, there is going to be some bodily fluid-swapping going on. Bourgois and Schonberg devote some attention to harm reduction practices, and amid all the talk about knowledge/power relations, one gets the general message that some harm reductionists need to do a better job of listening to their clients. Encouraging them moralistically to not share needles or cooking equipment when their circumstances make it inevitable that they will may not be the best approach, they suggest. Still, despite the critique, it is clear the author and the junkies appreciate the efforts at public health and harm reduction interventions. They are certainly preferable to interventions by police or Caltrans, which result in arrest or the trashing of the homeless camps and the loss of all possessions, and certainly more well-intentioned than the city's public hospitals, which insist that the junkies be literally on death's door before they admit them or the doctors who operate on abscesses without anesthetics and needlessly remove large chunks of flesh, leaving gaping wounds before pushing them back out onto the streets.

"Righteous Dopefiend" is most excellent. Even the theorizing is intelligible to the interested layperson (and will doubtless be grist for many a graduate seminar), and the theorizing is the basis for a well-informed critique of the social forces that create and impact the lives of their subjects. I feel like I got to know these people and gained some insight to how they live and think, and I deepened my understanding of why they live the way they do. What more can you ask of anthropology?

Latin America: Mexican Drug War Week in Review

by Bernd Debusmann Jr.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year trafficking illegal drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed over 12,000 people, with a death toll of nearly 4,000 so far in 2009. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest of several high- profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war:

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cash carefully stacked for camera following bust last March by DEA and Mexican authorities
Thursday, July 23:

In Tijuana, 17 teenagers -- most of them accused of being cartel hit men -- escaped from a juvenile detention center near the US border in Baja California after digging a hole through an outer wall and striking a correctional officer with a metal rod.

There have been more than 20 jail breaks in Mexico this year alone. Notably, in May, gunmen dressed as police officers arrived in a convoy and rescued 53 cartel members held in a prison in Zacatecas.

On the American side of the Baja California/California border, Robert Rosas, a US Border Patrol agent, was shot and killed. Five men have been detained by Mexican authorities in relation to the killing, all thought to be people-smugglers or members of drug gangs.

Saturday, July 26/Sunday, July 27:

At least 20 people were killed in Ciudad Juarez and its environs over the weekend in separate incidents. The wave of killings began late Friday night when a man was shot dead by unidentified assailants. Two other men were killed Friday night in separate incidents.

Six men were killed Saturday, while a seventh died from wounds inflicted after an incident in which men dressed as members of the army tried capture him after he attempted to rob a service station. Another five men were shot dead on Sunday. Among the dead from the weekend violence was a woman who had apparently been stoned to death.

In Chihuahua, the capital of the state of Chihuahua, which includes Ciudad Juarez, three adults were killed and a seven-year old girl was wounded when gunmen opened fire on their car.

Ciudad Juarez is the most violent city in Mexico. Unofficial reports indicate that at least 200 people have been killed so far in the month of July, and over 1,000 have been killed since the beginning of 2009, even with the presence of 8,500 military and police personnel.

Also on July 26, the office of Mexico's attorney general released a statement that an alleged cartel assassin, Alfredo Araujo Avila -- known as "El Popeye" -- has been sentenced to 11 years in prison on weapons-related charges. This prosecution is notable because Arujo has been implicated in the high-profile 1993 killing of Cardinal Juan Posadas Ocampo, which caused widespread outrage in Mexico. Ocampo was killed on May 24, 1993, under unclear circumstances. Some claim he was caught in the crossfire between rival drug gangs, while others claim he was killed in a case of mistaken identity. Araujo is the only person implicated in the murder -- which also claimed the lives of the cardinal's driver and five gunmen -- who has been prosecuted.

Monday, July 27

The Associated Press (AP) has reported that Jose Daniel Gonzalez Galeana, a Mexican national and Juarez Cartel lieutenant who was shot dead outside his home in El Paso, was working for US officials as a confidential informant. The AP cites information from two federal and one local official who said that Gonzalez was handing over information on cartel operations to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). While police have no official motive, law enforcement is working on the assumption that he was murdered because the cartel discovered his activities. Gonzalez was shot eight times at close range outside his home on May 15th.

Mexico announced a pilot program to have special drug courts handle cases in which drug addicts committed crimes while under the influence of drugs. The focus of these courts is to be on rehabilitation, rather than punitive prison terms. One third of funds seized from drug traffickers are to go towards the establishment of new rehabilitation centers. The program was immediately praised by US drug czar Gil Kerlikowske.

Mexico's attorney general, Eduardo Medina Mora, criticized US measures to stamp out the marijuana trade. "We frequently see insufficient resources and infrastructure to prosecute those who carry out small-scale or fragmented marijuana trafficking in the United States," he said at a joint news conference with US drug czar Gil Kerlikowske in Mexico City. Medina Mora added that the issue would be further discussed next month when Mexican President Felipe Calderon meets with US president Barack Obama.

Tuesday, July 28

Off the coast of San Diego, three teenagers aboard a 22-foot boat were arrested by US Customs and Border Enforcement officers. Hidden underneath the deck was 1,060 pounds of marijuana. The three teenagers, one aged 18 and two aged 19, claimed that they were returning from a fishing trip in Ensenada, Mexico.

Total reported body count for the week: 20

Total reported body count for the year: 3,947

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