Drug Czar Gets Facts Wrong Again... Infuriates Dutch on Eve of Visit 7/17/98

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U.S. Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey was supposed to be going to Europe this week to observe the ways in which other countries are dealing with their drug problems, but statements leading up to and during the first leg of his trip revealed that the retired General left with pre-determined conclusions and ignorance of some basic, non-expert level facts.

McCaffrey's misstatements, and the conclusions he drew from them, elicited sharp and angry responses from the Dutch just days before McCaffrey was scheduled to arrive in The Netherlands. The strange and very un-diplomatic string of incidents cast our nation's top drug warrior as well as his Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) in a less-than-favorable light. This was compounded by several odd statements made by ONDCP spokespersons, at least one of which was later retracted, in an apparent attempt to cover the ex-general's flank. As you read the following chronology, ask yourselves, if you were leading the fight to preserve prohibition, is this what you would do?

JULY 9: On CNN's "Talkback Live," McCaffrey engages in a brief debate over the Dutch policy with "Drug Crazy" author Mike Gray. McCaffrey says, ominously, it turns out, "We ought to agree to disagree on the facts." Shortly afterward, he calls the Dutch experience "an unmitigated disaster." Gray warns that a diplomatic protest could come from the Dutch embassy, which has been alerted that McCaffrey and his office are misrepresenting the facts about Dutch policy and results. McCaffrey changes the subject, saying the Dutch have received protests from the French and Germans over the results of their drug policy. Gray counters that the French have a higher addiction rate than the Dutch, and that the U.S. has a higher addiction rate than the Dutch. Here, again, McCaffrey says: "I probably would again dispute you on the facts."

JULY 10: McCaffrey tells the Associated Press he's not interested in visiting Dutch "coffeeshops," the hallmark of the nation's tolerant policy toward marijuana and hashish. "Coffeeshops would be a bad photo op," he explains. And, "I'm not sure there's much to be learned by watching someone smoking pot."

JULY 11: From Washington, the Dutch ambassador to the U.S., Joris M. Vos, writes to McCaffrey, that he is "confounded and dismayed" by the czar's depiction of the Dutch policy. "I must say that I find the timing of your remarks, just six days before your planned visit to the Netherlands with a view to gaining firsthand knowledge about Dutch drug policy and its results, rather astonishing." A McCaffrey deputy spokesman, Rob Housman, tells the AP in Washington he hopes the incident will not affect McCaffrey's European trip.

JULY 13: In Stockholm, where he is beginning his European trip, McCaffrey comes out swinging. He says, "The murder rate in Holland is double that in the United States. The per capita crime rates are much higher than the United States." He provides statistics to the media. In 1995, McCaffrey says, the U.S. had 8.22 murders per 100,000 people, while the Netherlands had 17.58 per 100,000 (2.13 times the U.S. rate). Also, at the Stockholm press conference, McCaffrey's staff hands out copies of the complaint letter to McCaffrey from ambassador Joris Vos. It will later turn out that the Dutch Embassy in Washington is none too pleased with McCaffrey's release of the letter saying that the communique was meant to be "private and confidential."

JULY 14: A Dutch agency, the Central Bureau of Statistics, publishes crime data contradicting McCaffrey's claims. The 1995 murder rate, rather than being double that of the U.S., is instead 1.8 per 100,000 in the Netherlands, making the U.S. rate 4.6 times higher than in The Netherlands. There were 273 murders total in 1995, fewer than most U.S. cities. However, for the year 1995, the Dutch ATTEMPTED HOMICIDE rate was 17.6 -- likely the number McCaffrey had cited. (We initially thought McCaffrey had simply misplaced a decimal point. Note that while most Americans could not tell you the homicide rate here or anywhere else, most readers of newspapers, not just drug and crime policy experts, are well aware that the rate is much higher here than anywhere in western Europe.)

DRCNet, after researching the Dutch homicide rate, contacted the Dutch Embassy to confirm the statistics and to get their reaction to McCaffrey's claims. The embassy confirms the rate of 1.8 per 100,000 and expresses its concern over what is now becoming an international incident.

DRCNet then contacts ONDCP seeking either a retraction or reiteration of McCaffrey's claim. Spokesperson David DuRoche tells The Week Online that while he hasn't spoken to McCaffrey on the matter, "The general stands by what he said."

DRCNet issues the following press release to over 100 media outlets:

ONTACT: David Borden or Adam J. Smith, (202) 293-8340

American Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey, on the first leg of his 8-day fact-finding mission to Europe, has once again proven that he knows not of what he speaks. But this time, McCaffrey's blatantly erroneous statement of "fact" might well touch off an inter- national furor.

Speaking to the press in Stockholm, Sweden, McCaffrey trashed Dutch drug policy, saying, "The murder rate in Holland is double that in the United States." McCaffrey cited the statistics as 8.22 per 100,000 in the U.S. and 17.58 per 100,000 in The Netherlands. "That's drugs," he concluded, adding that he was anxious to visit The Netherlands to find out "Why is it that they're happy about what they're doing?"

Unfortunately, the General had his zeroes misplaced. The Dutch murder rate is actually 1.758 per 100,000, less than one fourth that of the U.S. Astonishingly, this morning, David DeRoche, a spokesman for McCaffrey, told the Drug Reform Coordination Network, an Internet-based information center of the drug policy reform movement, that "The General stands by what he said."

David Borden, DRCNet's Executive Director, said, "There is a very disturbing trend of blatant misinformation coming from Barry McCaffrey, which seems to indicate that he is woefully uninformed about key parts of the very policy he is paid to represent and enforce. It is astonishing that McCaffrey is so ignorant of global drug policy that he would parrot such a wildly erroneous statistic. Anyone who knows anything at all about global drug policy and its impact would have spotted in an instant that this was blatantly untrue."

In August and again in December, 1996, McCaffrey was quoted in the media claiming there is 'not one shred of evidence' that marijuana has medicinal value, when in fact there are literally dozens showing that it does -- ONDCP's chief counsel, Pat Seitz, later claimed on CNN that he had never made such comments. In April, McCaffrey made numerous statements claiming that studies of Canadian syringe exchanges refuted the value of syringe exchange, only to be rebuffed by Dr. Julie Bruneau and Dr. Martin T. Schechter, the authors of the studies them- selves, who, in an op-ed in the New York Times, (4/9/98) stated that McCaffrey had "misinterpreted" their findings, which called for more, not less needle exchange. Further, on several occasions this spring, including once during a speech at the University of Louisville, McCaffrey has ridi- culed "noted agronomists such as Woody Harrelson" who advocate for the legalization of industrial hemp, despite the fact that over 100 Kentucky farmers are currently suing the federal government for the right to do so. "It is silly" he said of the issue, calling it a "thinly disguised attempt ... to legalize pot." But earlier this month, a University of Kentucky study indi- cated that if hemp were legalized for indus- trial use, it would immediately become the second most valuable legal crop in the state, behind only tobacco. In an interview with NBC Dateline, aired Feb 21, 1997, McCaffrey put forward an Illinois study he claimed sup- ported the D.A.R.E. program, only to later dismiss the very same study as "twaddle" when confronted with its actual findings -- that D.A.R.E. doesn't work for most children and may be counterproductive.

DRCNet Associate Director Adam J. Smith said, "This latest misstatement concerning the Dutch murder rate, in which McCaffrey was off by a factor of ten, is especially troubling in view of the fact that he obviously feels well- versed enough on the Dutch situation to publicly ridicule their brave pragmatism in the face of global Prohibitionist pressures. These types of misstatements show clearly that the government's blind embrace of a failed Prohibitionist Drug War is ideologically, and not factually driven. The U.S. murder rate is more than four times that of The Netherlands. That's Prohibition."

- END -
Later, Dutch officials tell the Reuters news agency, "The figure (McCaffrey is using) is not right. He is adding in attempted murders." Foreign Affairs Ministry spokeswoman Birgitta Tazelaar adds, "(McCaffrey's) statements show... that he is not coming totally unbiased. We hope he is coming here to learn from the Dutch drug policy, and one can only learn if open-minded... We hope his opinions will... come more into line with the facts."

JULY 15: In a Washington Times story, McCaffrey spokesman James McDonough, responding to a Dutch official who pointed out that the drug czar had used the wrong number, attempted homicide instead of homicide, when comparing crime stats between the U.S. and Netherlands, says, "Let's say she's right. What you are left with is that they are a much more violent society and more inept [at murder], and that's not much to brag about."

DRCNet searches for U.S. statistics on "attempted homicide." Apparently, this is not a category that is kept by the FBI or any other federal agency. What is kept by the FBI is "aggravated assault". The FBI definition for this offense reads as follows: "Aggravated assault is an unlawful attack by one person upon another for the purpose of inflicting severe or aggravated bodily injury. This type of assault is usually accompanied by the use of a weapon or by means likely to produce death or great bodily harm."

The two definitions are not absolutely identical, but in practice cover basically the same set of offenses. Hence we compare them here. In 1995, the rate of "attempted murder" in The Netherlands was 17.58 per 100,000 while for the same year, according to the FBI, the U.S. rate for "aggravated assault" was 418.3 per 100,000, more than 20 times higher than in The Netherlands.

DRCNet again contacts ONDCP, whereupon Mr. DuRoche tells The Week Online that "those figures for the Dutch murder rate come directly from Interpol. I cannot speculate on why the Dutch Government would report one set of numbers to Interpol and another to their public." Pressed as to whether it would not have been proper, given the Dutch government's vehement protest over the veracity of the numbers, to check into the matter further, especially since McCaffrey publicly proclaimed that Dutch drug policy was responsible for this shocking rate of homicide, DuRoche said that the matter was between Interpol and the Dutch. Asked whether, if it turned out that the number was erroneous, and it was shown that the U.S. murder rate was in fact 4.6 times higher than that in The Netherlands, his office would retract their contention that Dutch society was "much more violent" than the U.S., DuRoche told The week Online, "well, it's really not relevant to compare the two societies. The Dutch have universal health care, near 100% literacy, an homogeneous population and effective gun control." Told that it was McCaffrey, and not the reform movement that had made the comparison, DuRoche responded, "Isn't Mike Gray on your advisory board? This was all in response to Mike Gray's comments on CNN. We didn't bring this up."

But regardless of whether or not McCaffrey spread false information about Dutch drug policy of his own volition or in response to a statement (made days earlier) by an American on CNN, it is not the first time that U.S. officials had so blatantly misstated facts about The Netherlands that the Dutch were moved to respond diplomatically. In 1995, a booklet on "legalization" put out by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) merited the following official response, translated by Mario Lap of the International Foundation for Human Rights:

Monday 9 Jan 1995, The Hague

Her Majesty's Minister of Foreign Affairs of The Netherlands drs. Hans van Mierlo has officially announced the following answer in writing to parliamentary questions by the MP Thom De Graaf of the (his own) liberal party.

The Minister will point out to the American Authorities that Dutch Drug policy is falsely represented in a manual of the American Drug Battle Agency, DEA.

The manual mentions that the police in The Netherlands is instructed not to take action against street trade in what ever kind of drugs. That is not true.

In many municipalities in The Netherlands the policing and prosecution of street traders of drugs has a high priority and special cell space is reserved for that purpose.

Furthermore, according to the DEA a research of the entire Rotterdam population of fifteen years and older shows that 3.3 % of this population uses cocaine.

In the research referred to by the DEA, 3.3% of the Rotterdam population from fifteen to nineteen years of age mentioned that they had used cocaine (lifetime prevalence).

It is totally irresponsible to state that all of these people are cocaine users and ridiculous to relate the figures to the total Rotterdam population.

Further data in the manual are not all wrong but stripped of their context and therefore easily misinterpreted.

The mistakes made will be discussed with the American Authorities by The Minister of Foreign Affairs.

- END -
DRCNet contacted the Dutch Embassy, at which time Mr. Morris indicated that, according to several Dutch newspapers, published nearly ten hours earlier, Interpol had acknowledged that they had used the wrong figures in the category of homicide, and that the numbers were therefore "misleading". Interpol has reportedly stated that that the error would be corrected in its next publication.

Morris further stated that "We really don't want to poison the waters any further on the eve of Mr. McCaffrey's arrival in The Netherlands. Obviously there is a difference of opinion over drug policy, and over the success of the Dutch system. The Dutch government is justifiably proud of the progress we have made under our system, and, while we certainly don't put ourselves in the position of advising other nations what to do domestically, we are comfortable that the strategies that we have adopted, evolving as they are, are in the best interests of Dutch society."

Later the same day (7/15) the Associated Press ran a story on the brewing controversy in which Robert Housman, a McCaffrey spokesperson was quoted, saying that the Dutch government was being "pulled into an internal political debate" in the United States by those who support decriminalizing drugs. "These legalizers put American children at risk," the statement said. "The Dutch government should be renouncing them, not siding with them... Every nation is free to set their own policies domestically. However, other nations must respect the sovereignty of others and be keenly aware of the impacts of their policies on the global community."

Three hours later, according to the Associated Press, ONDCP called the news services to retract the statement, saying that the statement "no longer stands" because it didn't reflect McCaffrey's views. No further information was given.

Later in the day, McCaffrey traveled to Switzerland, where a successful three-year pilot program in opiate maintenance has just been completed amidst glowing reports of its success, and much discussion of its emulation across Europe and even in Canada. Leading up to the meetings, McCaffrey had made statements which indicated his opposition to such programs, including his belief that maintenance is "like giving alcohol to the alcoholic" and "our own worry would be that in the longer term it will contribute to an inexorable growth in the rate of heroin use and become a dysfunctional aspect of drug prevention in society at large." When the two sides emerged from their meetings, a Dutch reporter asked McCaffrey about the ongoing controversy. McCaffrey responded that "It's probably less helpful to continue a debate through the press over the nature of Dutch drug policy than to have a face to face, open evaluation of it."

A wire report from that press conference said that "[A] Swiss health official said... McCaffrey had backed down from some of his comments about addiction in Switzerland after his meetings. Thomas Zeltner, head of the Swiss federal health bureau, said he told McCaffrey that the maintenance program was limited to below 10 percent of all chronic heroin users and that Swiss officials had produced data to show that the U.S. adviser's conclusions about Swiss addiction rates were wrong."

McCaffrey arrived in The Netherlands early in the morning (7/16) US eastern time. The following is a report from Harry Bego in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, Director of Legalize! and a co-coordinator of the Global Coalition for Alternatives to the Drug War:

7/15, The Netherlands: The Dutch media are really jumping on McCaffrey. There are critical articles in all papers, all news programs on radio and TV follow the visit closely; there's a critical editorial comment even in the right-wing 'Telegraaf'.

Yesterday July 15th, 6:15pm, on TV2, the news show 2 Vandaag ('2 Today') summarized reactions in the Netherlands to McCaffrey's statements so far.

At the end, there was an interview with McCaffrey. It was by telephone, recorded just before 6:00pm, it looked slightly edited; McCaffrey was still in Switzerland. The interviewer was on screen, against a background of images from McCaffrey's European trip, people smoking joints, etc.

Here's a transcript. Apparently Dutch feelings are, unfortunately, 'bruised' in the context of an internal US debate; he seems to imply we shouldn't worry about that too much.

2 VANDAAG: Hello Mr. McCaffrey, welcome in our program. Your comments on Dutch drugs policy were greeted here with indignation and condemnation. Are you still looking forward to come to the Netherlands?

MCCAFFREY: Of course. I have enormous interest and respect in the viewpoints of the Dutch policy makers. I think there's a very important responsibility to carry on a dialog across the Atlantic.

2 VANDAAG: But what is your reaction to that storm of indignation?

MCCAFFREY: Well, I've seen no storm, so I have no reaction, I think I have great confidence that there's something to be learned from not only reading about the Dutch experience but also listening to anecdotal insight on what their experien- ces have been. I think friends should candidly discuss their viewpoints and how that can come (?) learning.

2 VANDAAG: Well, talking about candidly, you have called Dutch drug policy an unmitigated disaster. Is that still your opinion?

MCCAFFREY: Well I think that there is an enormous amount of press attention, perhaps others, to what has been a very stiff internal debate in the United States, driven on one side by those of us in both public and private life who have construc- ted this bold and aggressive ten year drug prevention and treatment strategy, and on the other side of the issue are many who we believe are promoting the legalization of drugs, and what... Unfortunately, the Netherlands is frequently used as an icon, by one side of the argument. So in the process of putting that into better context it is possible to bruise Dutch feelings, which is unfortunate.

2 VANDAAG: But is it, yes or no, an unmitigated disaster?

MCCAFFREY: My own viewpoint has been that our decision should be based on objective criteria, and not on ideology or culture or politics.

2 VANDAAG: But the Dutch government says you've got your statistics wrong.

MCCAFFREY: The data that many people are now looking at is Interpol data, but that should be a discussion between Dutch autho- rities and the Interpol data, with me not acting as an intervening variable.

2 VANDAAG: OK sir, thank you very much for your comments. Reformers over here have been busy writing articles and giving interviews; I had almost half a page yesterday in the Volkskrant (2nd largest paper after the Telegraaf) titled 'General McCaffrey has already lost his war', illustrated by a depressing picture of a chain gang in an Alabama prison; gist: U.S. drug policy is the real disaster.

Today McCaffrey isn't giving interviews during the day, but there will be a press conference tonight. I have sent out a press statement containing the New York Times citation of his allegations about a 'slick misinformation campaign', pointing to his own obvious efforts now to mislead the U.S. audience.

Harry Bego

Finally, in a statement that could potentially draw umbrage from U.S. police, McCaffrey told Reuters in The Netherlands: "I came with a bias that Dutch police were good... I cautioned my Dutch partners that police of this high caliber can allow policy to work adequately even when it may not be good policy." (Editor's Note: This can mean either that American prohibition is working 'adequately' or that our police are simply too 'low caliber' to make work a clearly superior policy. Which one is it?)

-- END --
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Issue #50, 7/17/98 Week Online Hits 50th Issue, DRCNet on the Move | Drug Crazy Update | Drug Czar Gets Facts Wrong Again... Infuriates Dutch on Eve of Visit | Wire Report of the Week | Prohibition Poll on Time Online | Taliban Ban Television | Legislative Update | Editorial: The General Invades (and Insults and Infuriates) The Netherlands
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