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The Week Online with DRCNet
(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)

Issue #108, 9/17/99

"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"

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STUDENTS: First Annual Student Leaders in
Drug Policy and Justice National Conference
Nov. 5-6, Washington, DC
by Students for Sensible Drug Policy,


  1. Court Reverses Self: No Warrant Needed for Thermal Imaging
  2. U.S. Appeals Court Rules for Cannabis Clubs, Clears Way for Distribution to Patients With Medical Necessity
  3. Amnesty International Report Shows Collusion Between Colombian Army and Murderous Paramilitary Forces
  4. Once Covert, Practice of U.S. Coast Guard Firing on Suspected Drug Boats Revealed
  5. House Committee: Feds Fabricated Drug Charge to Bring in Army at Waco
  6. CONFERENCE: Preventing Heroin Overdose: Pragmatic Approaches, Seattle, Year 2000
  7. EDITORIAL: Those Helicopters

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1. Court Reverses Self: No Warrant Needed for Thermal Imaging

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed itself last week (9/10) by deciding that police need not obtain a warrant before turning thermal imaging technology on private homes. The new ruling delighted law enforcement, which uses the technology to look for indoor marijuana-grow operations or drug labs by detecting excess heat coming from within a residence.

The original ruling, in August, 1998, said that the technology was intrusive enough to necessitate a warrant. Even as the government's motion for re-hearing was pending, however, one of the three panel judges retired, and the new judge, Melvin Brunetti, joined Judge Michael Hawkins, the lone dissenter in the first opinion, to overturn.

Judge John Noonan, dissenting to the new ruling, likened the use of thermal imaging to a high-powered telescope looking into a home, an activity which would require a warrant. But Judge Michael Hawkins, who wrote the new majority opinion said that the technology "intrude(s) into nothing."

Military analyst Joseph Miranda, however, told The Week Online that the technology is more invasive than the majority opinion lets on.

"Thermal imaging technology involves infrared detectors which basically allow people to see through walls. It can determine changes in heat levels within a house. While the police might be using this technology to find marijuana grow lights, they can also determine which rooms have people in them and even what you are doing in your bedroom. In fact, the technology is getting to the stage that with the help of computer-enhancement, authorities could use the technology to get a pretty accurate picture of very personal activities."

2. U.S. Appeals Court Rules for Cannabis Clubs, Clears Way for Distribution to Patients With Medical Necessity

Dale Gieringer, California NORML,

SAN FRANCISCO, Sept. 13, 1999: In a victory for California's medical marijuana clubs, a panel of the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ordered U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer to consider modifying his injunction against the Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative (OCBC) so as to permit distribution of marijuana to patients who have medical necessity for it. The decision is the first appellate ruling to seriously limit the federal government's power to prohibit marijuana.

Judge Breyer had previously enjoined the clubs from distributing medical cannabis, ruling that the government had broad latitude to do so under the Controlled Substances Act. In its ruling, the Appeals Court found that Judge Breyer had erred in failing to consider modifying his injunction to consider the needs of seriously ill patients.

"OCBC presented evidence that there is a class of people with serious medical conditions for whom the use of cannabis is necessary in order to treat or alleviate those conditions or their symptoms; who will suffer serious harm if they are denied cannabis; and for whom there is no legal alternative to cannabis for the effective treatment of their medical conditions because they have tried other alternatives and found that they are ineffective, or that they result in intolerable side effects," the court wrote.

"The government, in contrast, has yet to identify any interest it may have in blocking the distribution of cannabis to those with medical needs, relying exclusively on its general interest in enforcing its statutes. It has offered no evidence to rebut OCBC's evidence that cannabis is the only effective treatment for a large group of seriously ill individuals, and it confirmed at oral argument that it sees no need to offer any. It simply rests on the erroneous argument that the district judge was compelled as a matter of law to issue an injunction that is coextensive with the facial scope of the statute."

The court ruled that Judge Breyer had also erred in failing to take account of the public interest. It noted that the OCBC had identified a strong public interest in the availability of doctor-prescribed marijuana and that the City of Oakland had declared a public health emergency in response to the district court's refusal to modify its injunction against the OCBC. The Appeals Court denied two other motions by the defense on procedural grounds, ruling that it could not adjudicate whether the OCBC was immunized from federal law by being deputized by the Oakland City Council, or whether Judge Breyer had erroneously found the OCBC in contempt of a preliminary injunction.

California NORML hailed the Ninth Circuit Court's decision as a potentially major breakthrough in the federal government's legal stonewall around medical marijuana. "This provides a framework in which patients can receive medical cannabis legally in accordance with federal law," said OCBC attorney Robert Raich. The ruling applies to the entire Ninth Circuit, six out of nine states of which have passed medical marijuana voter initiatives. The defense of the medical cannabis clubs was in part suported by the NORML Foundation with the Medical Marijuana Patients' and Caregivers' Fund and Drug Policy Foundation. The appellate decision is posted at (under new opinions).

3. Amnesty International Report Shows Collusion Between Colombian Army and Murderous Paramilitary Forces

As drug czar Barry McCaffrey and Congressional drug warriors push for a massive increase, up to one billion dollars, in funding for anti-drug efforts in Andean nations, an Amnesty International report providing solid evidence of the link between the Colombian Army and the guerrilla paramilitary forces -- responsible for thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of political murders over the past decade -- has been highlighted by members of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus. The aid package being considered by Congress earmarks significant resources for the Colombian Army.

"Barrancabermeja: A City Under Siege" was distributed to the entire House and Senate by Reps. Tom Lantos (D-CA) and John Porter (R-IL), co-chairs of the caucus. The report, issued last May, focuses on a May 16, 1998 massacre, subsequent killings, and disappearances by the paramilitaries in this city, a strategic oil port, and exposes the atrocities that paramilitary forces carried out, outlines their strategy, and highlights the Army's complicity in the attacks.

"This report exposes the unavoidable -- and tragic -- reality that helping the Colombian Army will inevitably help the paramilitary forces," said Carlos Salinas, Advocacy Director for Latin America and the Caribbean at Amnesty International U.S.A. "Our report documents the link between the paramilitary forces and the Colombian Army, and should serve as a warning to the United States government that it should not fund a military involved in killing its own citizens. In short, the United States government should removed itself from death-squad politics."

"Barrancabermeja: A City Under Siege" can be found online at

4. Once Covert, Practice of U.S. Coast Guard Firing on Suspected Drug Boats Revealed

Coast guard helicopters have, for the past year, been given the green light to fire upon speedboats suspected of carrying drugs, Administration officials announced this week. The strategy, called "Operation New Frontier," is really more of a throwback to the days of alcohol prohibition, the last time that the coast guard had permission to fire on suspects in the open seas.

Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey told reporters that the strategy has led to the capture of four boats, with thirteen crew members and more than three tons of cocaine in the past year. "We have made the drug smugglers afraid," said McCaffrey. "And now we will make them disappear."

But despite the tough talk, the government's own information, which indicates that smugglers make more than a trip per day between Colombia and Puerto Rico, Haiti or the Dominican Republic, puts in perspective the success rate of four boats captured in a year's time.

Officials assured reporters that the purpose of the operation is not to kill suspected smugglers, saying that firing "at the craft's engine" was a last resort undertaken only after repeated warnings to stop. Sharpshooter Charlie Hopkins said, "we're still humanitarian. We just want to stop the flow."

5. House Committee: Feds Fabricated Drug Charge to Bring in Army at Waco

A senior official from the House Committee on Government Reform told Fox News Tuesday (9/14) that the committee's probe into the 1993 Waco siege is now focusing on the question of whether federal officials trumped up or fabricated charges of drug activity at the Branch Davidian compound. The purpose of fabricating such a charge would have been to allow the use of U.S. Military personnel in a domestic operation.

For nearly all of our nation's history, the Posse Comitatus Act has forbidden the domestic deployment of the military. Recently, however, that rule has been relaxed in the context of joint anti-drug operations in which the military can now play an ostensibly "supporting" role.

"The question is," pondered the committee official, "why were the military folks -- who were pretty strident against having any involvement -- overruled? And who overruled them? The ATF came up with this bogus request (for military support) where they said the Davidians had a meth lab in their compound."

6. CONFERENCE: Preventing Heroin Overdose: Pragmatic Approaches, Seattle, Year 2000

In the last decade, heroin overdose has reemerged as a dramatic health issue for drug users. Simultaneously, innovations in drug services and research -- particularly in North America, Australia and Europe -- offer new tools to better understand, prevent and respond to heroin overdoses around the world.

In this conference -- taking place on January 13-14, 2000, in the Sheraton Hotel, Seattle, Washington -- service providers, researchers and those affected by overdose come together to examine issues from overdose risk factors and recent trends in overdose fatalities to the roles of different treatment modalities, outreach workers, emergency medical services and law enforcement.

Hosted by the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute, University of Washington. Initial co-sponsors include the Addictive Behaviors Research Institute, University of Washington, Evergreen Treatment Services, Harm Reduction Coalition, The Lindesmith Center, North American Users' Union, Seattle Police Department, Street Outreach Services, and Urban Health Study, University of California, San Francisco.

For further information, contact Nancy Sutherland at [email protected] or Phillip Coffin at [email protected], or visit the conference web site at for information or to register.

Fees are $75 per person ($40 for students), including all conference sessions and materials, a reception on Thursday evening, and continental breakfast and lunch on Friday. A limited number of partial scholarships will be available upon request. Registration form and payment are due no later than 12/10/99; late registration will be accepted pending availability of space.

7. EDITORIAL: Those Helicopters

David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected]

The Amnesty International report on the Barrancabermeja massacre, detailing explicit cooperation between Colombia's army and its paramilitary death squad forces, raises troubling moral issues surrounding U.S. involvement in the Andean drug war, an involvement whose scope and military dimensions may soon dramatically increase.

The military-paramilitary connection is not a new discovery. In 1989, for example, Human Rights Watch wrote that "although we could not prove that Colombia's military high command directly ordered paramilitaries to commit atrocities, it should be obvious that their response to these atrocities 'to close ranks and avoid and frequently to obstruct any serious investigation' compromised their obligation to uphold the rule of law" and that "the failure to investigate and prosecute military officers who have joined with paramilitaries to commit murders and mass murder indicated, at the very least, that their superiors had chosen to tolerate these crimes."

By 1996, Human Rights Watch had obtained evidence that the military had directly enlisted paramilitary forces in surveillance, intimidation and extra-judicial executions of members of legal political opposition groups. HRW called on the United States to immediately suspend all military aid, training and arms sales -- including $169 million worth of Black Hawk helicopters -- saying it is "clear that aid has supplied units implicated in gross human rights violations."

The same year, Congress passed legislation, introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy, intended to limit the flow of U.S. arms and dollars to human rights abusers. The Leahy Amendment prohibits funds from being provided to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country, if the Secretary of State has credible evidence that the unit has committed gross violations of human rights. Many, perhaps a majority of units of the Colombian military, have been deemed ineligible. But while human rights advocates have complimented Colombia's efforts to comply with the Leahy requirements, they also note the law has not led to individuals responsible for human rights abuses being brought to justice, nor catalyzed the hoped-for reduction in political violence.

The problem of direct and indirect complicity by the Colombian military in politically-motivated tortures and mass murder, therefore, has been well known for some time. When the House Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources held hearings on Colombia last month, then -- discussing drug czar Barry McCaffrey's request for a dramatic increase in military aid to Colombia to the tune of several hundred million dollars -- one would have thought that the issue would have come up.

Somehow, though, Republican drug war ringleaders, like Dan Burton of Indiana and Bob Barr of Georgia, managed to get through the entire hearing, speeches and all, without using the word "paramilitary" even once. Only McCaffrey mentioned the paramilitaries, and only in passing, as another set of guerrillas with which the Colombian government has to contend, not as organizations with ties to that government's armed forces.

And while the motivation for McCaffrey's proposal was the growing threat to the Colombian government from the FARC guerrillas, allegedly financed by drug trafficking, the profits that the paramilitaries are thought to reap from drug trafficking also went unmentioned.

A few reasoned members of the Committee spoke against increased U.S. involvement in Colombia's civil conflict. Edolphus Towns of Brooklyn warned we could "exacerbate the situation" and derail Colombia's struggling peace process. Janice Schakowsky of Illinois pointed out that there has been no reduction in drug flows from Colombia despite well over half a billion dollars invested in just the last few years, and asked "Why should we believe that investing more in this plan will achieve a different result?"

This line of discussion, however, was quickly terminated -- rudely, by Barr, who called Towns' remarks "preposterous" -- or politely, but equally effectively, by Asa Hutchison, who called Schakowsky's questions "fair," but then provided neither answers nor follow-up. The drug warriors had as little interest in examining their policy's effectiveness as they had in its human rights implications.

So if the committee didn't discuss the military's connection to the murderous paramilitaries, and they didn't talk about Colombia's peace process, and they didn't discuss the overall ineffectiveness of source country anti-drug strategies -- what did they talk about?

Those helicopters.

Republican committee members were beside themselves over the administration's slowness in delivering the Black Hawk helicopters they'd appropriated in 1996. A heated exchange took place between the Republicans and McCaffrey, who disagreed on the number that had been delivered -- they said two and he said twenty -- and on the length of time needed to build the helicopters and train Colombian personnel in their use. Doug Ose of California seemed at the point of tears: "Kids are dying in my district [from drugs], and you can't even deliver some helicopters!"

Dan Burton actually did touch indirectly on the human rights issue. Burton, who chairs the Committee on Government Reform, of which this subcommittee is a part, scoffed at "Senator Leahy's red tape" that slows down the delivery of military aid. Burton didn't, however, mention the purpose of the "red tape" -- that it is a human rights law, enacted to prevent U.S. taxpayer dollars from being spent on torture and murder.

If Dan Burton opposes human rights conditions on aid to foreign militaries, then he has the right to argue that case, but he should argue it as such. To crudely dismiss the Leahy law as "red tape," without so much as mentioning its purpose, is dishonest. And for the lot of them to hold hearings on military aid to Colombia, without discussing the human rights implications -- without uttering the word "paramilitary" a single time -- is a grave disservice to the issue and to the peoples of the United States, Colombia and Colombia's neighbors.

Burton, Barr and other committee members were among the President's fiercest critics for his having lied under oath about a private affair, behavior that in and of itself directly affects only a handful of people. And such behavior on the part of a President certainly merits criticism. But how much more serious, then, to deceive the public on a policy matter of extraordinary importance, having global impact and the deepest moral implications? While it is understandable that advocates of providing helicopters and anti-drug money to Colombia's military would be reluctant to bring up that institution's support of paramilitary groups engaging in torture, mass murder and drug trafficking, failing to even acknowledge the existence of the problem in a public hearing is inexcusable.

It may soon become more difficult for the drug warriors to maintain this deception of silence, however. About a week after the hearings, the Dallas Morning News reported that Colombia's military had proclaimed one of their greatest victories in the long-running civil war against the FARC guerrillas, following a three-day pitched battle in the town of Puerto Lleras. Residents of Puerto Lleras, however, said that military aircraft -- supplied by the U.S. -- had bombed dozens of buildings, including homes, a hospital, a church and a convent, and had killed three residents and wounded several others.

Yes, slowly but surely, the violence and immorality of Colombia's human rights abuses will come to light -- and so will the violence and immorality of the war on drugs.

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