Editorial: Mass Graves in Mexico 12/6/99

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Adam J. Smith, Associate Director, [email protected]

This week, authorities in the U.S. and Mexico announced the discovery of several mass graves holding the bodies of scores of the murdered, the mutilated and the "disappeared" of the drug war. Among those expected to be identified are dozens of American citizens, many of whom were reportedly abducted by uniformed members of Mexico's military and police forces. This grisly discovery, while not entirely surprising given the scope and profitability of the black market, ought to give every American pause the next time one of our leaders extols the virtues of prohibition as a "drug control" policy.

The discovery also puts the lie to statements by officials such as drug czar Barry McCaffrey, who detests the term "drug war" and would rather we analogize our policies to the treatment of cancer. While it is true that people do die of cancer, and even, sometimes, from the treatment itself, they do not die in the manner of those whose bodies are being dug up just south of our border. Those people died of gunshot wounds and other violent means. Many of them were tortured before being killed. And, as mentioned, many were abducted off the streets by men in uniform.

This, as retired four-star general McCaffrey most certainly knows, is how people die in war.

But no matter how many bodies are discovered in the newly found graves, they represent just the tip of the iceberg. The casualties of this war stretch across the globe, from Afghanistan and Burma to the Colombian rain forest and the streets of every city and town in the United States. Drive-by shootings, the killing of witnesses, the slow and painful death of uncountable preventable AIDS cases, the drawn-out suffering of a million non-violent incarcerates, the young teens, drawn into the drug trade by the lure of easy money, men and women whose fates are sealed by childhood decisions. All of these and more, victims of the war no less than those whose remains keep coming up out of the ground in Mexico.

The drug war, like any profitable but perniciously disastrous public policy is shrouded by its defenders in a litany of excuses and justifications. "Drug use is down," they say, "kids' attitudes are changing," "we must not surrender our kids to drugs, whatever the cost." But none of this has anything to do, really, with whether or not we continue to arrest millions of people, spend billions of tax dollars, impugn the sovereignty and security of less powerful nations or militarize our domestic law enforcement. Education and the fight to reduce substance abuse would be part of any rational drug policy. In fact, our children's share of the resources would increase exponentially if we stopped spending money on punitive policies which have failed to reduce their access to drugs by one iota over a period of decades.

The mass graves that two governments are exhuming in Mexico bring to mind the Wild West, a lawless society marked by unpunished and unpunishable acts of violence and revenge. This is an apt metaphor for the drug war. For no matter how many prisons we build, or how many new weapons systems we send into the simmering conflicts of Latin America, or how many civil rights we trample here at home, nothing will tame this beast until currently illicit substances are brought back under the rule of law in a rational, regulated and controlled system.

The graves, the bodies that the earth will give up, and the thousands that will never be found, stand as mute testament to the absurdity of denials that there is, in fact, a war on. It is a war on people, and on rationality, and on the rule of law and the primacy of civilized society. Official denials in the face of the unearthed carnage notwithstanding.

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Issue #117, 12/6/99 Graves at Border Illustrate Consequences of Prohibition | Eisenhower Foundation Finds Drug War, Hard Line Criminal Justice Policies Not Working, Violence Remains High | Politicians, Scientists, Celebrities Criticize Medical Marijuana Research Guidelines | McCormick, McWilliams Denied Medical Marijuana Defense, Enter Pleas | Other Medical Marijuana News | Judge Judy Slammed in Australia and US for Needle Exchange Remarks | AIDS Action Grades Clinton Administration, Congress an F in Prevention | University Will Not Operate Safe-Injecting Room; Uniting Church Steps In | Calendar Update | Job and Internship Opportunities | On the Web: Corporate Watch Feature on the Prison Industry | COMMENTARY: Judge Judy Biased and Illogical on Needle Exchange Issue | Editorial: Mass Graves in Mexico
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