Prospective DEA Head Tells Skeptical Students He Sees "Great Crusade," Claims Legalization Was Tried and Failed -- Mena Questions Refuse to Die 7/13/01

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US Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R-AR), tapped by President Bush to run the Drug Enforcement Administration, last week used the University of Arkansas as a forum to call for holy war against drugs before an audience of Arkansas high school students. They weren't necessarily buying it.

The need to stop drug use in the US is "worthy of a great crusade," Hutchinson said, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "The amount of personal destruction caused by addiction is massive," the former US Attorney told high school leaders at the Fulbright School of Public Affairs on July 5th.

Hutchinson also introduced the students to an intellectually suspect reading of the history of US drug policy. "Some have said we ought to legalize" drug use, Hutchinson said, but he told the students he opposed legalization because, he maintained, it has been tried and failed in this country. "Drugs were essentially unregulated in this country until early in this century," he said. "You could buy cocaine. You could buy heroin. We've tried total legalization, and the drug laws we have today are a result of watching what addiction problems happen when any kind of drug is legal."

But Hutchinson refused to engage in any substantive discussion with students, the Democrat-Gazette reported. He told his audience he could not go into much detail on drug policy because his nomination was pending. "Talking about this makes me a little nervous," he said. Asked about the hypocrisy of outlawing marijuana while alcohol and tobacco are freely available, the prospective DEA head feebly retorted that the harms done by those two drugs were not a good argument to legalize others, then segued into a pitch for more law enforcement and more drug treatment.

"People say you cannot win the war against drugs. Well, you can't just through enforcement," Hutchinson said. "Law enforcement agencies and professionals will be the first to tell you that they are just trying to hold their finger in the dike long enough for people to become better educated and make sounder judgments on drugs. We have to reduce the demand."

Despite -- perhaps because of -- such views, Hutchinson's nomination looks to be a shoo-in. While DRCNet was unable to confirm Arkansas reports that all Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee had signed a letter in favor of Hutchinson's nomination, Senate Democrats have shown little indication of wishing to challenge the nomination. If they were so inclined, they might want to ask him about his role in the mysteries surrounding the Mena, Arkansas airport.

In an ironic twist for a man who made a name for himself prosecuting former presidential brother Roger Clinton on cocaine charges and doggedly targeting former President Clinton as a House impeachment manager, the one cloud on his confirmation horizon grew out of the efforts of some of the more fanatical Clinton-haters to overturn every conspiratorial rock they could find. Under one of those rocks was smuggler-turned-informer Adler "Barry" Seal and the murky machinations at the Mena, Arkansas airport. (Seal was murdered outside a halfway house in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1996 by Medellin cartel hit-men after then National Security Council staffer Oliver North blew his cover. North had engineered a Seal flight to Managua, Nicaragua, in hopes of catching the Sandinista government in drug trafficking, then released photographs revealing Seals' identity in an effort to persuade Congress to continue to support his pet Contras.)

While Clintonphobes attempted to tie the former Arkansas governor to a twisted tale of cocaine, contras, and the CIA, they never succeeded in gaining credibility except among the conspiracy-minded. According to a recent cover story in Little Rock's alternative weekly, the Arkansas Times, however (, there are a few lingering questions from that time for Hutchinson. The DEA head-in-waiting was US Attorney with jurisdiction over Mena from 1980 to 1985, when Seal was operating out of the rural Arkansas airport, first as a cocaine pilot for the Medellin cartel, then as an informant for the DEA. In an exhaustive survey, Times writer Mara Leveritt details more than a decade of Hutchinson stonewalling on Seal and Mena and suggests a few questions for any senator so inclined to ask the nominee:

  • "What are the limits on secrecy when it comes to fighting this war?
  • What should be the DEA's relationship with the CIA?
  • How heavily should narcotics investigators be allowed to rely on drug-criminals-turned-snitches -- people like Barry Seal -- for activities that are kept from public review and for testimony resulting from deals?
  • What explanation is owed to law enforcement officers, many of whom risk their lives, only to see their efforts wasted -- not purposefully undermined -- as they were in the case of Seal?
  • What about all the inmates who are serving time in prisons for drug law violations that were insignificant compared to Seal's? What does Hutchinson say to them? And to the American people?"

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Issue #194, 7/13/01 Editorial: The Tulia Lynchings | Hard Feelings: Fatal Shootout in Marijuana Raid Reverberates in an Idaho County | Tulia: Two Years On, a Town Would Like to Forget, but Reformers Refuse to Go Away | HEA Campaign Still Seeking Student Victim Cases -- New York Metropolitan Area Especially Urgent | British Cannabis Decrim Momentum Continues to Build at Frantic Pace | Prospective DEA Head Tells Skeptical Students He Sees "Great Crusade," Claims Legalization Was Tried and Failed -- Mena Questions Refuse to Die | Sentencing Follies: Iowa Man Gets 27 Years for Smoking Joint With 6-Year-Old Son, Eighth Circuit Says Life for $20 Worth of Cocaine is Too Much | Annual Ditchweed Eradication Boondoggle Underway Again -- Feds Spend $13 Million on Summer Jobs Program for Midwest Students, Bored Cops | New Woody Harrelson Activism Site Focusing This Week on DEA's Attempt to Prohibit Hemp Products -- Live Chat Sunday | Urgent Action Alerts: Colombia, HEA, Mandatory Minimums, Medical Marijuana, John Walters | Drug War on Trial Going to Trial Next Week | Media Scan: Prison Growth Report, Twisted Badge Racial Profiling Series, Chicago Tribune on Prohibition and the Drug War | The Reformer's Calendar
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