While drug reformers and drug reform organizations have participated in the coalitions formed to protect civil liberties in the shadows of the anti-terrorism legislation recently passed by Congress, they may not have realized that some provisions of the USA Patriot Act, as the bill is now known, could directly impact their work. Drug defense attorneys will have to grapple with a variety of newly approved tactics in criminal investigations, ranging from "sneak and peek" unannounced searches to "roving" phone taps and e-mail address pen registers, though most attention on broader civil liberties issues focused on banking privacy, government secrecy and the rights of aliens. But the act could have a chilling effect on efforts to engage some participants in drug war-related conflicts.
The new anti-terrorism measures will have an impact on drug reformers attempting to interact with significant actors, such as the Colombian FARC, who have been designated as terrorist organizations by the US, said Kit Gage of the National Committee Against Repressive Legislation (NCARL). "You can't send them money and they can't come to the US to see you," she told DRCNet. "And it will be easier to deport anyone they accuse of being associated with a terrorist organization -- no matter what the nature of the association.
"Under the new law and its accompanying executive orders, any association with a member of a designated terrorist organization can get you in trouble, and providing any financial support -- donating to a day-care center -- even when there is no direct link to criminal activity can get you 15 years in prison. It used to be only 10 years," Gage noted.
And people or organizations who have been in contact with such groups should expect to undergo some sort of surveillance, Gage said. For instance, DRCNet attended and reported on a conference that was also attended by FARC personnel and remains in occasional e-mail correspondence with members of the FARC's International Commission. "Maybe your phone tap will cross my phone tap," Gage laughed grimly.
But there is a more deeply-rooted problem with the US anti-terrorism campaign, Gage said. "Under this expanded definition of terrorism, which could include anything from waving a knife or slashing the tires of a police car, there are probably 500 groups or movements in the world that qualify, but there are only 78 groups on the list. Clearly, the decision to designate one group a terrorist organization but not another is a political decision," she pointed out. "In many cases, it seems that those groups designated as terrorist groups are simply those who do not have the favor of the US government."
US government decisions have often put the United States in opposition to national liberation movements, such as Nelson Mandela's African National Congress, which overthrew the South African apartheid regime. At the same time, the State Dept. has ignored groups that would seem to qualify under just about any definition of terrorism.
"They have not even put some of the worst groups on the list," said Gage. "The Rwandan militias who murdered hundreds of thousands never made the list, nor did the militias in East Timor. In fact, Osama bin Laden wasn't even on the terrorist list until after September 11, even though the government had been screaming about him for years."
In Colombia, the case of clearest concern for drug reformers, the US government has shown a similar inconsistency. While the leftist guerrilla organizations, the FARC and the National Liberation Army (ELN) have long been designated terrorist groups, it was only one day before the September 11 attacks that the State Department added the right-wing paramilitaries of the AUC to the list -- many years since human rights organizations had documented massive political violence by the AUC with tacit cooperation by Colombia's army.
For Nancy Chang of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who unsuccessfully litigated a case under the 1996 Anti-Terrorism Act, the parallels for drug reform were ominous. "In the Humanitarian Law Project case, they were attempting to provide educational and conflict resolution materials to the PKK [Kurdish rebels], but the courts ruled that even that was barred under the terrorism act," Chang told DRCNet. "Not only money and weapons, but even training and personnel are covered. Even if you are attempting to advance peace, you would be violating the terrorism law," she said.
"I see very much the same sorts of concerns for anyone attempting to engage these designated groups under the new terrorism law," she said. "I see a real parallel for drug reform organizations attempting to engage outside the country. I hadn't really thought about it in terms of drug policy before, though," she admitted.
Now, however, thanks to a political alchemy that transmutes belligerents in a civil war into terrorist enemies of humanity, drug reformers will have to keep the connection in mind.