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DRCNet Book Review: "Fatal Distraction: The War on Drugs in the Age of Islamic Terror," by Arnold Trebach (2006, Unlimited Publishing, 398 pp., $19.95 PB)

Phillip S. Smith, Writer/Editor, Drug War Chronicle

The grand old man of American drug reform is at it again. Retired American University professor and head of the International Antiprohibitionist League Arnold Trebach returns to the fray with "Fatal Distraction," and a fine addition to the literature it is. While the book is a reworking of his contribution to the 1993 pro-and-con "Legalize It? Debating American Drug Policy" (with James Inciardi), Trebach has greatly expanded that material and includes much that is new. In doing so, he has created what is in essence a primer for ending drug prohibition.
And make no mistake about it, legalization is precisely what Trebach wants. Although he complains that he was unfairly labeled a legalizer earlier in his career, Trebach now embraces the label. In "Fatal Distraction," he calls for the repeal of federal drug laws, especially the 1970 Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act, and the dismantling of the DEA. The federal government would get out of the drug prohibition racket and, as was the case with alcohol after Prohibition, leave it to the states to set their own drug laws, Trebach writes.

Drug reform groups that refuse to embrace ending prohibition, who are afraid to say the word "legalization," are part of the problem, Trebach declares. For reformers today to avoid calling directly for full legalization is to Trebach analogous to "the Abolitionist movement of the 1800s having worked not to free the slaves, but to provide better housing and health care for them." Like slavery, Trebach notes, drug prohibition is "a true evil institution, one that needs destroying -- not improving."

Trebach spends about the first third of "Fatal Distraction" demonstrating just how and how horribly drug prohibition has failed, and as he does so, he takes the reader on a guided tour of the drug war, from the bloody streets of our inner cities to our overflowing prisons, from the damage done to the freedoms enshrined in our Constitution to the inherently corrupting asset forfeiture laws, from the crisis in pain relief to the mini-concentration camps masquerading as drug treatment centers for our kids. To all of this, Trebach brings decades of experience, observation, and thoughtful pondering, and he builds a devastating case against prohibition.

Much of Trebach's argument and many of his examples will be familiar to serious students of drugs and drug policy, but Trebach's comprehensive vision helps bring the convoluted mass of intersecting issues around drug policy into clear focus. It also helps that Trebach presents his material in easily digested, bite-sized chunks of three or four or five pages.

But, as "Fatal Distraction's" subtitle -- "The War on Drugs in the Age of Islamic Terror" -- suggests, Trebach has more on his mind that simply ending drug prohibition. Obviously deeply affected by the September 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, Trebach argues that the war on Islamic fundamentalist violence is so critical to America's future that continuing to divert energy and resources into the war on drugs could threaten our very existence.
Arnold Trebach
The ranks of drug reformers will doubtless produce diverse reactions to this contention. Trebach is undoubtedly correct that the war on drugs is a diversion and distraction from the war on terror. But one could also argue that it is a diversion and distraction from the need for social justice or the fight against global warming. Trebach points out that skills honed by the many agents currently employed in drug enforcement could be effectively applied to investigating and rooting out terrorist cells instead. True, but also against other kinds of violent crime. Is the concept of "war" more apt when applied to a tactic (terror) or an ideology (Islamic fundamentalism) than to a war on inert substances (drugs)? This reviewer is himself among the ranks of the unconvinced on those points; and as Trebach has so artfully shown, drug prohibition is a failure on its own terms and does not require juxtaposition with a more recent threat to be recognizable as such.

Nevertheless, while the theme of fighting Islamic terrorism appears sporadically throughout "Fatal Distraction," most of that material appears within a handful of chapters near the end of the book. Perhaps its presence will get some new people to think about the drug laws who haven't done so before. The remainder of "Fatal Distraction" -- the distillation of a life's work in the trenches of drug law reform -- makes this a book grizzled reformers and bright-eyed newcomers to the cause alike will want to read and absorb.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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Trebachs new book

Very smart review by Phil Smith.The war on drugs has no need to be replaced with a war on 'terror', certainly not if the war on terror is the name given to a battle against people who want the Yanks and the Israeli's out of the Middle East.
Trebach is an experienced observer of Prohibition and belongs to the best analytical minds on the subject. But his identification with the existance of Israel and its destiny makes him a primitive analyst of the global political situation, aka the war on terror. He is terrified with all political forces that threaten the existance of Israel, and there for belongs to a group that wants radical Islamists and Palestinian freedom fighters rooted out from the the face of this world.
I happen to be one of those Jews who thinks that the creation of Israel is one of the desperate mistakes that came out of WW2.No concentration camp and no Nazi horror legitimises that hundreds of thousands of Palestianians were chased out of their homes and farms to make the existance of Israel possible.The violent fascism and the undoubtable racism of modern Zionists seems to be invisible to people because of the Nazi past and what it did to the Jews. I wish Trebach would use his considerable educations and his wide perspective on the history and horror of what Israel has done and is doing, instead of asking for more war.
Peter Cohen,Amsterdam

Trebach and Cohen

Well, so much for the “Jewish Conspiracy”!

My good friends Peter Cohen and Arnold Trebach disagree on the relationship between the drug war, “Islamic” terrorism and the state of Israel. I disagree with both of them.

I am a Christian Libertarian who is also a strong supporter of Israel, and a long-time opponent of the drug war. However, I don’t see much direct connection between the two.

The Iraqi Shiite leader, Ayatollah Muhammad Bakr Al Hakim, has said that the chaos in Iraq is unrelated to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, despite what the Iraqi Study Group and Tony Blair may say. The hostility between Shia and Sunni goes back over a thousand years. Muslim fundamentalism predates the state of Israel, and the Afghan Taliban did not need a distant excuse for its bigotry.

Moreover, if Israel were to disappear tomorrow, or make “peace” with its sworn enemies who deny its right to exist, and then disappeared the day after tomorrow, the murderers who have tried to highjack Islam would still want to kill anyone who disagrees with them about anything, even anti-Zionist Jews.

While, as Phil Smith observed, it is certainly true that the war on drugs is “a diversion and distraction” from other worthwhile things, there is very direct conflict between it and the so-called war on terror in the suppression of opium poppies in Afghanistan, or securing traffic on the Mexican border. The Madrid bombers supposedly financed themselves by smuggling hashish from Morocco. Of course, all contraband trade offers an opportunity to “criminal organizations”, but there is probably none easier or more lucrative than illicit drugs.

I think that Trebach is therefore right in his basic premise that the drug war is a threat to the national security of the United States and the Western world, whatever it may mean to Israel.

Richard Cowan
[email protected]

Trebach and Cohen

As an Israeli i must say that Peter, who is a dear friend and someone i have great respect for, is out of touch with Middle East reality and is totaly one sided. This may be harsh to say about someone who is known to be open minded, but when it comes to Israel his critism is on the same level with Israel worst critics. Not that I do not have critisim about Israel - the occupation should have ceased a long time ago, nor do i shy from critisizing our not so beloved leaders who suffer from critical short sightedness, but my critique of Israel is in the context of our neighbors who are not exactly known for their moral standing, nor for their love of democracy and human rights. So it's a shity neigborhood and Arnold, who I also respect and admire is correct for making the connection between the war on drugs and it's relationship to terrorism.
Arnold may be on the other side of the scale when it comes to having an opinion about Israel and the ME Conflict, and he may be blind to the consequences of Israel's actions as an occupier, but he never the less has a better grasp of who Israel is dealing with and the way we are heading. I am a long time radical leftist who is all for the end of occupation etc, but never the less i support the existance of a strong and mighty Israel as a deterant to Arab aspirations.
Please read the speach I gave in Jerusalem a few weeks ago, basically making the same connection between prohibition and terrorism

Boaz Wachtel

Regional Implications of Cannabis Legalization and drug policy changes in the Middle East.

Boaz Wachtel
[email protected]

As the Middle-East (or as sometimes called: "the Middle-Beast"), is sliding quickly toward another conflict or act of terror, it is important to talk about the implications drug prohibition has on conflicts and terrorism in Middle and Near East. It is also important to discuss what the legalization of cannabis, and possibly other drugs, could do to stop the violence and help us attain harm reduction and personal freedom goals.

Before we begin we must ask our selves few questions "is drug prohibition the best way to lower demand and supplies of drugs? After all, this is the common goal of prohibitionists and drug legalization activists alike. If prohibition is not capable, as we see from global drug use figures, to lower demand and supplies of drugs, what other legal or policy changes may be appropriate to achieve these goals? What is the relationship between drug prohibition and terrorism?

America's super power status and its major contribution to UN budget helped her to successfully export with pseudo-religious zeal the drug prohibition model via International UN Drug treaties to the rest of the world. Excluded from the International drug ban are, of course, two of her major legal and lethal industries, the 2 most death producing drugs - tobacco and alcohol. Professor Peter Cohen, who I will refer to later as well, said that "When the ideas about prohibition of alcohol and drugs were designed in the 19th century, they erupted (during the 20th century) into a full prohibition of alcohol and other drugs in the United States of America. The prohibition of the use of alcohol and drugs proved to be totally destructive during the prohibition between 1920 and 1933. When the Americans tried it, it resulted in the most atrocious social consequences for the country as a whole, and the United States has been forced to retreat from that strategy.
More and more countries are recognizing that the prohibition of other drugs has the same disastrous consequences for their social system as the prohibition of alcohol during those times, and they are asking themselves the question, "What shall we do?"

Because of UN Conventions and US position, changing drugs' legal status anywhere is extremely difficult. These drug conventions allow only minor local changes but not the full legalization of any drug. The inflexibility of UN drug treaties created a powerful international fixation on the current list of prohibited drugs, preventing policy adjustments in the face off changing reality and scientific evidence. This international structural/legal inflexibility suffocated the emergence of a significant international opposition to the total prohibition model of drugs.

The fixed positions of UN conventions and the adherence of US, Israel and other countries to these conventions persist despite continuous data flow that supports the positive consequences that relaxation of cannabis laws had, for example, on the UK.
The independent newspaper reported October 14 that "Liberal approach pays off as use of cannabis drops to 10-year low"
"The popularity of cannabis has plummeted with 600,000 fewer people smoking or eating marijuana than three years ago. The new figures for England and Wales contradict claims that the current, more liberal approach to the drug, introduced nearly three years ago, has resulted in rising cannabis use".
So we see again and again that government's objection to drug decriminalization or legalization on the grounds that it will lead to higher drug use is totally incorrect, especially with regard to England.
Now, our authorities and governments would say - AHHH but that may be true only for England, and the re-classifying of cannabis from B to C would not work elsewhere because every country is different and there they speak English and here we speak Hebrew or Arabic etc.
So Let us look at the Dutch drug use figures compared with the rest of Europe: Professor Peter Cohen, one of the most authoritative figures in drug policy in the world said this during a Canadian Senate Hearing during in the special Committee on Illegal Drugs, May 28, 2001 Ottawa, Canada
"In terms of our national averages, we are in the same league as Germany and France. We are considerably lower than the U.K. or Denmark, and much lower than the U.S.A. The U.S.A. has levels of drug use that are double to triple the levels in the Netherlands. I do not say that this is because of drug policy, because it is my firm opinion that drug policy in itself has very little influence on the number of people who use drugs or who do not use drugs."
He also added "We must abandon the idea that drug policy can come from one set of general rules. Nations should at least regain their autonomy in this area by saying, "Though this is a good set of rules to consider, some of the rules are impractical and costly for our population, so we must deviate from them." The Swiss, who never undersigned the 1961 UN drug control treaty, have maximum freedom in doing so. They exercise this freedom now.
In that context, the illegal drug trade in the ME, and elsewhere, is feeding the terrorist activities of radical Islamic movements with endless money supplies from the production, sale and distribution of illegal drugs. Prohibition, in other words is a "drug money making machine for terrorists and criminals". This drug related money making Apparatus, has many negative side effects and it is oiled, maintained and kept alive by the tragic international prohibition of drugs.
The drug related money, from the sale of mostly cannabis heroin and cocaine, buys arms, ammunitions, explosives and missiles used to support resistance to Western and Israeli presence in the Near and Middle east and for exporting and supporting terrorist activities in the west.
The relations or linkage between drug prohibition and its effect on the global fight on terrorism is suppressed by US communications conglomerates in order not to offend the drug war lords in Washington. The negative impact of Taliban, Hezbollah or Al-Qaeda's drug income on the safety of the west and the on the cost to US and NATO troops in Afghanistan is therefore hardly ever makes it to front page news.
It is interesting to note what happens when NGO's like the Senlis council that advocate, in Afghanistan, the legalization of opium growing to allow farmers sell governments legal supply of morphine for medical reasons.
That group has a very strong rational, saying that we can cut Taliban and Al-Qaeda's funding by buying the opium crop from farmers and use it to produce morphine for pain management in the third world.
"According to the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), whose mandate is partly to ensure the adequate supply of narcotic drugs for medical and scientific purposes, 80 per cent of the world’s population, including Afghanistan, faces an acute shortage of these medicines. According to the University of Toronto research, of reported needs for these medicines only 24 per cent is met and, even then, only in the seven major markets – USA, UK, Japan, Germany, France, Italy and Spain. This is particularly alarming considering that prevalence rates for HIV/AIDS and cancer in Eastern Europe and Central Asia are the fastest growing in the world. Evidently, the shortage of these medicines is so extensive it requires more than market regulation correction – it calls for additional supplies".
So if we legalize and regulate Opium production in Afghanistan for medicinal use we can achieve two important goals: 1) cut money supplies to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, and 2) serve poor peoples' need to gain access to opium based pain medication.
Imagine for example that the UN would buy all Opium, produced in Afghanistan directly from the farmers and drug producers. This amounts to 4000 tons annually. As the New York time recent op ed piece wrote about the Senlis council efforts read "Because farmers aren't the ones who make the big bucks in the illegal drug trade, purchasing their poppies at competitive rates should be possible. But even if we paid exactly what the drug lords do, the entire crop would cost only about $600 million - less than the $780 million the United States planned to spend on eradication in Afghanistan this year.

Besides, eradication efforts have never eliminated a drug crop. Cocaine continues to be widely available, despite the roughly $3 billion that the United States has spent on coca eradication in Colombia over the last five years. And that is only the most recent example."

The Senlis group received lately a letter from the Afghan government basically telling them to stop advocating the legalization of opium production for medicinal use. I wonder what government that currently has military presence in Afghanistan may be behind the letter.

Just imagine what cutting off the supply chain of money from the Taliban and its fighters would do to the Taliban organization. If American and NATO forces goal there is to stabilize a democracy and destroy opposition to the US sponsored regime that is fueled by drug money, then 600 million dollars is a bargain price for the elimination of funding from the Taliban, a move that could help the anti terror effort achieve a major strategic objective.
Part of Hezballah's income is derived from drug smuggling to Israel of Cannabis grown in the Ba'aka Valley and Heroine smuggled through Jordan. If Israeli authorities really wished to stop the flow of drugs across the border they could have changed the law and allow for the growing of few cannabis plants at home in order to stop cannabis smokers from buying imported cannabis, the exact cannabis exported to Israel by terrorist organizations aimed at financing weapons against Israel.

Israeli cannabis smokers, according to underestimated government sponsored studies, constitute roughly 10% of the adults above the age of 18. We believe that close to a Million Israelis and Arab Israelis consume cannabis on occasion. The many hundred thousands are illegal sinners in the eyes of the state for their love of cannabis, a medical herb used locally for thousands of years mostly for recreation as well as for medical reasons.
I call the Israeli Knesset to seriously and professionally examine if current Israeli drug laws are working, what effect does cannabis prohibition has in terms of cost to society and individuals and what impact does cannabis prohibition has on the war on terror. It is your responsibility to check the effectiveness of drug laws and correct them when they are ineffective and unjust. Just this week, Dr. Hagit Lernau from The Public defendant's office in the Ministry of Justice courageously wrote that the criminalization of cannabis smokers is causing more harm then good. These laws must be changed, I may add politely.
On December 29th 2003 a senior American official was quoted in the Washington Times as saying that "Drugs are a currency that fuels terrorist groups everywhere."
What a revelation!!!!!
In summary, I would say that terror by Radical Islamic religious movements is nourished and maintained by the American dominated religion of prohibition, and that link is dragging the entire world to the brink of disaster. That deadly link affects us all: it affects our security, our future and our liberties and it must, therefore, be cut by changing UN drug conventions with the power of third parties, meaning the rest of the world.

I thank you very much

Boaz Wachtel
Speech during the "First Joint Israeli-Arab drug policy and peace" conference, Hebrew University, Jerusalem

Drug money sustains al Qaeda

By Rowan Scarborough

Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network has become deeply involved in international drug trafficking, using the money to buy arms and, possibly, radioactive material for use in a so-called "dirty" nuclear bomb, senior U.S. officials say.
The seizure earlier this month of boats carrying heroin and hashish, and operated by al Qaeda-linked persons, has brought to light an al Qaeda drug operation that has grown tremendously since the September 11 attacks, the sources say.
"Bin Laden does not mind trafficking in drugs, even though it's against the teaching of Islam, because it's being used to kill Westerners," said a defense official who asked not to be named. "He has allies and associates who are not members per se, but who move products for him and take drugs and buy arms and give the arms to al Qaeda."
This official and other sources say the intelligence community still does not have a firm grasp on the scope of the al Qaeda drug operation and how much money it raises, although estimates are in the millions of dollars. And officials say U.S. Central Command is so busy fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan it does not devote large resources to stopping the drug trade.
But the Bush administration is starting to realize that to ultimately defeat al Qaeda, it must mount more aggressive counter narcotics operations. With its source of money from Islamic charities being shut down by the United States and its allies, al Qaeda has turned to the poppy fields of Afghanistan as barter to finance operations.
The poppies are converted into opium and heroin, which fetch huge sums of money as they move from the Afghanistan-Pakistan region to the West.
"If you're going to get terrorism under control, we've got to stop their livelihood, which is money," said the defense official. "Without money, they die."
Said Andre Hollis, a former senior counternarcotics official under Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, "The linkage between terrorists and drug trafficking are only now becoming clear and are a great concern. The methods by which terrorists and other underworld actors move drugs are the same routes that are used to move weapons, terrorists and, potentially, [weapons of mass destruction]."
Bin Laden reaps the profits in two ways: His allies regulate smuggling routes out of Afghanistan into Iran, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and other countries, essentially placing a tax on each shipment to let it pass. Or, alternatively, al Qaeda takes the drugs as payment and uses them to buy arms.
There are unconfirmed intelligence reports that al Qaeda has bought radioactive material for use in a "dirty bomb."
Such a device is a conventional bomb packed with radioactive material that the explosion spreads, instead of using the radioactive material for the more technically demanding task of igniting a nuclear reaction, as in an atomic bomb. A "dirty bomb" would be not nearly as destructive as a nuclear explosion, but could expose thousands of people to deadly radiation poisoning if exploded in an urban area.
The United States does know, however, that smugglers are trafficking in radioactive substances.
Last May, police in Tbilisi, Georgia, arrested a man carrying boxes labeled "Danger: Radiation." Inside were two capsules of the radioactive metals strontium and cesium. A third vial contained a substance used to make the chemical weapon mustard gas. The man was en route to the train station to deliver the material to a still-unknown recipient in southwest Georgia for shipment to another country.
The arrest points out that smugglers are willing to traffic in any type of weapons and sell to just about anybody if the price is right.
The drug trafficking is not limited to the Persian Gulf region. Jemaah Islamiyah, al Qaeda's ally in Southeast Asia, also deals in narcotics.
"Al Qaeda has a presence in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, where drugs are a currency," said retired Army Lt. Col. Robert Maginnis, a military analyst who has studied the terror-drug nexus. "It has dealings with nations in Southeast Asia, such as Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Drugs are a currency that fuels terrorist groups everywhere."
The model for al Qaeda is a terrorist group that has terrorized Colombia for decades. The left-wing Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, has cornered the cocaine trade to finance all aspects of its war against Bogota's democratic government.
With the coca crop and drug labs bringing in millions of dollars, FARC has no need for financial allies and has a self-contained terror army.
Al Qaeda's drug operations rose to the surface in mid-December, when the U.S. Navy seized three al Qaeda-linked boats.
In the first operation, a Navy destroyer stopped a 40-foot boat, arrested three men and confiscated two tons of hashish worth $10 million in the Persian Gulf near the Strait of Hormuz.
"This capture is indicative of the need for continuing maritime patrol of the gulf in order to stop the movement of terrorists, drugs and weapons," said Rear Adm. Jim Stavridis, commander the carrier USS Enterprise battle group.
A day after the announcement, Navy ships on interdiction duty in the Arabian Sea captured two sailboats carrying 85 pounds of heroin valued at $3 million. Again, the crew was suspected of links to al Qaeda. The Navy also found 150 pounds of methamphetamines worth $1.5 million.
The defense official said all the drugs likely came from Afghanistan, where opium also finances Taliban fighters.
"We stopped two shipments," said the official. "How many have gotten through? How much money are they getting from this? We don't know. But we think it's the tip of the iceberg."

December 29, 2003

The Criminalization of Medicine: America's War on Drugs

Will you do a review of Ron Libby's new book, "The Criminalization of Medicine: America's War on Doctors"?

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