Drugs and Terror
It's reported by the NY Times that the"Islamic terrorists responsible for the Madrid train bombings financed their plot with sales of hashish and Ecstasy ..." This article, by Dale Fuchs, tells us that the terrorists used"traffickers as intermediaries," swapping"the drugs for the 440 pounds of dynamite used in the blasts ... Money from the drug trafficking paid for an apartment hide-out, a car and the cellphones used to detonate the bombs, an Interior Ministry spokesman said."
There is also this article about Afghanistan's opium poppy crop, which is skyrocketing to levels"twice as large as last year's near-record crop." The country is responsible for three-quarters of the world's opium production. The US has talked routinely about"eradication" of the crop, because the profits are used to prop up"an undemocratic narco terrorist-controlled state," benefiting warlords and a resurgent Taliban. But it is under the US watch that opium production has become the chief means to stabilize the hand-picked"Northern Alliance" regime. That profits from the sale of narcotics are now making their way into Al Qaeda coffers is therefore no surprise.
Remember those anti-drug commercials that drew a direct connection between drugs and terror, laying the blame for the funding of terrorism squarely on the plate of drug users? Those commercials told users: Stop using! Terrorism is your fault (driving many of them to drink, no doubt)!
Of course, few are suggesting that the criminalization of drug use has created a world-wide network of illicit drug producers, whose profits are derived from the very fact of government drug prohibitionism. The original Mafia itself was born in the days of alcohol prohibition. Why should current developments be any surprise?
Instead of decriminalization, we are offered, year after year, a new front in the"war on drugs," which only continues to destroy civil liberties at home, while doing nothing to diminish the profits abroad that are funneled to terrorists. Indeed, Attorney General John Ashcroft was so obsessed with prioritizing the drug war (and various" civil rights" issues) in the first seven months of his tenure, that terrorism barely registered on his radar. Now, of course, with the powers bestowed on him through the Patriot Act, he gets to use his office to eradicate drugs and civil rights all in one fell swoop.
As Nebraska attorney Don Fiedler, former director of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, has put it:"This fanning the flames of narco-terrorism is something that has some merit. ... Narcotics are one of the tools that terrorists use to fund their operations, but the other question that should come out of it, other than increasing the penalties for use, is to go and re-examine the policies in the first place."
Amen. Perhaps drug legalization should be proposed as a means of combatting terrorism, taking the profits out of the industries that fund terrorists. But this would require an extraordinary act of mental integration: Politicians would have to start thinking about the interconnections among the various aspects of a system that they continue to support. Terrorists emerge from the context of US intervention overseas; they are recruited en masse because of increasing intervention overseas; they get funding from various current (and former) US allies and from industries whose profits are derived partially from prohibitionist controls. The whole system of interventionism, from top to bottom, domestically and abroad, is reinforcing cause and effect.
Boy, it is very difficult to be a political radical. Radicals, by their nature, seek to go to the root of social problems; they trace the connections among social problems, and think in terms of fundamentals and principles. The system that they oppose is one that has been built piecemeal, brick by brick, over decades of political machinations. But the system itself blocks comprehensive reform; it promotes political tinkering as surely as it promotes atomistic thinking.
It is time to start thinking comprehensively, dialectically, as I would say; it is time to start thinking about all the things that must be done to change this system fundamentally.
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Robert L. Campbell - 4/18/2004
May I suggest Edward Brecher's Licit and Illicit Drugs, now in its umpteenth edition? Even if more people did use legal marijuana, or legal morphine--would that be a worse outcome than the kind we are suffering with now?
Jonathan Dresner - 4/15/2004
True. I hadn't thought about the drug trade as a monopoly, but of course the most frequently dramatized elements of the drug trade have to do with protecting monopoly distribution rights to territories (and monopsony rights to producers, though we don't hear those stories so much). I suppose that's why we call them "cartels."
The lowered cost, though, could be a problem: like alcohol and tobacco, more people tend to use drugs when the price is lower. That's one of the arguments against legalization that, I admit, worries me a bit.
Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 4/15/2004
Oh, I agree, Jonathan: all good points. BTW, I'm sure there are plenty of "legitimate" businesses and charitable organizations that have funneled money to terrorists---no reason to pick on drugs as the sole source of funding.
One of the major issues here, however, is that when there are several levels of illegality to contend with, as there are in the drug trade, the whole operation reeks of a criminal element, and the profits are potentially much higher in the absence of genuine competition. (It is no coincidence that drug cartels and host governments are incestuously involved with one another, and that, within the context of prohibitionism, the whole system militates against low-cost, and ~safer~ drug production.)
In any event, much more needs to be said about these linkages.
Jonathan Dresner - 4/15/2004
One valuable meme which could come out of the "your habit pays for terrorism" commercials would be a greater awareness that the price paid for a product includes profit, and that profit goes somewhere (I suppose I should say "profits" because there are usually profits at several points of production exchange absent vertical integration). The "fair trade" coffee movement is pushing in this direction as well.
The question is not whether we want there to be no profit from drugs, but where we want those profits (and taxes should be seen, I think, as a "profit" to the government, though you have to subtract the cost of whatever the government does to support and monitor that particular product's production, so it isn't all profit) to go. And we'll have to ask the question whether legalization would actually reduce the profit income going to "undesireable" recipients: even legal distributors will have to get their drugs from somewhere, and US legalization will not change the need for legal changes elsewhere to entirely eliminate smuggling and other high-profit, high-risk operating stages.