A photograph of President Bush waving a flag after the Sept. 11 attacks is juxtaposed against a black-and-white image of an African American mother smoking crack cocaine in bed next to her baby. Larger-than-life portraits of Osama bin Laden and Pablo Escobar line the walls. The central message of a traveling Drug Enforcement Administration exhibit unveiled at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry yesterday is that terrorism and drugs are inextricably linked.
But advocates of legalization who are leafleting outside the exhibit say the DEA is leaving out an important part of the story. Critics agree that drug trafficking provides a potentially lucrative revenue stream for terrorist organizations. But they say the profit is actually fueled by the government's war on drugs, which creates a situation akin to prohibition of alcohol.
"If we taxed and regulated drugs, terrorists wouldn't have drugs as a source of profit," said Tom Angell of the nonprofit Students for Sensible Drug Policy, which focuses on restoring financial aid for college students with drug convictions.
"With the connection to Prohibition in Chicago we should know better," said Pete Guither, a professor of theater management at Illinois State University and founder of the blog Drug WarRant.com.
DEA spokesman Steve Robertson responded: "We're a law enforcement agency -- we enforce the laws as they are written. Congress makes the laws. People say if we didn't have [drug] laws there wouldn't be a problem, but there was a problem before and that's why laws were established."
Jeanne Barr, a history teacher at a private Chicago high school, plans to distribute fliers and bring her students to study the exhibit, titled "Target America: Opening Eyes to the Damage Drugs Cause."
"We'll look for possible omissions and oversimplifications," she said. "They don't pin any blame on the prohibition of drugs. But from my understanding of history, the major source of the black market is prohibition. I don't think there's any difference between alcohol prohibition and what we're looking at today."
Critics of the DEA exhibit also question its linking of drugs to al-Qaeda. Another Web site with which Guither is affiliated, http://www.deatargetsamerica.com/ , quotes the Sept. 11 commission report as finding that "there is no reliable evidence that Bin Ladin was involved in or made his money through drug trafficking."
The 2001 attacks are clearly the centerpiece of the exhibit, with a display of rubble and artifacts from Ground Zero under a banner reading "Traffickers, Terrorists and You."
"For al-Qaeda it's hard" to prove a link, said DEA public affairs chief Garrison Courtney. "I don't think we're saying 9/11 was caused by drug financing. But we're saying there is a link between drugs and terror, and September 11 is a poignant example of terrorism. Terrorists don't hold bake sales to raise money."
The exhibit includes a list of organizations designated as terrorist by the State Department, with the explanation that "nearly 50 percent" of them get funds through drug trafficking. There is a replica of a heroin-processing lab in Afghanistan and references to heroin production funding the Taliban.
But it does not mention that the Taliban publicly opposed heroin production, though federal prosecutors allege that Baz Mohammed, a recently convicted Afghan drug kingpin, had ties to al-Qaeda; that the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported in 2003 that production of opium poppies in Afghanistan rose dramatically after the Taliban was overthrown; or that a top U.S. anti-drug official recently acknowledged allies' doubts about the effectiveness of poppy eradication in Afghanistan, where poor farmers have few options on crops.
"The Taliban said they had a moratorium on the production of opium poppies, but they were taxing the farmers who were doing it anyway," said DEA agent David Lorino, who was in Afghanistan.
The exhibit says the 2004 Madrid train bombing involved a hashish-for-explosives swap, and that in 2002 federal agents foiled two plans to trade heroin and hashish for Stinger antiaircraft missiles that suspects planned to sell to al-Qaeda and a Colombian paramilitary organization. The exhibit features Colombian and Peruvian guerrilla forces financed by cocaine.
The exhibit opened in Dallas on Sept. 11, 2003, and has been shown in New York, Omaha and Detroit. It was brought to Chicago at the request of Mayor Richard M. Daley (D), who blamed drugs for "80 percent of the crime factor in our city" in his remarks when the exhibit opened.
The Chicago component of the exhibit highlights terror caused by local gangs involved with drugs. DEA spokesman Robertson also took a broader view of terrorism and drugs.
"Terrorists' goal is to tear down current societies and governments and offer something else," he said. "Drug abuse degrades societies from within because of the effect on society, on users and on health services. Drug trafficking is a way to degrade societies, which helps terrorists in their goal."
August 11, 2006 - DrugSense Weekly (US Web)
DEA Exhibit At Museum Of Science And Industry Ignores Costs Of Prohibition
Chicago-area residents are asking the Museum of Science and Industry not to display a government exhibit linking drug use to terrorism. These citizens say that the Drug Enforcement Administration Museum exhibit, from August 11-December 3, 2006, hides the true link between drugs and terrorism: drug prohibition itself.
According to Pete Guither, a drug policy reform researcher and editor of Drug WarRant: "This is a blatant publicity effort by the DEA aimed at tying its budget to the war on terror. It's also desperate and hypocritical. The DEA has received a failing grade from the White House Performance and Management Assessments for their taxpayer funded war -- a war that actually makes criminal drug trafficking obscenely profitable."
Jack Cole, Executive Director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP -- an organization of current and former cops, judges, prosecutors, prison wardens and others who all believe in ending prohibition) says: "If you ended prohibition today, there wouldn't be any of those drug lords making a penny on drugs tomorrow."
Retired police captain (and LEAP co-founder) Peter Christ adds: "America's drug use is a serious problem, but in reality it is America's drug policy that creates the underground economy that supports terrorism."
Drug WarRant, along with local chapters of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (a nation-wide group that educates about the harms of the War on Drugs and promotes an open discussion of alternative solutions), has organized a response and supplement to the DEA exhibit, including a website and materials to be distributed by volunteers, along with other events to take place throughout the run of the exhibit.
The counter-exhibit, (available at www.DEAtargetsAmerica.com) highlights the parallels between the lawless days of alcohol prohibition under Al Capone and today's drug prohibition. As noted at the website, even the FBI acknowledges Al Capone's rackets were "spawned by enactment of the prohibition amendment."
None of the groups or individuals involved in the response advocates illicit drug use. In fact, they believe that the DEA and prohibition add to the problems of drug abuse by putting the control, safety, and age regulation in the hands of criminals. They point to the recent Chicago-area deaths from fentanyl-laced heroin as a grim echo of the startling number of Chicago residents who died from tainted alcohol during alcohol prohibition.
Drug WarRant and Students for Sensible Drug Policy hope to counter what they consider to be a one-sided exhibit, and to engage the Chicago community in a dialog to discover more effective alternatives to the failed drug war. As they note on their website: "The drug war is a great deal for traffickers, terrorists, and especially the DEA, but not for communities dealing with the war's violence, or the American citizens who pay the bill."
According to Jeanne Barr, history teacher at Chicago's Francis W. Parker School: "As educators, we look to the MSI to enlighten the community, not to promote political propaganda that selects self-serving elements of truth out of a more complex whole. It's not good science, and it's not good history. Da Vinci and the DEA under one roof? What are they thinking?"
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