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Over the past two weeks, U.S. media airways have been dominated by the sad spectacle of elected representatives’ refusal to govern, their repudiation of even the pretense of trying to seek agreement on issues of grave importance to people living in the country and many more affected by their actions around the world.
However, despite unprecedented levels of acrimony, open hostility, and free-flowing expressions of contempt, one issue continues to galvanize widespread support: the drug war. It seems preposterous in the face of increased levels of violence, political corruption and profiteering associated with the illicit drug trade and the official mobilizations to combat it, that the U.S. government—and its mouthpieces in the media—would celebrate drug war “successes.” But this phenomenon does place the propaganda value of the so-called war on drugs on prominent display.
There has been a flurry of reporting on apparently successful counternarcotic police operations lately, perhaps a soothing antidote to the failure of government to look out for peoples’ more basic needs. Take for instance the aptly named Project Delirium: after twenty months of nationwide investigation this Drug Enforcement Agency operation culminated at the end of July in the “largest U.S. strike against La Familia Cartel.” The DEA arrested almost two thousand people, and seized more than twenty thousand pounds of cocaine, marijuana and heroin. The director of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (known by the chillingly appropriate acronym ICE) held up his agency’s operation as an example of cooperation in this moment otherwise characterized by official gridlock and rampant violence:
“Law enforcement officials here in the U.S., in Mexico and all around the world are cooperating at unprecedented levels. There is a willingness -- like never before -- to work hand-in-hand to fight the cartels, the criminal enterprises, and the violent gangs that threaten the peace and security of people on both sides of the border.”
Drug war delirium is a useful antidote for popular skepticism about the legitimacy of our rulers and exasperation over their ineptitude. There has been a veritable parade of reaffirming stories. The U.S. Coast Guard released a video this week (below) dramatically capturing its “first” ever interdiction of a “narco-sub”, or submersible vessel ferrying drugs, in Caribbean waters.
In a press release the U.S. Coast guard expressed that it “greatly appreciates the support and cooperation of the Honduran authorities” in the effort. This vision of international cooperation and cutting edge police drama is no doubt a more appealing story than the one documented in a recent report by Ryan Deveraux. Deveraux discusses the current situation in Honduras which is characterized by increased levels of official corruption linked directly to drug trafficking, particularly in the aftermath of the US-backed coup in 2009.
There were other dramatic drug war “firsts” this week as well: in England a “record-setting” bust of cocaine hidden on a yacht ferrying drugs from South America. This “largest-ever haul” of a Class A drug was celebrated by officials, even while experts acknowledged it would “make little difference to the price of cocaine or its availability on the streets.” Drug war delirium was evident in New York City this week as officials announced a "record-breaking seizure" of methamphetamine. Across the country in California’s Mendocino National Forest more than one hundred people were arrested and some 460,000 marijuana plants uprooted. The U.S. attorney explained “The Mendocino National Forest is under attack by drug traffickers," even while locals re-directed similar accusations towards the police. One man observed: “I just thought it was outrageous that they should disrupt the peace of the wilderness with these military helicopters to destroy a plant that has been around since the dawn of mankind.”
Back in Central America, the Panamanian police announced the largest drug bust not merely in the nation’s history, but in the history of the entire region. In a striking display of drug war delirium and its potent-propaganda power, this coincides with a recent ruling by the French government to extradite one of the most famous convicted drug traffickers in recent history: former President of Panama Manuel Noriega. After running afoul of his CIA sponsors and being ousted in a US-orchestrated coup, Noriega served 20 years in a U.S. prison for drug trafficking and other charges. He was immediately extradited to France upon his release where he is currently incarcerated, facing imminent dispatch to Panama where he faces charges of human rights violations.
This is not a defense of Noriega, but simply an effort to point out the depressing utility of a media spectacle focused on dramatic drug busts and demonized drug traffickers which despite the flurry of declared successes has failed in any meaningful way to alleviate the destructive impact of the drug trade, drug consumption, or the militarized war waged in its name. But it does provide a useful mechanism for attacking one’s political enemies, and justifying the ongoing allocation of resources toward the police and the military even as calls for economic austerity threaten to unravel our basic social infrastructure.
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The Iran-Contra scandal can be traced to the October Surprise during the 1980 Presidential election between incumbent Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. In the fall of 1980, Carter was marginally leading Reagan in the polls with the election right around the corner. The release of hostages before election day presumably would have insured the election for Carter. The Reagan team conspired to negotiate a deal with Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran. Campaign manager William Casey and George Bush met with Iranian Prime Minister Bani-sadr in Paris in October, only weeks before the election and with Carter having a slight lead over Reagan. Part of the deal cut between the Reagan team and Iran was to provide military weapons which Iran desperately needed in its war with Iraq. As it turned out, the 52 American hostages remained captive in Teheran. Carter's popularity continued to plummet, enabling Reagan to be elected in November, and ironically the hostages were returned at 12 o'clock noon on January 21, 1981 when Reagan was inaugurated.
The first meeting regarding arms-to-Iran occurred in July 1980 in Barcelona, Spain and not in Madrid as was initially reported. The Republican team met at the Hotel Princess Sofia and at the Pepsico International headquarters. The American team was led by Republican campaign director William Casey, who months later was to be named CIA chief by Reagan, and by Robert McFarlane, who later became National Security adviser under Reagan. Three months after Barcelona, a more important meeting took place in Paris. CIA agent Richard Brenneke testified that Bush was in Paris on Sunday, October 19, 1980 when he met with members of the Khomeini regime to consummate an arms package to Iran. Bush, along with Casey and other government officials, flew to Paris on a BAC 111 on Saturday evening, October 18. The plane arrived in Paris on Sunday morning October 19 at 8:40 a.m. European time.
While in Paris, the Republican team gave $40 million to the Iranian government as a gesture of good faith that the Reagan team was serious in dealing with the terrorist Khomeini government -- and that the 52 American hostages should remain captive until after the November election. After the meeting, Bush had to quickly return to the United States in order to deliver a speech at the Washington Hilton Hotel. He departed France in an SR-71 reconnaissance plane, piloted by Gunther Russbacher. The plane was refueled by an Air Force tanker nearly 2,000 miles out of Paris. The entire return flight to the United States was less than two hours.
When news of the Paris meeting leaked out, the CIA moved quickly to cover-up Bush's meeting. CIA agent Frank Snepp wrote an article in the Village Voice, stating that the SR-71 pilot, Gunther Russbacher, was not capable of flying an SR-71 and, therefore, his allegations were false. However, in an interview between government whistle-blower Rodney Stich and Russbacher, it was very clear that Russbacher had been trained in flying the SR-71.
Several other witnesses corroborated the story that Bush was present in Paris. Ari Ben-Menashea, a member of Israel's Mossad and involved in the transfer of arms to Iran, stated that Bush was at the meeting. Also, Iranian Prime Minister Bani-sadr produced documents indicating that Bush was present. On the other hand, CIA agent Donald Gregg, who was on the flight to Paris, failed a polygraph test when asked about Bush's presence.
The Secret Service unequivocally denied the fact that Bush was in Paris. Yet, the agency refused to allow any of its agents who were assigned to Bush at that time, to testify. Justice Department prosecutors called two Secret Service agents who swore that Bush was in Washington, D.C. on that weekend. The Secret Service claimed that Bush was in Pennsylvania on Saturday, October 18; however, the agency did not produce any evidence to indicate Bush's activities on the following day.