Thursday, January 16, 2014

Sleeping with the enemy

The war on drugs. You remember the war on drugs, don't you?

Drugs are bad. They must be eradicated. We must imprison every person with dark skin who uses, buys, delivers or sells drugs. Cocaine is the drug of the affluent, therefore we must increase sentences for those we catch with crack.

Of course, in the meantime we're going to remove most regulations regarding prescription medications so the Big Pharma can market its wares directly to the public. Hey, got a problem? Here's a pill.

Down in Mexico the failed strategies of Felipe Calderon resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of drug cartel members, users, hangers-on and the unfortunate folks who got in the way. Sorry, it's a high price to pay, but here's a check for some cool new weapons.

Now comes word that the United States government - the very people who launched this failed campaign - had members of the Sinaloa drug cartel in Mexico on the payroll. Los federales, it turns out, was helping the Sinola cartel eliminate its competition.

Meanwhile, as high ranking members of the cartel get away with murder, our local jails and prisons are filled to the gills with drug addicts and low-level drug dealers. Oh, but we're supposed to welcome the creation of drug courts that function on the principle that defense attorneys who work for their clients serve only to gum up the works. If we can only co-opt them to be part of "the team" we can keep these folks under the thumb of the government.

But I digress.

The use of informants by law enforcement agencies isn't anything new. The practice is insidious. It also gives defense attorneys a target to take pot shots at in front of a jury.

In choosing to use an informant who is allowed (or encouraged) to break the law, the government is making a decision that certain crimes are more important than others and that certain lawbreakers are more worthy than others. When the police allow informants to break the law the police are abandoning their core mission.

The practice also calls into question the image of the prosecutor as a defender of society. It's a bit hard to hold yourself out as a paragon of virtue when you're turning your back as your witness is out there committing criminal acts. And if you're doing that for the sake of winning a conviction, what won't you do to obtain that same conviction?

The criminal (in)justice system isn't just a game. Those are real people sitting in the courtroom looking at the jury and wondering what fate awaits them.

And those were real people who were murdered in Mexico by the drug cartels. Those were real people that lost their lives because our government decided to cut a deal with the most vicious of the cartels in exchange for information on the others.

That's our government that has spent billions of dollars on a failed war on drugs over the past 30 years while it was partnering up with the leadership of a drug cartel in the 2000's.

If the allegations are true then the entire narrative of the Mexican drug war changes. Instead of the violence being escalated in response to actions taken by the Mexican government, the violence was escalated because one cartel had an ace up its sleeve.

There are those, the Washington Post included, who don't buy the allegations. It would be too unseemly for our government to be in bed with the vicious Sinaloa cartel. Really? What about our funding and encouragement of right-wing death squads in Honduras and El Salvador? What of our support for the Indonesian government after the massacres in East Timor? What about our continued support to the apartheid regime in South Africa?

I don't know how much I buy the allegations. On the one hand it seems so far out there that it's hard to imagine top officials in the FBI and DEA agreeing to do it. On the other hand our government has committed, and allowed others to commit, heinous acts over the years.

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