According to his numerous supporters and wikepedia page, Marc Emery is a peaceful and intelligent man who has accomplished much in his life as a libertarian activist working on behalf of a variety of causes. He was recently arrested by the Drug Enforcement Administration for selling marijuana seeds and allegedly using profits in his capacity as the publisher of Cannabis Culture Magazine to support marijuana legalization groups active in the United States and Canada. Under pressure from the authorities, he has accepted a plea deal and is likely to serve five years in prison.
Setting aside the question of whether or not anybody should be prosecuted for marijuana related offenses (given that leading scientific experts view it as a relatively benign drug), his treatment contrasts markedly with that of Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of Afghan Prime-Minister Hamid Karzai who is widely considered to be one of the major heroin traffickers in Afghanistan, the world’s leading center of narcotic production since the U.S.-NATO invasion of 2001.While Emery and thousands of other non-violent offenders have been left to rot in the North American penal-industrial complex, Mr. Karzai and his gangster associates remain free to acquire lavish mansions and are immune from prosecution owing to their utility to Western imperial interests. As The New York Times recently reported, Karzai is a crucial CIA “asset” who has been receiving regular payments from the agency as the head of a paramilitary organization which is used for raids against suspected Taliban. The same organization has also been accused on at least one occasion of mounting an unauthorized operation against an official of the Afghan government.
Karzai himself is alleged to have orchestrated the manufacture of hundreds of thousands of phony ballots for his brother’s re-election effort in August and is believed to have been responsible for setting up dozens of so-called ghost polling stations — existing only on paper — that were used to manufacture tens of thousands of phony ballots. Referring to his involvement in the narcotics trade, a senior military intelligence officer told the Times: “If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck.” A CIA agent further noted that under the U.S.-U.N. occupation: “Virtually every significant Afghan figure has had brushes with the drug trade. If you are looking for Mother Teresa, she doesn’t live in Afghanistan.” These comments epitomize the hollowness of claims by the Obama and Harper administration’s that the Western coalition is fighting on behalf of freedom or democracy in Afghanistan. Furthermore, they epitomize the blatant double-standards employed by American governmental authorities in waging a global War on Drugs, which appears to be highly selective in whom it targets for arrest and prosecution.
The hypocrisies associated with this policy unfortunately go back a long way. As Alfred W. McCoy chronicles in The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Narcotics Trade, the CIA has been indirectly subsidizing the drug traffic and protecting leading narcotics traffickers for decades. In the aftermath of World War II, the U.S. for example supported the strikebreaking activities of the Italian mafia against communist dominated unions in Italy and France, and also supported Chinese Guomindang leader Jiang Jieshi who had close ties to Green Gang criminal syndicates and whose secret policing operations against the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) were in part subsidized through opium.
In subsequent years, the CIA continued to back GMD remnants in Burma who seized control over the lucrative Golden Triangle Trade to help finance a series of failed Bay of Pigs style attacks on the Chinese mainland. The agency simultaneously developed close ties with Thai police General Phao Sriyanon, who utilized the proceeds from the drug trade to help finance a ruthless internal security apparatus. A State Department report from the period concluded that as a result of institutionalized police corruption, Bangkok had become a major transshipment point for opium and that there was “little likelihood of the traffic being suppressed so long as officials in power like Phao continued to reap major financial reward.” Even Harry J. Anslinger, architect of the notorious “Reefer madness” campaigns who in his capacity as director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) consistently railed against “Red China” for trying to subvert the West through opium, admitted in private correspondences that the corruption of Phao and other Thai elites was “so extensive that it came out of their ears.”
The pattern of complicity reached a high-point when the U.S. relied on a serious of opium-growing warlords in Laos to wage a secret war against the Communist Pathet Lao who had been driven underground after the CIA’s subversion of elections in 1958. Many of the supplies were flown in CIA subsidized Air America planes. The favorite of the CIA was General Vang Pao, head of their clandestine army of indigenous Hmong, which according to eye-witness reports, committed brutal acts of violence and torture, earning the admiration of hard-liners such as Edward Lansdale. Vang Pao himself lived a flamboyant lifestyle off of black-market contraband and, according to the CIA’s official history, was arrested by FBN agent Bowman Taylor in 1963 in an undercover bust, though was given a brief respite by the CIA in Miami before being flown back to his jungle base in Long Tien. CIA Station Chief Douglas Blaufarb noted in his memoirs that the U.S. turned a “blind eye” to the Hmong’s involvement with opium out of military necessity and that though every effort was taken to discourage it, it was impossible to be certain that individual Americans did “not take advantage of the opportunity afforded by the availability of both opium and transport (and the author is aware that some did).” Another CIA operative told journalist Roger Warner. “You could have a war against Communism or a war against drugs but you couldn’t have both.”
In neighboring South Vietnam, the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations helped to prop up Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu, who was rumored to be an opium addict. He parlayed his connections with the Corsican mafia to develop control over the drug trade, whose profits he used to fund a network of thousands of political informants as South Vietnam was turned into a police state. After the Ngo brothers were overthrown and assassinated in a U.S.-backed coup, corruption in government, including in the American subsidized military and police, remained rampant, reaching a crescendo during the reign of Nguyen Cao Ky, whom Diem had referred to as a “cowboy” – a term nominally reserved for the most flamboyant of Cholon gangsters. Prior to becoming head of state, Ky had been thrown off a CIA clandestine mission into Laos because of his involvement in opium smuggling. His principal power broker, police chief Nguyen Ngoc Loan (best known for being photographed shooting a Vietcong prisoner in the head) is alleged to have overseen the selling of confiscated opium out of the back door of a warehouse. When drug control agents sought to implement a full investigation, they were rebuffed by Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker, who stated that “pressures which are too well known to require enumeration” prevented him from taking action, despite the “unmitigated evil” associated with the drug traffic.
Since the Vietnam War ended, the U.S. has continuously cultivated close ties with leading narcotics traffickers, including the Pakistani ISI and military officers throughout Latin America who were supported by U.S. military intelligence in using narcotics to fund counter-insurgency and terrorist activities. In 1987, the former chief of the DEA international intelligence unit Dennis Dayle admitted on-the-record that almost all of his key targets of investigation in a 30 year career “invariably turned out to be working for the CIA” In a 1969 book, The Pleasure Seekers, Dr. Joel Fort, who had investigated charges of corruption in his capacity with the World Health Organization, commented: “The facts are and have been easily available to anyone who really cares to probe beneath the surface…. In effect, the United States is covering up and sometimes subsidizing the opium traffic, which it purports to be eradicating. The layer upon layer of duplicity and corruption is rarely surpassed even in modern spy novels.” Sadly, these comments are just as relevant today, forty years later. The blatant double-standards would be comical if not for the real-life tragedy of people like Emery facing long-term incarceration for crimes which pale in comparison to those working close to the centers of power who are amply rewarded for carrying out the dirty work of empire. Ahmed Wali Karzai is but the latest example.
Mr. Kuzmarov is Assistant Professor of History, University of Tulsa and author of The Myth of the Addicted Army: Vietnam and the Modern War on Drugs.