Drug war Vietnam

Barry McCaffrey, head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), is the world’s most powerful anti-drug official. He commands an army of employees and an $18 billion a year budget. His decisions create global drug policy.
Before he took over the ONDCP in 1996, he was a war hero – the Army’s most highly decorated and youngest four-star General. He won three Purple Hearts for wounds received during four combat tours of duty in thirteen years of overseas service, in the Dominican Republic (1965), Vietnam (1966-69) and in Iraq during the Persian Gulf War (1991). He’s twice been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Silver Star for extraordinary heroism and valor.

McCaffrey commanded 26,000 soldiers comprising the 24th Infantry Division in Iraq. In many books and articles about that war, McCaffrey is described as a brave, victorious warrior dedicated to fulfilling the Army’s mission, a mission that necessarily includes killing people efficiently and without obvious regret.

Today McCaffrey is the “drug czar,” a gaunt, ashen man who believes hempseed bird feed is contraband, medical marijuana is “a cruel hoax on the sick and dying,” California doctors who discuss marijuana with their patients should be arrested, military weaponry should be used to stop drugs, and billions of US dollars should be spent funding Colombia’s war against peasants, coca plants, indigenous peoples and “narcoguerillas.”

Overwhelming force

That’s the title of a May 22 New Yorker article by Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh. Using vivid detail and nuanced reporting, Hersh brings to life the world of war, painting a portrait of American soldiers troubled by their lopsided victory over Iraq’s vastly outgunned army.

Hersh’s article shows us General McCaffrey in 1991, standing on tanks in the red, raw desert at dawn, watching plumes of smoke from the graveyard of Iraqi bodies and vehicles made cinder by American firepower and Hussein’s forced conscription.

According to Hersh, McCaffrey urged his troops forward with fierce exhortations: “If you’re driving through a village and someone throws a rock at you, shoot them! If they shoot at you, turn the tank main gun on them. If they use anything larger than small arms, call for artillery.”

Hersh uses 32 pages to weave his death tapestry; readers are left with the impression that McCaffrey and his soldiers may have participated in situations in which unarmed or retreating Iraqi soldiers and civilians were gunned down after the official Gulf War cease fire.

After reading Hersh’s article, I wondered if American Gulf War veterans are haunted by the words of their colleagues describing America’s conduct on the desert battlefield: “Why are we shooting at these people when they are not shooting at us?” “We’ve blown away a bus full of kids.” “We went up the road blowing the shit out of everything. It was like going down an American highway ? people were all mixed up in cars and trucks. People got out of their cars and ran away. We shot them… My orders were to shoot if they were armed or running. The Iraqis were getting massacred.” A captured Iraqi tank commander asking “Why are you killing us? All we are doing was going home.”

Attacking the messenger

The key issues raised by the article go beyond gory details and anguish. If Hersh and his sources are telling the truth, Barry McCaffrey and the 24th Infantry Division went far beyond the call of duty in a spasm of blood lust. The article also implies that McCaffrey failed to accurately report the conduct of his division ? he lied.

McCaffrey and his defenders have vehemently denied Hersh’s allegations.

Bob Weiner, McCaffrey’s chief spokesperson told me there were “four complete investigations of the allegations that Hersh has dredged up, including two which were separate, independently led and exhaustive. There were congressional hearings, and this was also examined in hundreds of news accounts and several scholarly books. All of them agreed that the allegations are completely false.”

Worse yet, Weiner says, most of the named sources in the article have made formal statements to either the New Yorker editor or to Weiner’s office, challenging the veracity of Hersh’s reporting or alleging that he misled them in order to get an interview. I asked Weiner to provide me copies of those letters, but he didn’t respond to my request.

McCaffrey’s reaction to the Hersh article was similarly combative.

“Hersh’s article is nothing more than a revisionist history of the war,” the General intoned to the media. “Mr Hersh’s conduct in developing his story has been a far cry from the objectivity we expect from responsible journalists. Several people Mr Hersh contacted now claim he misled his sources, fabricated statements from people he never spoke with and made clear his bias and intention ‘to bury’ McCaffrey. These claims are documented in letters and phone calls to me. White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart described the article as ‘an example of a journalist, and I use that term loosely, trying to revive a career with personal attacks on public officials.’ After reviewing Mr Hersh’s article, the Army concluded: ‘No new issues appear to have been raised ? there is no need to reopen the investigation.’ The facts fully support the conclusion that this is old news, or, more accurately, no news.”

Perri Dorset, a senior spokesperson for the New Yorker, disagrees with McCaffrey’s bleak assessment of the article’s newsworthiness and Hersh’s journalistic integrity.

“The Hersh article has generated a lot of coverage, and has been well reviewed by many major news organizations,” she said. “It is information that people appreciate having access to. As far as the article’s accuracy, we engaged in rigorous fact checking. That’s how we do business. We had three full time fact?checkers working on this article for several months. We contacted every person quoted about every quote. Every fact and statistic was checked. We stand behind this article and Mr Hersh one hundred percent.”

Drug war Vietnam

Like Harry Anslinger, the architect of marijuana prohibition whose statements and tactics were often a source of embarrassment during his decades-long tenure as the nation’s top anti-drug crusader, McCaffrey seems immortal. No matter what gaffes he makes, nobody in the Clinton administration, or in the power positions in Congress, will openly criticize him or call for his dismissal.

When Clinton and the Senate were looking for a new “drug czar” in 1995, it should have been obvious to them that drug use is primarily a public health and social sciences problem. Yet McCaffrey has no public health or social science background. He went to a private military school, then to West Point, where he earned an engineering degree. He earned a master’s degree in government, but his post-college educational experiences centered on war science, and his career experiences consisted primarily of killing people, or commanding people who kill people while themselves being killed.

McCaffrey was a lifelong soldier dedicated to following and giving orders when his draft-dodging president called him in early 1996 and asked the General to head the ONDCP. McCaffrey saluted and said, “Yes, sir.” In doing so, the General allowed himself to be snagged by the same trap that he believes the military fell into during the Vietnam War. He’s asked to fight an unpopular war, against people on their own soil who believe they are right, and is unable to use “overwhelming force” to defeat them.

McCaffrey is still angry about Vietnam. Angry at politicians, angry at war protesters, angry at the lack of “respect and compassion” given to soldiers who participated in the war.

McCaffrey’s drug war is as unpopular as the Vietnam War; it’s waged against people who opposed Vietnam and smoked dope too. The genetic and cultural descendants of dope-smoking anti-war protesters are smoking more pot than ever, and most of them oppose the war machine McCaffrey risked his life to serve.

McCaffrey recognizes the connection between marijuana, protest, and pacifism. He is hell-bent on revenge, and he’s frustrated. He has spent nearly $100 billion, but has not stopped people from growing and smoking pot. He cannot rain death down upon them like he did in Iraq. He’s fighting a costly, controversial, unwinnable war that is dividing the country and resulting in misery and death for innocent Americans.

It’s Vietnam all over again.

Fighting to win

I watched McCaffrey give a speech on Memorial Day at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. His bearing, and his words, revealed a man who religiously believes in war, duty, God, country. His dad is a retired lieutenant general. Two of his three children have had military careers. He revels in combat memories, and thinks that killing people to further “US interests” should not be questioned or criticized.

Surrounded by wounded veterans, their families and families of deceased veterans, McCaffrey was introduced by Joseph Galloway, a senior writer for US News and World Report.

Galloway sang McCaffrey’s praises, describing him as a fearless soldier. Galloway sarcastically referred to Seymour Hersh as a “muckraking journalist.”

“There are women and children here so I can’t use the exact words I’d like to use to describe his article,” Galloway said, “but the first part of the word is ‘Bull!'”

If anybody criticizes Barry McCaffrey, Galloway said, they’ll answer to the many military men and women loyal to the General.

After describing McCaffrey’s valor, Galloway said, “Today, he is fighting another war, perhaps the most important war in his life and ours, as the director of the ONDCP.”

“Maybe you’ve read about how the crime rate is going down a bit, and the rate of drug use among young Americans is also down a bit,” Galloway said. “Maybe that’s because we have someone in the drug czar’s office who has always fought to win, and he is fighting to win this time too.”

A warrior’s pride

Hersh’s article accuses McCaffrey of dishonesty, excessive zeal, criminality, and arrogance. The General’s actions in the war he is now fighting have drawn the same criticisms.

Tom Dean, the former director of litigation for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), filed a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) complaint against McCaffrey and several television networks relating to a questionable deal in which the ONDCP paid or otherwise compensated networks for allowing the ONDCP to influence the content of network programming.

“We believe it is a clear violation of the payola laws,” Dean said. “When we tried to get information from McCaffrey’s office, information that they had a legal obligation to provide us, we were stonewalled. But this didn’t surprise us. This man has a pattern of lying. He lies about marijuana. He lied about Holland’s crime statistics. He tried to destroy California doctors who wanted to help patients after Prop 215 passed. He has interfered with free trade in a successful attempt to cripple the North American hemp industry. He prevents needle exchange and other harm reduction programs. And many people find it ominous that an unelected official with direct ties to the military-industrial complex is running covert and overt operations from the White House and making foreign policy decisions.”

Jeffrey Orchard, NORML’s current director of litigation, said the FCC has ordered McCaffrey and the networks to provide information and a response to NORML’s complaint.

“We’ll see what the FCC does,” Orchard says. “If they do not recognize this payola arrangement as the clear violation that it is, we will consider a civil complaint that may give us a chance to demand a lot more information.”

McCaffrey’s condemnation of his critics, and his office’s inability to admit errors of judgment or action, have become predictable.

“I travel all over this country and I get showered with awards and these guys give me more money!” he says. “Unless I go to some goofy college debate or something, we get enormously laudatory reactions.”

Instead of apologizing for ONDCP’s covert attempts to influence network television programs, for example, McCaffrey defended the effort and proposed expanding it to include Hollywood’s movie industry. Instead of embracing the Institute of Medicine’s 1999 medical marijuana report, which found that smoked marijuana has medical utility and is not an addictive gateway drug, McCaffrey dismissed the report and continues to campaign against medical marijuana.

Instead of responding to criticism with humility and introspection, the General ups the ante, increasingly inserting himself into national and international debates that have little to do with the ONDCP’s charter.

McCaffrey recently angered drug policy reformers in Australia by networking with that country’s hard-line prohibitionist prime minister, John Howard. Howard invited McCaffrey to Australia during the country’s hosting of the Summer Olympics, against the wishes of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and in-country Olympics representatives, who were angered by McCaffrey’s assertion that their plans for drug testing athletes are inadequate.

Olympic officials wanted to ban McCaffrey from Olympic venues, but Howard overruled them. Howard backs McCaffrey’s “zero tolerance” stance on illegal drugs, even though some Australian states are moving towards heroin harm reduction and marijuana decrim.

McCaffrey wants to ensure that no more pot-smoking snowboarders will win gold medals, and is working with the US Congress, anti-drug propaganda organizations, drug testers, corporate Olympics sponsors and cops to force a harsh, privacy-busting drug-testing regime on athletes.

McCaffrey’s athlete-testing program includes 365-day drug testing on a no-notice basis, no time limit on when an athlete could be stripped of medals if drug use is discovered, and indefinite preservation of drug samples.

“I think the IOC will increasingly engage in a dialogue, and if they don’t, we just have to find ways to protect the world athletic competitors,” McCaffrey says.

Memorial Day

May 29, 2000, Vietnam Veterans War Memorial, Washington, DC

I nervously join a group of 400 people waiting to enter a roped-off area near the Vietnam Memorial. I have a press pass, but government secret agents are everywhere, anticipating the arrival of today’s guest speaker, General McCaffrey.

Seats fill with McCaffrey’s people. Soldiers who served with him in Latin America, Vietnam, Iraq. Their sons, daughters, wives, widows. Some use canes or wheelchairs. Some are missing arms or legs. They are dressed in suits and Sunday clothes.

I kneel down in the wet grass next to an army officer and his wife seated in folding chairs. They ask who I am taking pictures for. I ask about General McCaffrey.

“My husband served with him for many years,” the woman responds. “He has become a family friend. He is the finest person you could ever know. Such a man of honor. A man who loves his troops and his country. We love Barry.”

I mention the New Yorker article. A cloud crosses the sun.

“Treasonous,” the officer exclaims. “Utter and total rubbish. I wish that these journalists would all have to spend one day taking fire in the jungle or marching through a swamp wearing a full combat pack. Maybe it would make patriots of a few of them.”

Suddenly, the Man arrives. Moms bring their daughters to greet him. I stand up with camera in hand, and edge shyly to the circle gathered around him. McCaffrey stands at relaxed attention, giving close scrutiny to each person who speaks to him. His smile is tight and wizened; his eyes penetrating and wary.

Finally, with two plainclothes security agents with wires in their ears standing discreetly behind him, it comes down to the General and me.

“You seem to like taking pictures of me, young man,” he says, with surprising warmth.

“You’re very photogenic, General,” I responded, hoping he didn’t hear my heart pounding.

“Are you a veteran?”

“Yes, I am, Sir.

“See combat?”

“No Sir, I served in the Air Force.”

“They always had it easier than us,” he quipped. “But we darned sure enjoyed seeing them come flying in to save our butts.”

“How do you feel about your new job, Sir?”

“I find it as hard as my previous assignments, if not harder,” he replied, as an agent came to tell him it was time to be seated near the podium. “These darned magazine reporters and their articles? well, I have to go. Send me a picture.”

Wild animals

McCaffrey’s speech was eloquent and revealing:

“I will never forget the men I served with. In my mind’s eye, I see them as they were in 68-69 in the First Cavalry,” he said, recalling his command of ground forces in the Vietnam War. “They are etched in my memory ? tough, young, scared, taking care of each other, funny, barely out of high school.

“We lived like wild animals! We dug into the ground like moles. We carried enough ammo, food and water to knock mules to their knees. Always exhausted, mostly sick, our ripped uniforms looked like they came out of dumpsters. We were ferociously aggressive in a firefight. When we made contact with those brave, disciplined North Vietnamese soldiers we piled on with artillery, air forces, attack helicopters, a volley of hand grenades and automatic weapons fire. And frequently, our company bugler would blow the attack.

“We must remember that more than 50,000 of our buddies died over there, and we’d better not forget that 303,000 were wounded and 80,000 of our buddies are severely disabled and under veteran’s care. About six percent of our comrades are drug abuse dependent and 11 percent are alcohol dependent.

“Each of these combat actions we saw produced ripped bodies and traumatized minds. I can still hear the jackhammer machine gun that almost tore my arm off and shot my buddy through his head. Jack Miller, sitting there in the front row, can still see the furious firefight in which an automatic weapon smashed through his legs, gut, and his head, ripping out his eyes.

“I’d go on, but it’s too painful.

“There were seven years of endless violence ? this indecisive war that so bloodied our generation. Many of our political leaders failed us. They failed the people named on this wall behind us ? white, Asian, black, Hispanic ? the majority of them volunteers. They served because their parents and their friends expected them to do their duty. And if they came home from this war they were not welcomed with the respect and compassion they deserved. And many did not come home.

“They died in service to America.

“What a shameful chapter for our country.”

Power grab

Soon after the New Yorker article came out, Cannabis Culture was given an early draft of an auditing report that detailed problems at the ONDCP.

The federal government’s General Accounting Office (GAO) commissioned the ONDCP study, conducted by a management review company, Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC).

The auditors found that the ONDCP had problems finding and keeping qualified personnel, that management practices were sometimes unprofessional, that McCaffrey spent a disproportionate amount of time doing staged events, speeches and media interviews, that employees were overworked and underpaid, and that morale among some of the ONDCP’s civilian employees was low.

The report cited a variety of causes for these problems, but ultimately laid blame for them on McCaffrey.

“The current Director’s leadership style has been described as aggressive, high-pressure, and military-oriented,” the report said. “Under the current directorship, a military structure has been imposed on a previously civilian culture.”

The revelation that McCaffrey has imposed a “military structure” upon the ONDCP is supported by the fact that the General immediately demanded 30 active duty military officers to be “detailed” to the ONDCP when he was hired in 1996.

In an interview published in the June, 2000 issue of “The Retired Officer Association” (TROA) magazine, McCaffrey is quoted as saying, “I told the secretary of Defense, ‘I’m not going over [to the ONDCP]if you don’t give me 30 military detailees.’ I need some planners. Now, the staff directors? are all full colonels. My deputy chief of staff was a full colonel. The intelligence officers and some planners are military. This tiny number of military officers [note: the ONDCP has a budgeted staff of 124 civilian employees plus 30 military officers, but currently has at least a dozen unfilled positions] gave a very different tempo and discipline to what was essentially a dispirited, undermanned, confused group of civilians.”

When TROA asked McCaffrey if he would perpetuate military involvement in the ONDCP, he replied: “It darn sure better be. There’s a billion dollars of Defense Department money involved, out of $19.2 billion overall. There are national security aspects to it. The National Guard, the Air Force and Navy, Army Special Forces, our intelligence system are all a part of this effort.”

McCaffrey’s admissions, along with PWC findings, raise questions about the process that resulted in the General becoming the ONDCP director. It could be that the Pentagon played a role in placing McCaffrey over a civilian presidential cabinet office. And nobody can deny that military officers, whose orientation towards civil authority, due process, and the constitution are colored by war experiences and martial attitudes, are nestled in key leadership positions in what was intended as a civilian agency.

True to form, the General doesn’t even try to hide his belief that the military should be involved in the drug war.

“Today’s soldiers are expected to tackle problems ranging from building the peace, to providing humanitarian aid, to combating terrorism, to interdicting drugs,” he told a War College audience. “These 21st Century missions are not collateral exercises. They are central to our national security, even under the most narrow of definitions. For example, each year, the use of illegal drugs costs our nation 52,000 drug-related deaths and roughly $110 billion in societal costs. We must take these responsibilities seriously.”

Subverting democracy

Questions about McCaffrey’s alliances and tactics extend beyond the military takeover of the ONDCP and the militarization of the drug war.

Critics allege that the ONDCP and the non-profit Partnership for a Drug Free America (PDFA) used taxpayer’s money and covert activities to work against voters and medical marijuana proponents after California and Arizona voters passed pro-marijuana ballot initiatives.

A lawsuit filed by California doctors and patient advocacy groups provided evidence that McCaffrey was the principal architect of a government-funded plan to prevent medical marijuana laws from being enacted in the other 48 states.

The on-line magazine Salon, which has been relentless in its exposure of McCaffrey’s overzealous and possibly illegal drug war tactics, interviewed critics who questioned whether the ONDCP or the tax-exempt PDFA should have been seeking to influence state elections at all.

“The use of government resources to politic on controversial issues is clearly against ethics, as well as the law stating that federal employees can not take public positions for or against legislation under consideration,” insists Thomas H Haines, head of the Partnership for Responsible Drug Information.

I contacted the ONDCP after meeting McCaffrey. I asked Bob Weiner, his spokesperson, to arrange for me to interview the General. Weiner scoffed at my request.

“If your magazine is anything like High Times, I know you will not accurately report anything we say,” he said. “I challenge you to tell your readers what we say.”

I told Weiner that if he got me an interview with McCaffrey, I would allow the General to review the final article for errors or to offer additions and explanations.

Weeks went by, and even though I called the ONDCP almost every day, I never got an interview with McCaffrey.

Weiner agreed to be interviewed, but acted like he was doing me a favor.

He began by telling me, in effect, that all of the General’s critics were wrong. There was nothing improper or illegal about the ONDCP’s relationship with television networks, he said. The PWC report was inaccurate and misleading. The New Yorker article was “bunk.” Marijuana is not a medicine. The hemp industry failed because “hemp cannot compete with rival products,” not because the ONDCP, the DEA and US Customs had interfered with free trade in hemp oils, cloth, cosmetics, seed, and food items.

Weiner refused to concede that marijuana laws caused any harm to society.

“If people chose to break the law, why should we feel sorry for them when they are caught?” he asked.

Although Weiner was articulate, charming and entertaining, he also sounded a lot like the young Harry Anslinger.

Weiner claimed there are irrefutable cause and effect correlations between marijuana use and cocaine use, and between marijuana use and criminal behavior. Marijuana causes severe mental, emotional and physical injury to users and society, Weiner asserted. It is a dangerous drug and should never be legalized for any purpose.

All this was said with the same moralistic certitude as if it had come out of the General’s mouth. Weiner had indeed learned his lessons well. He had picked up his commander’s ability to believe that he was right and everybody else was wrong.

He would not speculate on whether McCaffrey will head the ONDCP when the next president takes office.

And even though Weiner said McCaffrey had traded in the war metaphor for the cancer metaphor (American doesn’t wage “war” against its citizens ? it views drug use as a cancer that must be excised), he instructed me to read the ONDCP website, and pay particular attention to McCaffrey’s military record, if I wanted to understand the General’s character and mission.

I spent a long time reading the General’s speeches and reading about him. The most relevant information I found came from an outline of a speech that McCaffrey gave to a group of military commanders.

McCaffrey’s maxims: “Fight to win. Accept that US casualties are unavoidable in defeating an enemy force. Evolve the military force structure and doctrine to meet new threats. Make decisions ? don’t be paralyzed by second-guessing. Commit as a nation to the prosecution of armed conflict.”

I thought back to my conversation with the General. He had smiled at me, looked me in the eye, shook my hand. For a while, we were simply two humans peacefully sharing a brief moment in time.

But if I had told him I was a medical marijuana user, activist, and marijuana journalist, would he have then looked at me with hatred and disgust ? as an addict needing incarceration and treatment, an enemy of his beloved country, or an unavoidable American casualty?

? Office of National Drug Control Policy: email [email protected]; website www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov
? Partnership for a Drug Free America: 405 Lexington Avenue, 16th Floor, New York, NY 10174; tel (212) 922-1560; website www.drugfreeamerica.org
? NORML: 1001 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 710, Washington, DC 20036; tel: (202) 483-5500; email [email protected]; website www.norml.org
? Partnership for Responsible Drug Information.14 West 68th Street, New York, NY 10023; tel (212) 362-1964; fax (212) 721-9557; email [email protected]; website www.prdi.org