Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Fabricating Evidence

A former police chief in Scotland has testified that the CIA fabricated evidence in the bombing of Pan American Flight 103 in the skies over Lockerbie, Scotland in December 1988. This report from The Scotsman, published in Edinburgh, says, "The retired officer - of assistant chief constable rank or higher - has testified that the CIA planted the tiny fragment of circuit board crucial in convicting a Libyan for the 1989 mass murder of 270 people."

If this allegation is true, that fact that the government would take such steps in a critical prosecution has to shake the public's confidence in every prosecution of political or national security significance.

In the United States, the instances in which prosecutors have withheld or manipulated evidence favorable to the accused in high profile cases fill page after page of the law reports. Often these cases are not uncovered until long after the accused have gone to prison.

In Dallas in 2001, more than 30 innocent defendants were arrested and indicted, and some pleaded guilty because an informant was routinely submitting Sheetrock (R) to a narcotics detective claiming it was crack cocaine. An investigation released on May 9, 2005, by Special Prosecutor Jack Zimmerman found a pattern of malfeasance by police officers, their supervisors, prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges, but nothing that constituted a crime.

Throughout the United States crime labs have been facing challenges of reports of sloppy procedures.

Even the vaunted FBI crime lab blundered repeatedly, and in the highest profile cases: the Unabomber, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the Ruby Ridge shooting, according to Tainting Evidence by John F. Kelly and Phillip K. Wearne (The Free Press, 1998). As The Scotsman notes the FBI was involved in the Lockerbie investigation, but assigned a bomb examiner who was exposed as a fraud:

"The vital evidence that linked the bombing of Pan Am 103 to Megrahi was a tiny fragment of circuit board which investigators found in a wooded area many miles from Lockerbie months after the atrocity.

"The fragment was later identified by the FBI's Thomas Thurman as being part of a sophisticated timer device used to detonate explosives, and manufactured by the Swiss firm Mebo, which supplied it only to Libya and the East German Stasi.

"At one time, Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence agent, was such a regular visitor to Mebo that he had his own office in the firm's headquarters.

"The fragment of circuit board therefore enabled Libya - and Megrahi - to be placed at the heart of the investigation. However, Thurman was later unmasked as a fraud who had given false evidence in American murder trials, and it emerged that he had little in the way of scientific qualifications.

"Then, in 2003, a retired CIA officer gave a statement to Megrahi's lawyers in which he alleged evidence had been planted.

"The decision of a former Scottish police chief to back this claim could add enormous weight to what has previously been dismissed as a wild conspiracy theory. It has long been rumoured the fragment was planted to implicate Libya for political reasons."

From the lowest levels of the Dallas police department to literally the highest levels -- the bombing of long-range jet aircraft at cruising altitude for international terror reasons -- evidence is fabricated.

While serious predators continue to victimize innocent Americans every day, our ability to believe that the perpetrators are being caught and fairly tried in order to bring them to justice is steadily undermined. Lawlessness by the law enforcement agencies undermines society's ability to teach law obedience, to deter potential offenders, and to justly punish offenders.

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Thursday, August 04, 2005

Critique on the media's recent "meth madness"

On August 8, 2005, Newsweek ran a cover story, "America's Most Dangerous Drug", on methamphetamine use that was more of a hysterical expose than investigative journalism. In response to Newsweek's publication, Jack Shafer of Slate has written two excellent articles I highly recommend on the misrepresentation of "meth madness".

Meth Madness at Newsweek
This is your magazine on drugs.
By Jack Shafer
August 3, 2005

"The leading indicator that a national trend has peaked and has begun its downward trajectory is often its appearance on the cover of one of the newsweeklies. Newsweek's current scaremongering cover story, "The Meth Epidemic: Inside America's New Drug Crisis," is a textbook illustration of the phenomenon..." Read the full article:

The Meth Mouth Myth
Our lastest moral panic.
By Jack Shafer
August 9, 2005

"Moral panics rip through cultures, observed sociologist Stanley Cohen in 1972, whenever "experts" and the "right-thinking" folks in the press, government, and the clergy exaggerate the danger a group or thing poses to society. Immigrants have been the subject of moral panics, as have alcohol, jazz, comic books, sex, street gangs, rock, video games, religious cults, white slavery, dance, and homosexuals. But in the United States, moral panics are most reliably directed at illicit drug users..." Read the full article:

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Wednesday, August 03, 2005

It's Just a Plant

In February, at a hearing on harm reduction, a freshman Member of Congress started attacking a member of the board of the Drug Policy Alliance for its support of a book for children about marijuana, called "It's Just a Plant."

I read the book carefully, since I have a 7-year old daughter.

In June, the author asked me to comment

Here's my review:
If genuinely intended as a book to educate children about marijuana, I don't think "it's Just a Plant" succeeds.  The paintings are imaginative, and lovingly drawn. The messages are probably appropriate for children who are ten to fourteen or so, depending on their maturity.  But the messages are packaged stylistically for children who are pre-literate.  The large type, the extensive use of white space, the short portions of text on a page, coupled with imaginative, colorful paintings all are typical of books for children ages 4 to 8 -- pre-school to second grade. The child at the center of the book, Jackie, looks to be about five or six years old. It begins, "Jackie loved to go to sleep at night."  This is an issue for the parents of very young kids -- getting them to go to bed.  But the sophisticated and complex messages about marijuana's effects, its illegality, its medical use, etc., in my view, are too abstract for and irrelevant to 4 to 8 year olds.

On the other hand, the pre-teenagers for whom the messages may be appropriate are likely to find the packaging a complete turn-off.  Visually and stylistically, it is unmistakably a book for the youngest children.  No kid age 10 to 14 is going to find a book in the visual style used for pre-schoolers and earliest readers to be credible.  It would be like asking them to watch Barney the Dinosaur or Sesame Street to get a sex education message. It is almost insulting.

If the messages of the book are too sophisticated for the pre-literate kid, what about the plot or the pictures?  Again, I don't think the book works. Kids at this age are pretty literal, even in the fantasy world. Even in a fantasy, there needs to be an underlying coherence. When one analyzes the many lovely, colorful paintings in "It's Just a Plant," they and the story are disconnected from the reality or literal understanding of most 4 to 8 year olds. 

Let's remember, the foundation of this story is the real world:  real Mom, real Dad, real kid, real doctor, real bicycle, real cops, real marijuana.

In the fourth painting, the child is riding her bike without a proper helmet, although her mother is. There is a problem with verisimilitude here. The child is wearing robes that are certain to get tangled in the chain or wheels of the bike, as they ride along the East River past the Brooklyn Bridge. A careful mom wouldn't allow this.  Two pages and a short ride later, they are in an enormous park or field with a horse and palm tree that is certainly not New York.  A couple of panels later there is a party at which a smoking hookah and a girl exhaling smoke is the center of focus. Then, after a panel back on the bicycle, riding with balloons in a fantasy land, and a visit to the pediatrician's elegant, art-filled office, Jackie and Mom are in the center of the city with a Boston blue T sign at the subway entrance, where Jackie stops and sniffs the air. "I know that smell!" she said... (and all the pot smokers reading the book giggle!). 

Jackie confronts four men outside a fast food restaurant who laughingly tell her all the names they use for marijuana, when two kindly police officers interrupt their friendly lecture to cursorily shake down the men.  The kindly police explain to the surprised child that marijuana is against the law, giving her a sympathetic history of its cultivation, in the course of which the officer says that her grandfather grew hemp and her grandmother sold cakes of homegrown marijuana at her cafe. 

At this point, this story has become so absurd that the suggestion that this book is intended to be taken seriously, by either 4 to 8 year olds, or 10 to 13 years olds, is exposed as preposterous.

The paintings are lovely and very imaginative, and I bet that when viewed when stoned are even more so.  The text sometimes mimics the style of writing used for the earliest readers.  But ultimately the story is a failure. Is this believable as a real story about a real girl and her mother?  Is this a fantasy story?  Is this a narrative to take seriously?  Does the plot hang together?

A book for 4 to 8 year old children is written and designed to be read over and over. 

Is this a story that a parent will read to their pre-literate kid over and over? Only if they want to encourage their child to think a lot about marijuana at an absurdly early age.

Would a non-pot-smoking parent have any inclination to read this book to their child?  I think such parents would be quite turned-off by the "trippy" merriment surrounding this whole "let's discover marijuana" adventure.

The claim that this book is intended to educate kids about the truth of marijuana is hard to take seriously.

I don't think you can defend this book by simply looking at the text and saying that nothing in the text is objectionable because none of the statements about marijuana are false as a matter of fact.

Because almost any parent with a young child who sees this book is going to find that it is inappropriate in message and style for either their young child or their pre-teen child, a legitimate question is, "who is the audience for this book?"

It seems to me the primary audience is pot smokers who would find this a pot-culture affirming artifact like "stoner" games, movies, videos, etc. Mostly, the book is for teenagers and adults who smoke pot to giggle over. It is a coffee-table book for young parent pot heads.

Educationally, there may be a tiny audience that could use this book.  That is, those parents -- who are committed to smoking pot openly in their home in front of their pre-school child -- who have figured out that their child is going to be playing with other children, and is likely to tell them about what goes on in his or her house. For  those pot smoking parents, a book such as this may be a tool to justify their pot smoking to their child, and to start a conversation about why the child should not tell the neighbor kids and their parents or their teachers, about the parents' open marijuana use. 

Even for that purpose, I think the book is unsuccessful. Because the on-the-street pot smokers are not arrested or ticketed by the pot-sympathetic police, the book fails to communicate the seriousness of the consequences to the pot-smoking parents if their child tells people about the marijuana that Mom or Dad smoke. This is confusing: If pot use is okay and normal, why does it have to be kept a secret? 

We teach our kids that their bodily functions are okay but that it is not polite to talk about poop and underpants at the table or with adults. But kids love talking about what they aren't supposed to talk about, they absolutely love it. Kids are terrible at keeping secrets. Tell 4- to 8-year olds they shouldn't tell other kids about Mom and Dad smoking pot, and you can be certain that they will tell other kids. For any parent to believe that they could use this book to teach their children not to talk about Mom and Dad's presumptively "responsible" pot use is likely to lead to a false security and disaster.

There is a need for a resource for pot smoking parents to use in their family to counteract the marijuana demonization that their kids will be exposed to.  But this is not an issue that families are going to introduce at this age level.

There is more clearly a need for a resource for all parents to teach their pre-teen kids about marijuana that doesn't exaggerate harms, or trivialize legal dangers, or legitimize risky forms of experimentation.  Certainly drug prohibition creates a terrible dilemma for parents who want to try bring sense to their kid's world regarding the drugs in their environment. But this is not a problem to address at ages 4 to 8 in this way.

This book can't be defended by looking at the words and ignoring the art and the design. At least half this book is the art. This book is designed to be much more than the text. It is impossible to take the book seriously as a book designed to educate children sensibly about the role of marijuana in our society because it is not in a format that is appropriate to the child's development. Such a book is urgently needed, but this book doesn't meet the need.

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How to free Marc Emery, Canada's "Prince of Pot"

Any time someone we know is arrested, we are going to be shocked. I don't
know Marc Emery -- I don't think I've ever met him. Many American drug
policy reformers have worked with him in political and public education
programs, like Pot-TV and Cannabis Culture magazine, and they report they
are in a state of shock.

Nevertheless, stepping back from the personal shock, we should not be
surprised that Marc Emery has been arrested, nor outraged that he was.

Assume for a moment that a man is shipping materials into the United States
that can be used for making illegal drugs. He has a website and has been
quite open about his shipments. We would not be surprised if the
Department of Justice opened an investigation into these activities. We
would not be surprised, if there was evidence that people were
manufacturing drugs in the U.S. with these materials, that a grand jury
indicted this person.

The ordinary procedure -- one that is followed for persons in many other
nations who are accused of committing a crime that violates U.S. laws -- is
to notify the "asylum" nation and request the extradition of the
accused. The asylum nation then asks their local police to arrest the
accused. Typically the accused is offered an opportunity to make bail, and
then can contest the extradition order in court.

Typically there are legal challenges in court to the extradition request
that focus exclusively on the technicalities of the demand for
extradition. Then, as a matter of state, the national executive decides
whether to actually extradite the accused.

Marc Emery's case seems to be following the typical pattern of
international law regarding extradition.

So far, Emery's arrest appears to be a totally ordinary law enforcement
activity by the Canadian government in response to unexceptional law
enforcement activity in the U.S. Pot activists need to recall for a
moment, that marijuana is STILL a schedule I drug, and is seen in the
Justice Department and the White House as dangerous as cocaine or
heroin. They will go after large scale suppliers of cannabis seeds if they
can, just as they would go after large scale suppliers of meth ingredients
or cocaine, if they can.

No one in the U.S. argues that when Colombia arrests an accused cocaine
trafficker, pursuant to a legitimate extradition request, the Colombians
are cravenly buckling to gringo power.

Many marijuana law reformers find Marc Emery's political activities
laudable. But his politics does not create any immunity for him from
investigation or prosecution. Carlos Lehder, the famous cocaine cartel
leader of the 1980s was a deputy legislator in the Colombian parliament for
a while. No one thought his political activity should protect him. The
FARC in Colombia is engaged in a political struggle. No one argues that
their cocaine-related activities are immunized by that fact. No one thinks
that the opium and heroin-related activities of the Taliban in Afghanistan
are immunized by their political activity from being charged with drug
crimes, if the U.S. can present such evidence to a U.S. grand jury.

I don't think that friends of Marc Emery are helping by attacking the U.S.
government simply for indicting him since his shipping cannabis seeds to
the U.S. seems to be common knowledge. The approach needs to be
different. It needs to point out the harshness of the American system, its
fanatical reliance upon incomprehensibly long imprisonment. One needs to
sympathetic to the public's concern about drug abuse, but point out that
the American approach is cannibalizing those with drug problems, not
helping them. There is an anti-drug madness at large in America that, in
this case, could easily result in life imprisonment. It is important to
learn the details of the allegations in the U.S. indictment, and the
specific offenses charged, to show what a likely sentence would be produced
by following the sentencing guidelines.

What is important to remember is that one element of extradition is that
the executive (in Canada, technically, the Minister of Justice, but in
reality the Government, including the Prime Minister) makes a political
decision. Would the demanded extradition lead to a likely sentence that
would shock the conscience of the populace in the asylum nation? If so,
the executive can decline to extradite.

However, does refusing to honor the extradition request of the demanding
nation create a significant domestic political or economic problem, or
diplomatic problem with the demanding nation? If so -- even if the likely
sentence in the demanding nation is shocking -- the government will go
ahead and honor the extradition request.

Or does granting the extradition request create such a domestic political
problem for the government that it rejects the extradition request? Marc
Emery's supporters must create a sufficiently unacceptable domestic
political problem for the government if it were to extradite Emery in order
to overwhelm the pressure from all other sources. However, the Martin
government is very weak. How will its domestic political opponents exploit
this case to use against it? How will the government (Liberal) party
members react to this issue? A lot of political work needs to be done in

Canada and the U.S. have a number of contentious issues between
them. There are significant economic conflicts over cattle, timber and
fishing. Powerful economic interests in the two countries are in conflict.

Would the U.S. use Canadian resistance to the extradition demand for Marc
Emery, as part of its political attack on Canada for being indifferent to
the export of the "dangerous B.C. Bud," and soft on marijuana (and by
extension all drugs)? Almost certainly.

But would the U.S. use this case as a pretext to actually retaliate in
areas very important to Canada involving cattle, timber and fishing? That
is much less likely.

Would the Canadian government fear or buckle to such economic threats?
Perhaps. Would Canadian businesses involved in cattle, timber and fishing
tell the Canadian government that it should not sacrifice any precious
Canadian jobs to a political fight with the U.S. over a "dope dealer?" If
those industries are mobilized to do so, quite probably.

Ultimately Marc's fate lies in Canadian politics. His Canadian supporters
need to convince the Canadian government that his successful prosecution in
the U.S. would result in sentences that would shock the conscience of
civilized people, AND that the Canadian people and Canadian business
support a refusal to extradite Marc to the U.S., notwithstanding the
threats the U.S. may make.

Americans should pressure all U.S. businesses (and labor unions) that have
an interest in smooth trade relations with Canada to lobby U.S. Senators,
Members of Congress, and executive branch officials NOT to retaliate
against Canada if Canada declines to extradite the so-called "Prince of
Pot." Knowledge of any such lobbying activities in the U.S. will strengthen
the resolve of the Canadian government to call any U.S. bluff threatening

It is worth reminding the Canadians that economic threats over this issue
are both hollow and hypocritical. Throughout the time that Mexico was the
major smuggling route to the U.S. of heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, AND
marijuana, the U.S. government and the Republican Party fought like heck to
ram NAFTA -- the North American Free Trade Agreement -- through the

Given the rampant, systemic corruption of Mexico's law enforcement
establishment while NAFTA was being pushed through Congress, U.S. threats
to sanction Canada for not extraditing Marc Emery, or Renee Boje for that
matter, are, on the U.S. hypocrisy meter, way over the red line, right up
to the pin.

Business leaders on both sides of the border should be reminded that
disrupting important economic activity because of a frustrated marijuana
prosecution would be an act of stupidity unrivaled by that in any Cheech
and Chong movie.

Given the billions of dollars in trade between the U.S. and Canada, this
threat, while big, is ultimately empty.

Canadian supporters of Marc Emery have a big political struggle ahead to
block this extradition. They need to appeal to Canadian pride and Canadian
honor. They need to nullify any perception of an economic risk to Canada.

They need to hold up America's pot laws and sentences as preposterous and
extreme. But I don't think the Canadian people are going to be shocked that
a U.S. grand jury indicted the "Prince of Pot" for his role in shipping
Cannabis seeds to the U.S. or that Canada complied with a lawful
extradition request at the initial stage.

But now, past the initial stage, the Canadian government needs to engage in
the fact-finding, and the moral calculus, to decide whether to send one of
its sons into the American gulag.

The political message necessary to free Marc Emery needs to be very
carefully crafted. If it is reckless, shrill, illogical, or factually
flawed, it will fail, and Marc Emery will end up rotting away in an
American prison. Emery's supporters need to be very careful, even as they
work very hard.

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