CIA adventures in the drug trade and a little clemency long in coming

CIA adventures in the drug trade and a little clemency long in coming

by digby

Here's a little bit of good news on the civil liberties front via Meteor Blades at Daily Kos:
Deputy Attorney General James Cole announced at a press conference Wednesday the parameters of the Department of Justice's new clemency initiative for federal prisoners. Only those who have served at least 10 years of their sentences, have not engaged in violence while incarcerated, are not drug kingpins or associated with gangs or cartels will be eligible for clemency.

Given how difficult avoiding violence can be, the criteria for clemency sharply limit how many prisoners could be released. But they could still number in the thousands, many of whom are serving exceedingly long, even life, sentences. All told, there were, as of April 17, 216,265 prisoners held in the federal system.
It's a start. And it's the least we can do to heal some of the carnage that was caused by the draconian drug laws that sprang up around the crack epidemic of the 1980s. There are still people moldering in federal prison for possession of small amounts of crack cocaine while those caught with mounds of the powder served token sentences. Needless to say, as is so often the case, African Americans suffered the most since crack was the cheaper form of the drug and opportunistically marketed specifically to them.

One of the main takeaways about the Reagan years was the extent to which his people thought themselves so very, very clever, Iran-Contra being the greatest example of their pathological hubris. They illegally sold weapons to a sworn enemy in the middle east in order to finance one side of a civil war in Central America against the express instructions of the US congress. You have to give them credit for chutzpah.

And one of the scandalous offshoots of that policy was the CIA's involvement with the Contras and the crack cocaine trade. The government went to great lengths to discredit the reporting on that story but our current secretary of state, then-Senator John Kerry chaired a committee which issued a report that confirmed a good part of it:
The report cited legal cover provided by the CIA to anti-Sandinista rebels in the drug trade as well as accounting for $806,000 paid by the State Department to "four companies owned and operated by narcotics traffickers." The Subcommittee found that the Contra drug links included:

"Involvement in narcotics trafficking by individuals associated with the Contra movement."

"Participation of narcotics traffickers in Contra supply operations through business relationships with Contra organizations."

"Provision of assistance to the Contras by narcotics traffickers, including cash, weapons, planes, pilots, air supply services and other materials, on a voluntary basis by the traffickers."

"Payments to drug traffickers by the U.S. State Department of funds authorized by the Congress for humanitarian assistance to the Contras, in some cases after the traffickers had been indicted by federal law enforcement agencies on drug charges, in others while traffickers were under active investigation by these same agencies."
The press paid almost no attention to those findings.

And in similar fashion to what we're seeing today with the CIA torture report, the CIA went to incredible lengths to insure that the story was well and truly buried years later when it was resurrected by the press. (You can read all about it at Robert Parry's Consortium news.) The charge was that the CIA had actually been instrumental in bringing crack cocaine to the street of America. It's a charge that still hangs over the agency regardless of its mostly successful campaign to throw water on the reporting.

And when you think about it, the idea that it was crazy to even consider that the Reagan government would do such a thing is ridiculous. If a government would secretly sell weapons to Iran in order to finance their nice little war, why would anyone think it's unreasonable to believe they would help their Contra allies sell drugs to black people and then put those same black people in prison for decades for buying them. It's just the kind of crackerjack mind-fuck the Republicans of that era were known for.

Now, thirty years later, the government has agreed to grant some of the victims of that lunacy clemency. As I said, it's literally the least we can do. But it's something. And it's long overdue.