Torture, Murder, and Terror: Three Drug War Programs Your Taxes Pay For

Happy tax day!


When's the last time you heard someone argue that we need to raise taxes to fund torture? Or to pay for violent paramilitary raids on peaceful U.S. citizens? Or to incentivize extrajudicial killings carried out by our own government, yes, but also by a neighboring country? Probably never. As every good citizen knows, taxes are for taking care of the poor and the indigent, paying (good) teachers and (good) cops, investing in the future, and making sure the elderly have enough Viagra and cat food to fuel 25 years of post-workforce bingo, golf, and unprotected sex.

But it's also the case that your taxes pay for unquestionably vile things. Incontrovertibly evil things. Plainly awful things. If you're finishing up your taxes today, you should know that the U.S. will spend $14.7 billion of next year's $25.4 billion drug control budget on government-sponsored violence; which means that your tax dollars—even if it's just a fraction of a cent—will make possible acts of state-sponsored terror, torture, and murder. 

Here are three ways the government is spending your taxes.

U.S. Embassy in Laos

3.) U.S. Taxpayers Are Funding Abusive Rehab Centers in Totalitarian Countries 

More than a quarter of a million people reside in abusive drug treatment centers in China. "Patients" in these facilities spend years doing hard labor without receiving any sort of actual drug counseling or payment for their labor. According to human rights workers interviewed by The Atlantic last year, these drug treatment centers are "compulsory programs staffed with more police officers than doctors." How a drug offender ends up inside one is equally horrific. The Atlantic

"In China, police can pick up anyone based on profiling, and force them to take a urine test." If the sample comes back positive, he said, "People are then taken straight to a detention center, where they are usually kept for two years or more." Previous detainees' ID cards — used in China for many common activities, like checking into a hotel — are marked, and police, seeking to meet strict quotas, are allowed to track former addicts' IDs and demand urine samples at any point.

Things are even worse in the Somsanga Rehabilitation Center in Laos, where, Alternet reports

[Y]ounger residents are raped by older detainees whom the center gives power to enforce rules and regulations. One Somsanga detainee interviewed by Human Rights Watch said he saw "supervisors rape boys between the ages of 10 and 14." Children are not exempt from indefinite detainment in these camps. UNICEF-sponsored investigations in Laos found 150 detainees under 18 in 2003, and more than 600 children in 2006.

What do child rape in Laos and forced labor in China have in common? American taxpayers are funding both. Researchers from the U.S. National Institute for Drug Abuse have partnered with Chinese treatment centers in order to conduct research, going so far as to "advise on the experimental design of the preclinical studies…the data analyses and…the preparation of the manuscript." Yet the reports created by NIDA researchers (and paid for by you!) don't acknowledge the abuses that take place inside Chinese treatment centers or that "patients" are actually prisoners. 

As for the Somsanga Rehabilitation Center in Laos: The U.S. has provided direct funding to the center for more than a decade, and in June 2012 sent $400,000 to Laos for "the upgrade of the treatment of drug addicts at the Somsanga Treatment Center and at other centers." 

You can read more about the U.N.'s campaign to close these centers, and U.S. support for them despite horrifying evidence, at Human Rights Watch

guillermogg / photo on flickr

2.) U.S. Taxpayers Are Funding State-Led Murder, Torture, and Kidnappings in Mexico

At the behest of the U.S. Government, Mexican President Felipe Calderon imported the war on drugs to his country in 2006. The Merida Initiative's initial cost to Americans has been roughly $1.6 billion since 2008. And what has that money bought us? In addition to inciting the kind of brutal violence Joseph Kony would envy, the American-funded drug war in Mexico has led Mexican security forces to engage in acts every bit as terrifying as those committed by the drug cartels they're combatting. 

"Police, particularly at the state and local level, were involved in kidnapping, extortion, and in providing protection for, or acting directly on behalf of, organized crime and drug traffickers," the U.S. State Department reported in 2012. Furthermore, "there were multiple reports of forced disappearances by the army, navy, and police."

In 2011, the most recent year for which data is available, Mexico's National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) "received 1,626 complaints of cruel or degrading treatment and 42 torture complaints, compared with 1,170 complaints of cruel or degrading treatment and 10 torture complaints in 2010." Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, "reported more than 170 cases of torture committed by security forces in the states of Baja California, Chihuahua, Guerrero, Nuevo Leon, and Tabasco since the beginning of the government's fight against [drug cartels] in 2006. The report noted that the most common forms of torture included 'beatings, asphyxiation with plastic bags, waterboarding, electric shocks, sexual torture, and death threats.'"

And Americans paid for it! 

OregonDOT / photo on flickr

1.) Terror Raids Against Harmless Marijuana Retailers 

You don't need to know anything about HSBC Bank's role laundering drug money for Mexican cartels to know that rich criminals are treated differently than poor ones. As Rolling Stone's resident muckraker Matt Taibbi reported in December, "Despite the fact that HSBC admitted to laundering billions of dollars for Colombian and Mexican drug cartels (among others) and violating a host of important banking laws (from the Bank Secrecy Act to the Trading With the Enemy Act), [the U.S.] Justice Department elected not to pursue criminal prosecutions of the bank, opting instead for a 'record' financial settlement of $1.9 billion, which as one analyst noted is about five weeks of income for the bank." 

But the dissonance doesn't end with the penalties. It's also present in the way the Justice Department approaches people it deems to be criminals. No one at HSBC was woken up in the middle of the night by a DEA SWAT team busting down their door and breaking their windows with flash-bang grenades. The children of HSBC employees were not yanked out of their beds and handcuffed at gunpoint. 

Yet these things happen every day to harmless marijuana retailers in states where medical marijuana is legal, as well as to retailers of marijuana paraphernalia. Look at what federal and state law enforcement officials did to the owner of an Idaho head shop last year: 

At 5:30 a.m. on May 10, armed men broke into the bedroom of Kirk Kyle Farrar's 12 year-old daughter and shook her awake. The men led her downstairs at gunpoint and forced her to lie on the floor next to her mother and father, with her hands behind her head. Another armed man took Farrar's two-year-old son from his crib, and would not let his parents hold him. "My son screamed for his mother for what seemed like an eternity," Farrar wrote in an email to friends, obtained by Reason. "I will never forget the hopeless feeling of not being able to comfort my son or daughter."

The armed men who broke into Farrar's home were officers with the Meridian, Idaho, Police Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration. They were executing a federal warrant for Farrar's arrest for the crime of selling bongs.

If that degree of force were necessary simply because Farrar was involved in the drug trade, why wasn't it applied to the white collar criminals at HSBC? 

After hearing what felt like the millionth raid story, this one from a California medical marijuana provider who said he and his employees had been raided by the DEA "at gun point with threats to shoot our dogs and forceful entry of our home at 5:30 a.m.," I searched news archives for evidence of a medical marijuana raid in which employees fired on police officers, attempted to flee, or attempted to destroy evidence—the three criteria most often cited by advocates of SWAT raids.

After searching news archives in medical marijuana states for several hours, I hadn't come up with anything, so I emailed Kris Hermes at Americans for Safe Access, a pro-medical marijua group, and asked him if he'd ever heard of a medical marijuana operator endangering law enforcement during a raid. "No," Hermes wrote back, "I don't know of any instances where cultivators or dispensary operators have fought/shot back, attempted to destroy evidence, or fled due to a law enforcement raid or investigation."

Maybe I missed a story; maybe some marijuana provider, somewhere, once upon a time, put a police officer's life in danger. But it seems more likely that SWAT raids on pot shops are actually taxpayer-funded terrorism, meant to bully, cow, and terrify. 

As tax protestor Henry David Thoreau once observed, "Law never made men a whit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice." Happy tax day!