Drug War

William Barr's Never-Ending War

Trump's nominee for attorney general is apt to encourage his worst instincts on drug policy.

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William Barr, Donald Trump's nominee for attorney general, believes the president has vast, unilateral authority to protect national security, which he says is threatened by the distribution of psychoactive substances the government has decreed Americans should not want.

Those positions are a dangerous combination that is apt to encourage the worst instincts of a president who portrays himself as tough on crime, promises to stop the flow of illegal drugs, and revels in pointless military displays. With Barr as attorney general and Trump as president, we may see an increasingly literal war on drugs in which aggression masquerades as self-defense.

The template for that war is the 1989 invasion of Panama, in which U.S. troops deposed the dictator Manuel Noriega, who had been indicted by federal grand juries on money laundering and drug trafficking charges, and installed a new government. Barr, who at the time was in charge of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, describes himself as "a big supporter" of the operation, saying his advice to President George H.W. Bush was to "just go out there and do what you have to do."

The legal rationale for the invasion was widely criticized. As Columbia law professor Louis Henkin observed in 1991, "some of the alleged motives and purposes are suspect," while "the arguments justifying the invasion under international law are not persuasive and, in some respects, border on the frivolous."

In Barr's view, however, sending American soldiers to "arrest" Noriega—notwithstanding the Posse Comitatus Act, which prohibits using the military for law enforcement without congressional approval—was "a justifiable defensive act by the United States." Barr, who served as attorney general for about a year at the end of the first Bush administration, likens drug trafficking to terrorism, saying it is "really a national security issue."

That comparison is alarming, because Barr has criticized relying on a law enforcement model, with its cumbersome protections for privacy and due process, to fight terrorism, which he sees as an act of war. Furthermore, he argues that "the Constitution vests the broadest possible defense powers in the president," such that "no foreign threat can arise that the Constitution does not empower the President to meet and defeat."

The implication is that the president has a free hand to treat drug traffickers as combatants, possibly meaning they can be assassinated at will rather than arrested and tried. "Using the military in drugs was always under discussion," Barr said in a 2001 interview about his experiences in the Bush administration. "The best thing to do is not to extradite Pablo Escobar and bring him to the United States and try him. That's not the most effective way of destroying that organization."

Leaving aside the possibility of military operations in which the U.S. government imposes its policies on other countries, Barr is an old-fashioned drug warrior who defends "tough, mandatory minimum sentences" and opposes criminal justice reform, a cause that has attracted broad bipartisan support. Although even Trump has endorsed legislation that would reduce sentences for some nonviolent drug offenders, Barr is satisfied that current federal law "strikes the right balance."

Nor does Barr seem to have any serious misgivings about civil asset forfeiture, a system of legalized theft in which the government seizes property that is allegedly connected to criminal activity, typically involving drugs, without having to prove the owner broke the law. During his confirmation hearings in 1991, Barr described civil forfeiture as "such an important program," while allowing that it might be appropriate to keep an eye on how law enforcement agencies spend the loot "to maintain the integrity of the program."

Back then Barr described the war on drugs as "a long-term struggle" like the Cold War. But the government has been trying to forcibly impose its pharmacological prejudices on us for more than twice as long as the Cold War lasted, and thanks to true believers like Barr there is still no end in sight.

© Copyright 2018 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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27 responses to “William Barr's Never-Ending War

  1. OMG! Same thing about Jeff Sessions and Trump kept a leash on Sessions.

    The fact is that Democrats and Republicans wont repeal the unconstitutional Controlled substances Act anytime soon.

    States legalizing weed…again just postpones the outrage over drug laws and allows the government to avoid firing tens of thousands of drug warriors on a Friday.

    1. BYW, the president does have vast powers to protect national security.

      Its up to congress to pass laws to set presidential parameters for his power.

      Its up to Americans to check congressional and presidential power. The voters have spoken and Trump is our man to secure the border, negotiate trade policy, and be commander in cheif of the armed forces.

      1. Its up to congress to pass laws to set presidential parameters for his power.

        Strange position for someone named “loveconstitution1789”, but that’s not strange for anyone who sucks up to Trump as much as you do. “strongman2016” is probably a more realistic handle.

        The voters have spoken and Trump is our man to secure the border, negotiate trade policy, and be commander in cheif of the armed forces.

        I bet you were singing a different song 2009-2016.

      2. Poor troll. Does not even care what Article I and Article II of the Constitution says.

    2. This doesn’t seem like draining the swamp.

      1. Sessions was plucked from his Senate seat. Pretty much straight jacketed by Trump as AG and then “fired”.

        Sessions likely wont be in politics anymore.

        Sounds like draining the swamp to me.

        Trump is only one man and has every propagandist and Lefty attacking every move he makes as something Hitler does.

        1. Sure Sessions is gone. That’s great. Unfortunately he’s being replaced with another swamp rat.

          Don’t get me wrong. Many of Trump’s other appointments have been pretty good. I’d just like to get an AG that’s not an authoritarian drug warrior. Of course anybody who would want that job probably doesn’t fit the bill of what libertarians would be looking for.

      2. Could Trump get better people? Sure.

        Are better people applying for Trump administration positions to be harassed while eating at a restaurant? The propagandists dont really cover that kind of news.

        1. “Are better people applying for Trump administration positions to be harassed while eating at a restaurant?”

          Almost certainly, yes, there are better candidates out there who’d love to do this job; candidates who didn’t favor the Drug War and civil asset forfeiture.

          But Trump doesn’t want those candidates.

  2. Wasnt the media circle jerking itself over GHWB. He sent the US military to kidnap noriega a foreign leader and try him under US law nevermind noriega was never under US jurisdiction until kidnapped by the USA.

  3. Barr is a standard-issue stale authoritarian for a Republican administration. Repulsive to libertarians, welcomed by Trump-fluffer right-wingers masquerading as libertarians.

    1. I’m not enthusiastic about him, but, yeah, standard issue for a Republican AG. Not even one inch out of the mainstream.

      The way to stop him from using the position to prosecute the drug war, is to repeal the drug laws. Relying on selective prosecution to secure peoples’ rights is a stupid thing to do.

      1. “The way to stop him from using the position to prosecute the drug war, is to repeal the drug laws. Relying on selective prosecution to secure peoples’ rights is a stupid thing to do.”

        ^This Brett.

      2. “Relying on selective prosecution to secure peoples’ rights is a stupid thing to do.”

        This. A million times this.

        I expect executive branch members to faithfully execute the law. Not pick and choose what to enforce based upon some sense of the Zeitgeist, Sullum’s blatherings, or whatever else.

        Bad laws need to be repealed, not ignored. Selective enforcement is selective justice.

        We are a nation of laws, not a nation of men.

  4. So they are replacing Sessions with another Sessions?

    I guess anytime you lift a rock in DC, you find idiotic, stuck-several-decades-behind authoritarian drug warriors crawling like the gross little creatures they are.

    1. The D.C. area is full of bureaucrats who are bad and worse.

      The propagandists and their Lefty brown shirts are trying to prevent better people from working for Trump but hounding them at restaurants.

  5. Oh the horrors!
    The Republican President is replacing a Republican with another Republican!
    Shame on him!!

    1. Reason refuses to admit that Trump has done more Libertarian-ish things than any president since Eisenhower but more like Calvin Coolidge.

    2. Stick around for the horrid tales of republican gerrymandering.

  6. William Barr was AG in GHW “Strange New Respect” Bush’s cabinet wasn’t he? Why would anybody have any problem with him and his 1980’s sensibilities coming back around? Those were the good old days, weren’t they? We can bring back Bill “Holyroller” Bennett and Newt “Newt” Gingrinch, too. Can Robert “My Beard’s 18th Century But My Views Are Strictly 15th” Bork still be nominated for the Supreme Court?

  7. Maybe if Gundy wins, most of these alphabet soup agencies (like DEA) will start circling the drain.

  8. I’m smoking marijuana, try to arrest me communist ass hole.

  9. Do we know anything about his views from the last 15 years, though? I mean, most Democrats were huge drug war fans 15 years ago and Eric Holder (and most Dems) were huge proponents of civil asset forfeiture up until like 6 years ago. I’ll wait to judge until I hear his testimony at his hearings. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt for now. No sense hand-wringing over an unknown.

  10. “Those positions are a dangerous combination that is apt to encourage the worst instincts of a president ”

    FakeNews
    More mind reading of Trump’s “instincts” and “feelings”.

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