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What America Taught a Murderous Drug Warrior

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte follows prohibitionist logic to its deadly conclusion.

The masked gunmen came for Paquito Mejos, a 53-year-old electrician and father of five, two days after he had surrendered to police in Manila, identifying himself as an occasional user of methamphetamine, known locally as shabu. Police, who arrived shortly after Mejos had been shot dead, later claimed he was a drug dealer who drew a gun on them. Relatives say the cops planted the gun, along with a packet of shabu.

This is what Rodrigo Duterte's murderous war on drugs looks like, which is why his critics were dismayed that Donald Trump seemed to bless it during a "very friendly" telephone conversation with the Philippine president on Saturday. But Trump's chumminess with Duterte, while it fits a pattern of admiration for authoritarian leaders around the world, is a logical extension of prohibition policies the U.S. government has been pushing for more than a century.

According to the Philippine National Police (PNP), more than 7,000 people have been killed by officers, vigilantes, or other unidentified gunmen since Duterte took office last summer. As of last week, 2,717 of the dead were described as "suspected drug personalities killed in police operations," a category that supposedly includes Paquito Mejos.

Human Rights Watch (HRW), which investigated that case along with 31 other deaths, found "a damning pattern of unlawful police conduct in these killings, designed to paint a veneer of legality over summary executions." Peter Bouckaert, author of the HRW report, said "police routinely kill drug suspects in cold blood and then cover up their crime by planting drugs and guns at the scene."

As of January 9, according to the PNP's numbers, another 3,603 people had died in "extrajudicial, vigilante-style, or unexplained killings." HRW says many of these homicides "are in fact death-squad-style extrajudicial executions by police and police agents."

The carnage, which has drawn international condemnation, is only a down payment on Duterte's campaign promise to "kill them all." Since his election he has publicly urged people to murder drug addicts, likened his own bloodthirstiness to Adolf Hitler's, and told police they needn't worry about being investigated for excessive use of force.

"My order is shoot to kill you," Duterte told drug dealers last August. "I don't care about human rights, you better believe me."

Trump's reaction to all this, according to the official summary of his call to Duterte, was to praise his Philippine counterpart for "fighting very hard to rid [his] country of drugs, a scourge that affects many countries throughout the world." The president also invited Duterte, who according to HRW could be "held liable for crimes against humanity," to visit him at the White House.

Trump surely can be faulted for either not knowing or not caring what "fighting very hard" means in the Philippines. But Duterte's main sin is taking the rhetoric of American prohibitionists a little too seriously.

Back in 1989, when he was running the Office of National Drug Control Policy, William J. Bennett, who has a Ph.D. in philosophy, cited his expertise in ethics while explaining to Larry King on CNN that "there's no moral problem" with beheading drug dealers, since the penalty is "proportional to the nature of the offense." The following year, Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates took Bennett's reasoning a step further, telling a Senate committee that casual drug users "ought to be taken out and shot" as traitors in the war on drugs.

Duterte is implementing the program outlined by Bennett and Gates, extirpating anyone who dares to flout the government's pharmacological taboos. His portrayal of meth addicts as subhuman and unworthy of life also has parallels in American propaganda.

Like U.S. drug warriors, Duterte casts peaceful transactions—the exchange of money for psychoactive substances—as acts of aggression that pose an existential threat to the nation. Drug prohibition by its nature requires unjustified violence, and the prevailing metaphor for enforcing it only magnifies the potential for bloodshed. After all, this is war.

© Copright 2017 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    Not much practical or theoretical difference between all the murderous thugs we backed in the banana wars, during the Cold War, after the Cold War .... Obama bowed to the Saudi king, Reagan met Gorbachev, Nixon legitimized Mao. Duterte is small chump change.

    It's all down to coercive government. A government powerful enough to do what we want is equally capable of doing what others want, and there's more of them.

  • Memory Hole||

    There's a difference between dealing with these bastards because of geopolitical considerations and admiring them. Trump bows, kisses the rings, sings the praises, gives every impression he approves and lives nothing in doubt. Huge fucking difference.

  • ||

    the huge fucking difference is that Obama actually bowed and kissed the ring. what kind of man bows?

  • sasob||

    Um, Mr. Miagi san?

  • crufus||

    "Peter Bouckaert, author of the HRW report, said "police routinely kill drug suspects in cold blood and then cover up their crime by planting drugs and guns at the scene."

    I'm glad that never happens in the US.

  • b4integrity||

    crufus, that was sarcasm, right?

  • Memory Hole||

    I wonder if Trump has ever in his life gotten his ass kicked. I'm talking beat down don't get back up motherfucker no one is stopping this kind of an ass kicking because that's what these hard talking punks in designer suits need. They need their teeth kicked in and introduced to the world they admire with their words. You think you're hard man Duterte or Trump I'll put you motherfuckers in the dirt if you talked that shit to my face. God I hope somebody puts a bullet in Duterte's teeth.

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    Is that before or after you get done banging your super hot wife for the eighth time that day?

  • Diane Merriam||

    Just like he asks people to put bullets in other people's teeth?

    Same mindset. If someone's evil enough, just take 'em out and shoot them. Forget about this law stuff and courts and prisons and reparations and all the rest. Just shoot 'em.

  • Memory Hole||

    Duterte murders people and Trump admires it. It's a fucking affront to our humanity. I just can't not say it. You're scum both of you. I hate you.

  • gaoxiaen||

    Duterte's addiction is legal because the drugs come from doctors. No shooting necessary. Former Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates' son had a disease that required treatment. Likewise, no shooting necessary.

  • DJF||

    So did Mr Sullivan complain when Trump invited the murderous dictator of China to the US?

  • Ortzinator||

    Freudian slip? lmao

  • gclancy51||

    Whataboutery. How nice to see you!

  • Ken Shultz||

    In regards to how Duerte is running the country and how all these killing are happening, there's an excellent piece from NYRB that covered this:

    "Murderous Manila: On the Night Shift"

    http://tinyurl.com/m8aqm9u

    Part of it is the way Duerte openly brags and murdering people, instructs the police to murder people on TV, etc.

    It makes me think of two things: Murder in wartime and pogroms in eastern Europe.

    1) I've seen statistics suggesting that civilian murder rates go up in wartime--cross culturally and throughout history. When you tell people that it's alright to kill people on the battlefield, a certain portion of them who depend on public opprobrium for moral cues go off the deep end. In other words, when your political leaders are openly bragging about all the people they're killing, it gives people with a certain mindset the license to kill. You can see more or less the same thing happening with Duerte. Duerte getting on TV and talking about how great it is that he's killing all these meth heads would be enough to send certain people over the edge. The death squads in Colombia and elsewhere started out more or less the same way. You don't have to direct them or know them. They just need a little encouragement and some confidence that they won't be prosecuted.

  • Ken Shultz||

    2) Read the linked article, and you'd get the sense that what's going on in the Philippines against meth heads is something like a pogrom. Whether the pogroms of the Russian empire were officially organized by the government is missing the point. The riots against Jews were condoned by the lack of condemnation. Once the rioters became convinced that their actions were legitimate according to the government, it didn't matter whether the government officially organized them. Duerte doesn't need to organize these killings. He just needs to signal to the police and the vigilantes they won't be prosecuted for killing meth heads. He may commit his worst crimes in his speeches on national TV.

  • Ken Shultz||

    In regards to Trump inviting Duerte to the White House, again, the question in foreign policy isn't how much we like our allies. It's whether forming an alliance is in our best interests. I'm willing to listen to arguments that forming an alliance with Duerte isn't in America's interests, but please articulate the argument in those terms.

    It's very much like the argument against trading with China back before China joined the WTO, back when Congress used to debate China's "Most Favored Nation" status all the time. My libertarian position back then was that trade with China was in America's security interests--even if China massacred protestors in Tienanmen Square and mistreated its political prisoners.

    It's the same thing with Duerte, and we should add that Trump hasn't only invited Duerte to the White House. He's also invited the ruling junta in Thailand and the ruler of Singapore, too. This is about putting pressure on China over North Korea--China has always been the key to that. If it's in America's security interests for FDR to ally itself with Stalin, then that's what FDR should do.

  • TW||

    I think you're right. This is ultimately about stopping North Korea's nuclear program which we have a better shot of doing if we can get China to pressure North Korea economically and diplomatically and the key to pressuring China is getting the support of her neighbors including the Philippines. The alternative to that is North Korea developing and ultimately exporting functional nuclear weapons or military action which will probably result in the loss of tens of thousands of innocent lives. Those considerations vastly outweigh a few thousand dead drug addicts and dealers.

  • Ken Shultz||

    I should also add the following: It's harder to convince our fellow Americans that we shouldn't intervene in other countries if people are always blaming everything that happens in other countries on U.S. policy.

    I'll buy that tens of thousands of Mexicans have died in Mexico because of U.S. policy on the drug war, but making us responsible for what happens in the Philippines is counterproductive from a public perceptions non-interventionist standpoint--and it isn't true. If Duerte took his cues from anybody on this, it was China--where they used to routinely execute drug addicts and where they still routinely execute drug smugglers.

  • dpbisme||

    I wonder what planet this author is from?

    His comment "... which is why his critics were dismayed that Donald Trump seemed to bless it during a "very friendly" telephone conversation with the Philippine president on Saturday."

    American Presidents frequently have "Good", "Fruitful", "Constructive" with other world leaders without having conversations the other countries internal politics, it is called diplomacy.

    Our buddy Jacob here is just another Anti-Trumper pretending to be a journalist.

    Trump may be a loon and Deterge may bad guy but had Trump said "Duterte and I had had a poor conversation because…" the "Critics" would have been screaming that Trump insulted a very important ally in South Asia…

    I mean really, how many Democrats have told us that Castro was a great guy and we can work with him and the LEFTIST press gave them a pass,,,, sort-a like they give the Democrats who have rioted since Trump got elected.

  • Peter Schaeffer||

    I have followed this issue quite a bit. Interesting note. Essentially all U.S. commentators are anti-Duterte. Essentially all Philippino commentators are pro-Duterte. In other words, the folks closest to the actual problems strongly support Duterte.

    Several folks have mentioned China in this context. China didn't successfully control drug addiction until the communists took over. China's (de facto) libertarian drug policy enabled Mao.

    If the choice is Mao or Duterte, Duterte is the clear winner.

  • MSimon||

    China didn't fix their drug problem. They hid it.

    And why didn't China fix the problem? Because drugs are not the problem. They are a symptom.

    Dr. Lonny Shavelson found that 70% of female heroin addicts had been sexually assaulted in childhood.

    If you look it up "addiction" is a symptom of PTSD.

    If the government keeps looking in the wrong direction it will keep getting wrong answers.

  • Peter Schaeffer||

    MS, Facts are not on your side

    From "A People's War: China's Struggle to Contain its Illicit Drug Problem"

    "China fought and lost two wars over opium in the 19th century. Following its defeat, China succumbed to large scale opium consumption by its populace. Historians claimed that by 1906, China was producing 85 percent of the world's opium, some 35,000 tons, and more than a quarter of its adult male population regularly used opium. After the communists took over China in 1949, eradication wiped out the largest ever cultivation of poppy in the world, opium dens were shut down, opium manufacturing facilities closed, drug traffickers summarily executed or imprisoned, and drug addicts sent to labor camps. The massive prohibition campaign, widely supported by the public, was so effective that in less than three years the communist government declared China a drug-free country. Following China's open-door policy and economic reform in the 1980s, illicit drugs quickly returned, starting in Yunnan Province bordering Myanmar and the rest of the infamous Golden Triangle. It should be noted that opium cultivation has not returned."

    Pre-communist China had a libertarian drug policy. The communists fixed that. Libertarian ideas have catastrophic consequences. The failure of pre-communist China to stop drugs was a material cause of the communist revolution. Mao vs. Duterte? Duterte in a heartbeat.

  • b4integrity||

    Peter Schaeffer you quoted: "the communist government declared China a drug-free country".

    How ignorant you are to believe such horse sh*t.

    The two most deadly & dangerous of ALL drugs, tobacco & alcohol, are exempt from the drug laws of every nation in the world, including China (and Taiwan too).

    China is definitely NOT a "drug-free country".

  • Amogin||

    Duterte may be implimenting a program originally espoused by the US in its ridiculous and losing war on drugs but it took the Minority President to treat him as a world leader rather than the muderous thug he is. Not onlyu did the Donald invite him to the US for a state visit- he enabled Mr. Duterte to spit in the US' eye by declaring that he was too busy to visit the US because he had a state visit to China on his scedule. Isn't that just great.

  • jmlandry||

    Ahh... Bill Bennett, old school died in the woll neo-con asshole. It was David Icke in his classic "The Biggest Secret" where he calls Bennett out as a child molester. Delicious.

  • b4integrity||

    dyed in the wool

  • ||

    Is it too painful for you to see rulers showing their true colors? Why is that? Is it because you did not want to see them as they are? I appreciate Trump's openness. It would have been better for the public to see FDR openly support Stalin/Allies prior to America's entry in WWII. Maybe the public might have remembered that Stalin was with the Axis forces just prior to being stabbed in the back by Hitler. Maybe they would have come to the conclusion that "the enemy of my enemy may not be my friend". Wouldn't that put the masses a step closer to seeing that all their so-called protectors have more in common with other authoritarians than them?
    It is hard to keep track of which American "strongman" is a bigger traitor to his oath and the people. Bush wanted the Patriot (Traitor) Act and Obummer drafted and pushed through the NDAA.
    But they don't act alone. The Congress must conspire with them. And the Judiciary must also.
    Lastly, the American public must self enslave. They must close their eyes to their loss of rights/freedom.

  • b4integrity||

    'Back in 1989, when he was running the Office of National Drug Control Policy, William J. Bennett, who has a Ph.D. in philosophy, cited his expertise in ethics while explaining to Larry King on CNN that "there's no moral problem" with beheading drug dealers, since the penalty is "proportional to the nature of the offense."'

    William J. Bennett, in 1989, was, and most likely still is, a tobaccoic, a tobacco drug addict aka "smoker". While Bennett was drug czar, he changed his dosage form of the poisonous insecticide nicotine, from smoking to chewing gum (the same as what Obama did while he was President).

    Tobacco drug addicts who advocate & enforce a so-called "war on drugs" (which is a war on drugs less deadly & dangerous than tobacco & alcohol) are evil, wicked hypocrites.

  • b4integrity||

    Tobacco & alcohol are the two most deadly & dangerous of ALL drugs.

    All other drugs, including: heroin; methamphetamine; cocaine; PCP; et. al.; are less deadly & dangerous than tobacco or alcohol.

    Tobacco & alcohol, the two most deadly & dangerous of ALL drugs, are exempt from the drug laws of every nation in the world; in the US tobacco & alcohol are unconstitutionally exempt from the CSA [21 U.S.C. § 802(6)] in violation of the Equal Protection Clause, as well as in violation of common sense, rationality, honesty, integrity, liberty, justice, and morality.

    Because the two most deadly & dangerous of ALL drugs, tobacco & alcohol, are unconstitutionally exempt from the CSA, these hard drugs are uncontrolled substances.

    People like Duterte and Trump are the worst kind of evil wicked hypocrites; they deserve to go to the bottom level of hell.

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