Medical doctor Wendell Rosevear, who works on the front-lines of the War on Drugs, explains the hypocrisy of state-sanctioned strip searches:
When individuals continue to use drugs in prisons, the system feels loss of power and face and with ‘mud on their face’ [and] wants to justify ‘coming down harder’ with strategies such as locking individuals in indefinite solitary confinement after overdoses or drug use and justifying forced internal body cavity searches, strip searches and observed urine tests which make individuals feel degraded and ‘raped’. To deny someone a choice in relation to protecting their body is rape even if you use the power of the state to justify it. The ‘Tough on Drugs’ strategy justifies rape, the very crime our society imprisons individuals for committing. To use the same strategies that cause the problem is to discredit oneself. Strip and Internal Body Cavity searches can happen to ordinary citizens coming through an airport as well as people in prison.
I never thought about invasive searches this way before, but on reflection, it makes a lot of sense. Especially since the courts have always held that rape, in criminal law, does not require penetration of the penis but can also include insertion of any other object into the vagina or anus. In its futile quest to protect people from their own harmful vices, the government is encouraging its agents to do despicable things.
Invasive searches are one way of being raped. Another is to arrest drug users and send them to prison - where prisoners and guards have been known to sexually abuse. Needless to say, this is ineffective in helping addicts. Would we treat alcoholics the same? Would you treat family members the same if they had a drug problem? What a shame that when the government does something, otherwise decent people think it’s acceptable.
I'm one of those fanatical libertarians that Mirko Bagaric denounces. I have the naive audacity to resist any government sanction of "compassionate torture" during a time of fearmongering over the terrorist threat, because I know we have a greater chance of being struck by lightning than being killed by a terrorist. I also know that there has never been a death on Australian soil due to Islamic fundamentalism.
The problem with any arguments for regulated torture is the question of who gets to decide when it's appropriate. Who decides when the stakes are high enough for torture? Who decides when to discard the notion of innocence until proven guilty? In all cases, the government decides.
The government, being made up of fallible men and women, would then be given the power to declare a threat and then abuse its citizens on the basis of that declaration. This situation is completely unacceptable in a free society and would overturn everything that distinguishes Western societies from the terrorists.
(Published in The Australian, Letters to the Editor, 8 January 2008)
Ten years ago [in 1998], the United Nations (UN) promised to deliver a “drug-free” world by the year 2008. Pino Arlacchi, the Drug Czar at the UN, exclaimed that although “[t]here are naysayers who believe a global fight against illegal drugs is unwinnable … they are wrong”. For what seemed like the umpteenth time, the UN assured us that if we simply sent them more money, their team of “experts” would take care of the problem.
A decade later, how has UN fared? Any dispassionate observer would surely agree that they have failed dismally. After all, drugs are more widely available than before.
Take a long-term view and the result is the same. On almost every indicator, outcomes have gotten worse since the so-called war on drugs began.
Most tragically, drug overdose deaths have increased. In 1964, there were six drug overdose deaths in Australia. Yet by 1999, this number had grown to 958 deaths (Modernising Australia’s Drug Policy by Alex Wodak and Timothy Moore).
The number of injecting users has also increased. A study in 1999 concluded that the number of injecting drug users in Australia had been doubling every ten years since the 1960s, reaching 100,000 regular injectors and an additional 175,000 occasional injectors by 1997.
Although the drug warriors are vague as to what constitutes “victory”, it seems to me that if their goal is to save lives, this is not being achieved by the present strategy.
Unfortunately, lack of success has not stopped the expansion of drug interdiction programs. Like the child who murders his parents and then pleads for pity because he is an orphan, governments have a long history of asking for regulatory powers despite creating much of the mess we see today in the area of drug policy.
The financial costs are mounting. Despite $13 billion of taxpayer money being spent by Australian governments between 1976 and 2000, the Federal Police website reports that “[t]he illicit drug trade has become an international, multi billion dollar enterprise, estimated to be bigger than the oil trade and second only to the arms trade”.
We continue to spend $100 million a year, yet surveys consistently show that drugs are easily available. Of those aged 14 and older, 33.5 per cent have tried marijuana, 8.9 per cent have tried ecstasy, 6.3 per cent have tried amphetamines, 5.9 per cent have tried cocaine and 1.6 per cent have tried heroin. In spite of efforts by police, 38.1 per cent of the community has tried an illicit drug at some point in their life. That equates to nearly 8 million people.
These figures, from the latest National Drug Strategy Household Survey, are just the tip of the iceberg because many do not admit their use due to fear of the law.
This is a war we are losing. Current statistics suggest that police only intercept a small percentage of the illegal drugs entering Australia. Even in the rare instances when law enforcement does succeed in significantly reducing the supply of a particular drug, users simply turn to other drugs instead. This was the case with the heroin drought of 2001: although heroin was less widely available, cocaine use rose to compensate.
We need a more rational drug policy - one that provides better value for money, and does not marginalise users so they are afraid to seek the treatment they need. We should show more compassion towards non-violent drug users, instead of filling our prisons.
Let us not succumb to the false stereotype that portrays drug users as deviant individuals. On the contrary, many are respected members of the community. To cite but a few examples: American President George W. Bush, former president Bill Clinton, former vice-president Al Gore, presidential nominee Barack Obama, the Supreme Court nominee Douglas Ginsburg, the Pulitzer Prize winning astronomer Carl Sagan and the Nobel laureate chemist Kary Mullis, have all tried at least one illicit drug.
As Jacob Sullum demonstrates in his book titled Saying Yes: In Defense of Drug Use, the reality is that the majority of illicit drug users are productive citizens, not addicts. Irrational fear appears to be the main reason for the arbitrary line drawn between illegal and legal drugs. Or perhaps most people are unaware that alcohol and tobacco are responsible for more deaths than all the illicit drugs put together?
Things are changing, albeit slowly. At the Prime Minister’s recent 2020 summit, medical doctor Wendell Rosevear argued that the billions of dollars spent on prisons would be better spent on drug intervention and education programs. Don Stewart, former chairman of the National Crime Authority, agrees: “Punitive measures will not work. We can’t go on the way we are.” This is a debate we urgently need to have.
Lives depend upon it.
Originally published at OnlineOpinion.com.au in 2008.
The Federal Government has proposed that new laws be introduced to force telecommunication companies to retain two years of metadata records.
What’s metadata? “Metadata includes the phone number from which a call is made, the number to which it is made, the identity of the owners of those numbers, the location of the caller and the recipient and the time and duration of a call”, says journalist James Massola. “Metadata also includes the internet protocol address of a website visited but not which web pages have been visited on a given website”.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has likened it to collecting the information on the “front of an envelope” but not the contents of the letter.
There is reason to suspect that the government is also cooperating with the American National Security Agency to go beyond the bounds of the law. As journalist Glen Greenwald has pointed out using confidential material leaked by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, the Australian government requested help from the NSA to spy on Australians. The NSA this year admitted that some of its analysts had violated the US Constitution’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures.
Critics have argued that collecting data on millions of Australians without a warrant assumes everyone is a criminal and invades their privacy.
This is but one instance of the increasing criminalisation of daily life. Another example is the government proposal to reverse the onus of proof for Australians returning from trips to the Middle East. Under the proposal, it would be up to individuals travelling to designated areas to show they didn’t partake in terrorist activities while overseas. Senator David Leyonhjelm got it right when he said “The idea is you commit an offence unless you can prove you’re innocent, it just goes against all of our rights and freedoms as a free society.’’
In response to the censorship of the organizational committee of the Mises Seminar, I've started a new facebook group called "The Real Australian Mises Group". This group won't censor any posts except those that are illegal or prohibited by Facebook's policies, so feel free to post whatever you like.
As we hear the news from America recently that a 46-year old restaurant worker with several children is now serving a 25 year prison sentence for selling pain medication to a police informant, it has become increasingly clear that the War on Drugs has gone too far. This is a government policy that incarcerates many inner-city blacks, and is therefore unequal in its application. People are going to prison for comparatively minor crimes, and causing great economic and personal loss to the communities they are from. It is time to end this policy and focus on rational harm minimization policies that do not treat users and low-end sellers like criminals.
Congressman Ron Paul has spoken out at the "complicity" of Congress in turning America into a "nation of pre-emptive war, secret military tribunals, torture, rejection of habeas corpus, warrantless searches, undue government secrecy, extraordinary renditions, and uncontrollable spying on the American people."
In many ways, the fear of terrorism and the measures enacted to counteract a perceived threat can impinge freedom more effectively than the terrorist acts themselves. This must be resisted. America has faced greater challenges, such as the passing on of nuclear secrets, without compromising its commitment to due process.
The expansion of Executive power has placed in jeopardy the rights of Americans, foreigners entering America, and suspected terrorists captured outside US borders. The judiciary has tried to keep a check on presidential power, with Justice O'Conner emphasising "a state of war is not a blank check for the President".
The military commissions at Guantanamo Bay directly breach the Constitution. There is no convincing reason why a municipal court could not try all terrorist cases. A modified (civilian) criminal trial is permitted by the Constitution provided it is justified in light of a "time of war" or on grounds of "public danger". Classified information can still be legally protected.
The framers did not wish the judiciary to be the only check on unconstitutional legislation. For this reason, the power of veto was provided to the President, with the oath of office imposing an obligation to override unconstitutional legislation. But President Bush has only vetoed one bill and has signed others even while acknowledging concerns about their constitutionality.
A return to constitutionalism would check the present overreaching in two ways. First, it would restrict the President's ability to wage war without an official declaration from Congress, thus lessening foreign policy interventionism, which has historically been linked to an increase in terrorist attacks against American interests. Second, it would curtail efforts by the Executive to restrict freedom in the name of fighting the threat it has itself created through the pursuit of such an interventionist foreign policy.
Voters can take matters into their own hands. Assuming Congress will continue to support the President and disregard principle, the best check on power is to have Congress controlled by the party opposed to the President. Gridlock is perhaps the true friend of liberty.