01/23/11 - Pamela Constable

Century of Lies

Washington Post reporter Pamela Constable, fresh from another junket to Afghanistan + Mary Jane Borden asks: "What are Entheogens?" & Abolitionist's Moment

Audio file


Century of Lies / January 23, 2011


The failure of Drug War is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors and millions more. Now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century of Lies.


Hi, this is Dean Becker, thanks for being with us on the Century of Lies. We’ve got a great show lined up for you. We’ve got an interview with Pamela Constable who just returned from Afghanistan, where she was working for the Washington Post.

We’ll also hear from Mary Jane Borden with some Drug War Facts and I‘ve got an Abolitionist Moment for you, a Drug Truth Network editorial, a little scathing indictment of those who believe this war on drugs to be such a positive thing.

But first up, we are speaking with Pamela Constable. She’s fresh from another junket to Afghanistan, Pakistan. She’s coved South Asia for the Washington Post since April of 1999. Now Pamela, I’ve looked at the history, if you will, of your reporting for the [Washington] Post and it is very extensive and very much centered in South Asia, is it not?

Pamela Constable: That’s right. I’ve been working there off and on for almost twelve years.

Dean Becker: The stories don’t always focus on the Afghan opium and heroin situation but you recently had – about a week ago, had one of your stories posted. It was titled, If Opium Prices Soar and Allies Focus on Taliban, Afghan Drug War Stumbles. Do you want to kind of summarize that for the listeners?

Pamela Constable: Sure, basically the problem is that opium production which had dropped considerably over the past number of years and is now creeping back up again and one of the reasons is that the price has gotten very, very high.

There’s a number of reasons for that one of which is the drought and another of which is a disease which affected many plants, the poppy plants that produce opium. So, once the price goes up it is very hard to keep some of the farmers away from growing opium poppy, rather than other crops, for example wheat, which is a major crop in Afghanistan but it requires a lot of water and the amount of money that it can bring in is approximately seven times less than what opium can bring in.

So, from the point of view of a small farmer that is trying to survive it is much, much more profitable to grow opium poppies, as a course is the case with other drug crops as well.

Dean Becker: You know about six weeks ago I interviewed a gentleman from Afghanistan and he was talking about the surge of the cannabis production has now made them again the number one producer of marijuana. Did you run into any situations regarding that other plant growth?

Pamela Constable: Yes, I have heard that that’s true, that its beginning to be grown there much more widely as a crop but we don’t have a lot of statics on it because it is a relatively new development, whereas there are a number of organizations like the UN and others that keep very close track of opium poppy cultivation. So, we know more about that.

The other issue was that marijuana, like hashish, are products that are used locally and traditionally smoked by a number of people in the region. So, it is not considered, at least locally, to be as harmful or as profitable as the opium poppies, as you know, go into making heroin. I believe it’s between 60-70-85% of the heroin sold in the world, mostly in Europe, Russia and other places.

Dean Becker: Now and I’ve also heard it said that the producers of these opium products have stock piles and they really don’t mind if there is shortage because it increases their profits, your thoughts there, please?

Pamela Constable: Yes, absolutely, that’s been going on for a very long time. That’s not a new phenomenon. These are very good business people, so to speak, so they know how to manipulate things to their advantage.

It’s not just a question of small families and farmers, then once you get into a very big drug trafficking situation then you get into a lot of – a more sophisticated and more ruthless business people, international business people involved and the government has had a lot of difficulty, keeping track of these people and arresting them and even, you know, convicting them much less.

It’s most of the people that get arrested in this trafficking are small people, people that might just be carrying something in a truck or bus. It’s very difficult for the government there, which is a weak government, to really pursue these traffickers.

Dean Becker: This brings up another topic. I understand that corruption is vast. It’s at nearly every level of government, in customs, in border security and oft times high ranking individuals within the government, at least dabble in if not outright involvement in the drug trade, correct?

Pamela Constable: There is a lot of corruption in Afghanistan. This is acknowledged by everybody, by the government, by the international agencies. It’s a major, major problem through the society and through the government. It’s hard to say what percent of that involved drugs but a lot of it does and there have been a number of arrests of people and officials who were believed to be involved.

There is also some widespread suspicion of higher-ups, senior officials being involved, but again, as I said before it is very, very hard to get evidence of this, to get prosecution and convictions. So, it’s a hard problem to measure but it’s safe to say that it is very widespread and fairly high.

Dean Becker: Now, this brings to mind the Afghanistan war is now approaching ten years, if not longer. I can’t remember exact dates but it’s one of America’s longest running wars ever. You’ve been there as long as anybody. Is the situation improving? Are we on the cusp of something positive? What is your perception of progress there in Afghanistan?

Pamela Constable: That’s a complicated question to answer in a few words. I guess I would say, there are some good signs and some bad signs. The fighting continues. There’s no letup in the fighting at all and as you know thousands new soldiers and marines have ben coming in over the top year or two and more are expected before the attempt begins to draw them down.

It’s been very difficult for the government – the Afghan government and its supporters to really get a police and a national police and army that are really up to the ability of defending the country and keeping law and order. So, that’s been a huge effort that has gotten mixed results.

Everybody is hoping that over the next several years that they will be able to say, “Okay, we now have a national police force and army that are up to the job,” but so far that’s not really the case.

The other big problem, as you mentioned, is corruption because there is so many problems with corruption. It affects everything. It affects aid projects. It affects transportation. It intertwines with insecurity.

In places you have corruption, you also tend to have a lot of insecurity. It is also much more difficult to fight a war in places where people can sort of be bought and sold. It is very easy for the insurgents to form relationships, especially for example, with drug traffickers.

One of the things I said in that story that you mentioned is that they often trade terrain and often their desires for instability coincide with one another. So, they have common interest in having a country that’s unstable and chaotic. So, that’s a bad combination.

Of course, there are many positive developments the country. The country is growing developing in spite the war. Every time I go back, every three months, there’s more new building more new roads, more – you know, a lot of the people are continuing to not only plow ahead but have a lot of hope for their country and want to build it up. so, the spirit is still there, it is just trying to get to the issues of corruption and drugs and security to allow the spirit of development and progress to take hold.

Dean Becker: Once again were speaking with Ms. Pamela Constable, a reporter with the Washington Post. Before she began her work there in the South Asia, she worked for the [Washington] Post covering immigration and Hispanic affairs in the Washington area and reported from Honduras, El Salvador, Haiti, Cuba and even before that you were working for the Boston Globe down in Argentina, Colombia El Salvador, Nicaragua, Mexico. I guess this gives you even more credentials to talk about this subject of Drug War. You’ve seen it on various continents. Are we winning the Drug War?

Pamela Constable: Well, I’m not sure what you meant by “we” but I would say that some places “yes” and some places “no.” I mean, if you look at Mexico, for example, a country where a lot of progress had been made in the Drug War, things have really ruined very badly in the past year or two. You now have terrible drug related violence going on all along the border.

In Mexico City, the police and the military and the Americans are just really having a very hard time getting control of that situation. In Columbia, on the other hand, where a similar major effort has been going on for years were a similar effort has been going on to fight drug production and trafficking. I’ve been down there many times myself working on that issue.

Progress has been made. There’s been substantial improvement in the governments, the Columbian government stability to deal with this issue, they’ve gotten a lot of help from the United States on it and I do think there’s been a lot of improvement there.

I think the Afghan situation is still very, very far from being won and until the problem of corruption in and prosecution of trafficking can become much more successful and until farmers can be persuaded that they really need to be growing something else and stick with something else, rather than poppies, you’re not really going to see a – what anybody could call a victory.

Dean Becker: Alright, again speaking with Pamela Constable with the Washington Post. Pamela, I look at it this way that you know, there have been highs and lows in every aspect of this Drug War, successes and gross failures but it does continue when they take out some drug lord or the drug lord’s second in command, someone always steps in to take their place. The profits are going to entice people forever, are they not?

Pamela Constable: Probably so, again that why law enforcement is so important. I mean, what people will say in a country like Afghanistan, Mexico or Columbia is that you have to look at the demand side. They will say, “Well, we’re only the producer but we are only we by which I mean ‘our’ drug producers are only meeting a demand.”

But, I often find in my own experience, the demand isn’t there until the product is there. Afghanistan is the perfect example. There was very little drug production, let’s say, a decade ago because it was wiped out by the Taliban. You never ever, ever saw a drug addict anywhere. I mean, people would smoke a little hashish or a little hemp but it wasn’t considered to be a major social problem.

Now, you’ve got record production of opium poppy and you’ve got a huge addiction problem that has surged only in the top five to ten years. You see addicts all over the streets now, people sleeping on sidewalks, people sleeping under bridges. There are a number of treatment centers now in Kabul, which I visited. They say it’s a huge problem.

This problem did not exist in the past. At the very least, you have to say that these two issues rise simultaneously. I would make the argument that if the stuff was not available the people wouldn’t know about it or use it.

Dean Becker: Now I’ve heard it said by doctors I’ve interviewed in the past that oft times those involved and that become addicted to these drugs like opium or heroin have been traumatized, had their lives turned upside down and they seek refuge in this. Would you think the Afghan War itself has contributed to this increase in addiction?

Pamela Constable: I would say yes but I would slightly broaden it say that you know it’s not only the war. It’s refuge population. It’s displacement. It’s destruction of life. You’ve got a huge population of people who are veterans, wounded veterans, people who are missing legs and who are arms who tend to sometimes become addicted. You’ve got a huge refugee population that has been moving back and forth across borders.

One of the big, big sources of drug addiction is Iran. Iran, as you know as an expert, has one of the highest addiction rates in the world. Many, many Afghans and refugees over the past twenty years, I mean in the millions, have gone to Iran to seek refuge from various wars and various economic problems.

A number of those people have come back addicted to drugs which that had not been in Afghanistan. So, there are numerous contributing factors that you could broadly lump together in problems of war, economic displacement and disruption of lives.

Dean Becker: Alright, you know I don’t want to start a war here, so to speak, but I look at some of the other headlines because there us a recent one by Josh Bohac where he says the Marines of Operation Godfather See Stark Improvement in Deadly Helmond Province. Would you concur with that option?

Pamela Constable: Well actually, he is working with me at the Washington Post his article was combined with my article and we wrote together about how some of the efforts by the American military have in fact helped.

They have been driving, as I mentioned earlier in our conversation, the problem of drug corruption and insecurity work together. So, where you can drive back the insurgency and where you can make an area more secure, you can also fight the drug situation better.

So, what’s been happening in Helmond is that there are so many international troops there now, especially the Americans as well as the British, they’re beginning to draw back some of these insurgents are enabling the drug production and trafficking. So, that has been a positive development, absolutely.

Dean Becker: I see the situation in Afghanistan as very much long term. The talk is we night get out by 2014 and many are saying this is probably going to be much longer than that with some saying we’ll be there like we are in Korea, forever. Have you any thoughts in that regard?

Pamela Constable: I guess, I would say somewhere in between. I certainly don’t see a Korea-like mega-long term commitment. I also think that everybody in the policy community has made it clear that a sudden or very imminent withdraw would not be in the best interest of either the US of the Afghanistan situation.

So, I think what you are going to see is a gradual and protracted handover of security and law enforcement form international to Afghan security forces but it’s going to take some time.

It’s going to take several years at least and meanwhile, in terms of the broader commitment and economic commitment that probably going to be there are very long time, to calm and probably should be.

But in terms of getting troops out of there and getting the security hand-off going, it’s a high probity for everybody but it is going to take more time than I think everyone had hoped.

Dean Becker: I see stories, I see videos of US troops camped out or walking through the opium fields or the cannabis fields and leaving them untouched because they don’t want to harm relations with the populace.

Pardon me for saying this but here in the US when those same products arrive here, we have no problem going against our populace using it. Do you see any hypocrisy in the implementation of the Drug War in that regard?

Pamela Constable: Well, I wouldn’t use the word” hypocrisy”. I would use the word “competing agendas.” You know, foreign policy and military policy often involve making extremely difficult choices and one of those choices you could sum up as having to deal with bad guys who we need – or we think we need. This has been a problem all over the world for many, many years.

In the case of Afghanistan, there was a number of military leaders from the war against the Russians who were kind of left in place and were allowed to continue kind of running things in their regions. Some of these guys are involved in this trafficking. They are very powerful. They are very entrenched.

People has argued that they should have been gotten rid of somehow, put away, put in prison or something done with them a long time ago. But they were left in place because they were needed against the Taliban.

So you can say similarly with the drug trafficking, there are people, there are organizations, there are relationships that you can’t really deal with effectively because you may need them to fight another war.

So, the situation in Helmond which you just mentioned, was is a very positive example of trying to get rid of the insurgents and trying to deal more positively with the local populace and drug issue. But it is also true and I have heard the same things myself, that in other areas, where you have to make a choice between fighting the insurgents and cracking down on drugs, if you have a district where there is lots and lots of opium being produced and everybody’s involved in it, if you just go and say, “Okay were going to get rid of all these crops and get rid of all these people,” you are not going to get help fighting the insurgency. It a real – it’s a conundrum. It’s a real problem of competing agendas and both of which are good agendas and they don’t always mesh.

Dean Becker: Alright once again, we’re speaking with Pamela Constable. She’s a reporter for the Washington Post. She’s co-author with Arturo Valenzuela of A Nation of Enemies, Chile under Pinochet.

She’s written articles for foreign affairs, foreign policy, current history and lots of other publications. You’re also member of the council of foreign relations and I’d like to ask, I’ve heard that term. What does that mean?

Pamela Constable: The Council on Foreign Relations is an organization based in New York with offices in Washington, which involve basically foreign policy and foreign affairs. Members are of a variety of people including diplomats, experts, journalists, academics, professors, people of international non-profit organization members, people who basically follow international problems and want to keep involved in it whether or not they are serving the government, public or non-profits.

So, it’s really, it’s a very good forum for discussion and debate. They have wonderful speakers. It’s a really – it’s an organization that helps you really keep up with the world.

Dean Becker: Pamela, I hope that we can continue this discussion down the road. I want to say that I, you know as a reporter, I can’t go into Mexico. I refuse to do it and my hat's off to you for your continuing junkets to Afghanistan, Pakistan and these very dangerous areas. Any closing thoughts you’d like to relay?

Pamela Constable: Well, I guess I would say that I always try to remind myself and my readers, I guess in this case, listeners that it’s always important to remember that 90% of the people in any of these countries really want nothing more than just to live their lives and kind of be left alone. All they really want to is access to security, justice and a way to make a living and education for the kids.

The bad guys in these countries are just a tiny fraction and so I think that whether or not a country were deeply involved like in Afghanistan or Mexico or in countries we’re not so deeply involved in, what I constantly find everywhere I go, all over the world is that a vast majority of people are not so different than us and do not choose to get involved in drug trafficking because it’s something that they like.

It’s, in this case of these farmers, it’s really often the only option that they are not bad people. The same is true in Bolivia and Peru are not bad people. The bad people are the higher ups that are making a whole lot of money off an evil product.

Dean Becker: I do want to thank Pamela Constable with being with us and I do hope she’ll come back and join us, despite what I am fixing to say right here:


(Bagpipe music in background)

This is the Abolitionist Moment:

With every attempt we make to control the so-called controlled substances, we ensure more misery. Each year, according to Anthony Placido, second in command to Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske, the black market of drugs rakes in $385 billion dollars and each year the US throws another $70 billion dollars into the Drug War wishing well.

$70 billion is a hell of a lot to keep the Drug War addicts happy but the $385 billion that winds up the hands of the Taliban, Mexican Barbarians like Shorty Guzmán and the thousands of violent US gangs selling contaminated concoctions to our children, should be of even greater concern.

Tobacco causes more than 400,000 deaths a year.
Alcohol 100,000.
Doctors and pharmacists messing up our prescriptions, another 100,000.
In hospitals infections, another 100,000.
Even the misuse of aspirin and Tylenol at only 8,000 – 12,000 gives all the hard drugs a run for their money in the number of deaths each year.

This despite the fact that these drugs are made by untrained chemists in shoddy labs, never achieving purity and are then shipped to the US in unsanitary conditions, sold to distributors who cut the product with house products, up to and including Levamisole, a dog dewormer and cancer causing agent and finally sold by armed gangsters to our children, un-labeled, with unknown quantities and quality at 1700% mark up.

Regarding public safety, the violence in Mexican and the US is created and exacerbated not by drug use but rather by the policy of drug prohibition, which turns a penny’s worth of product into a ten dollar bill, thus enticing millions of people to get in on the enormous ROI – return on investment.

By what rationale do we continue to believe that these drugs should be made in such a fashion, should be imported by terrorist groups, should empower barbarous cartels and should give reason to the violent US gangs to exist?

Please, do your part to end this madness of Drug War.

Do it for the children.


Mary Jane Borden: Hello Drug Policy Aficionados, I’m Mary Jane Borden, Editor of Drug War Facts.

The question for this week asks: What are Entheogens?

A paper in the Journal of Consciousness Studies defined Entheogens as “psychoactive agents, more generally known as psychedelics (etymologically, mind manifesting) or hallucinogenic… that bring one in touch with the Divine within.”

In 2009, a Cornell Law School research paper went on to say “The word entheogen is believed to translate into the phrase “God inside us.” In the literal sense this word refers to plants, shrubs, fungi and seeds used for centuries in religious or shamanic rituals for the purpose of obtaining revelations, spiritual enlightenment, or healing illnesses. Some of these substances include, Ayahuasca, Amanitas Muscaria, Blue Lotus, Hawaiian Baby Woodrose and Morning Glory Seeds, Salvia Divinorum, Khat, Kanna, San Pedro Cacti, Kratom, Henbane, Yopo and Mandrake. There are many more, some of which are illegal (such as DMT, Kava Kava, Cannabis and Psilocybin Mushrooms).”

Wikipedia includes LSD, ibogaine and even ethanol (aka ethyl alcohol) as entheogens.

The Cornell paper noted that, “the first scholar to highlight the sacramental use of psychoactive substances was de Felice… who puts forward the hypothesis that the use of psychotropic substances is deeply embedded in human culture, and that it is intrinsically intertwined in a most basic human instinct — the search for transcendence."

Thus, he proposes that the use of psychotropic substances is, “at the root of perhaps all religions.”

The Cornell paper finally asks if, “the illegal status of many entheogens, another example of legislative inertia and a defect in the law. Are these drugs harmful enough to warrant criminalization? Or alternatively, are these drugs, with their connection with people’s spiritual beliefs to be protected as an expression of people’s religion?”

These facts and others like them can be found in the new Entheogens chapter of Drug War Facts at www.drugwarfacts.org.

If you have a question for which you need facts, please email it to me at mjborden@drugwarfacts.org. I’ll try to answer your question in an upcoming show.

So, remember when you need facts about drugs and drug policy, you can get the facts at Drug War Facts.


(The sound of heavy winds)

The winds of prohibition howl
As the irrational maelstrom blows
Pipe dreaming warriors raise their eternal chant
Dancing for rain in the deluge of a drug war hurricane


(Wind continues)


Dean Becker: Once again I want to thank, Pamela Constable, of the Washington Post for being with us here on the Century of Lies and it is my hope that YOU will pick up the gauntlet and YOU will do your part to end the madness of Drug War.

Please be sure to join us next week, when one of our guests will be Mister Steven DeAngelo that heads up Harborside Health Center, the largest marijuana dispensary in the world.

And as always I remind you that there is no truth, justice, logic, scientific fact, no medical data, no reason for this Drug War to exist.

Please, please, please do your part to end this madness.

Visit our website: endprohibition.org

Prohibido istac evilesco!


For the Drug Truth Network, this is Dean Becker. Asking you to examine our policy of Drug Prohibition.

The Century of Lies.

This show produced at Pacifica Studios at KPFT, Houston.

Drug Truth Network programs, archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Policy Studies.

Transcript provided by: Ayn Morgan of www.eigengraupress.com