Pubdate: Mon, 25 Aug 2003
Source: Mother Jones (US)
Section: MOJO DAILY (US Web)
Copyright: 2003 Foundation for National Progress
Note: The webpage, above, contains links not provided below.


Utah Senator Orrin Hatch and four of his Republican cronies are out to
make the word "narco-terrorism" a household term. Dan Eggen of the
Washington Post reports that a draft of the Vital Interdiction of
Criminal Terrorist Organizations Act (that's VICTORY as an acronym)
would make broad changes to drug trafficking laws, allow for expanded
FBI and local police wiretapping, and clamp down on a traditional
Middle Eastern form of money transfer. According to Ryan Singel at
Wired News, a draft of the bill defines narco-terrorism as "the crime
of selling, distributing or manufacturing a controlled substance with
the intent of helping a terrorist group." Essentially, the Victory Act
would make it easier for Ashcroft and his minions to charge drug
offenders with aiding terrorists, and could potentially freeze the
assets of a suspected offender. Though Hatch's spokespersons refused
to comment on the legislation, she did acknowledge the push to
investigate the drug-terrorism link, stating that Hatch "is continuing
to look at all legislative options for combating the nexus between
drug trafficking and terrorism."

Aside from what now seems to be a routine erosion of "innocent until
proven guilty," the Victory legislation also proposes some other new
(and improved!) tactics to bolster national security and the war on
terrorism. The essence of the bill serves to expand the power of FBI
and local police forces while disempowering local judges and courts.
Singel reports that the FBI could get a wiretap order on any wireless
device from any district court in the country. And in court, the
"victory" would most likely lie with the feds or the five-o: in the
case of illegal wiretapping, the legislation forces defendants to
prove that police broke the law intentionally.

Critics are also concerned about Victory's attempt to revive what some
say is an outdated strategy of the war on drugs, Singel reports:

"'This bill struck me as a way to link a dying concept of how to fight
the drug war to other issues that still have public support, like the
war on terrorism,' said Ryan King, a research associate at the
Sentencing Project. 'It's counter to what we have seen in the last few
years, at least state-wise, where states are turning to drug treatment
and alternative sentencing options. '

'If the Justice Department is trying to link terrorism to high-level
drug dealing, why turn around then and try to punish street-level
dealers?' asked King."

King has a point -- it's difficult to understand some of the
"counter-terrorism" tactics the bill employs. "Victory" would mean
that penalties for selling drugs to people under the age of 21 would
increase, and anyone, even a first-time offender, convicted of
possession of more than 250 amphetamine pills would automatically be
sentenced to 200 years in jail. Like the Patriot Act, the Victory act
combines a sneak attack on individual rights with the theft of
judicial power. According to Mark Allenbaugh of FindLaw, the
legislation would "rob the federal judiciary of their discretion to
impose just sentences." Sometimes, Allenbaugh writes, judges sentence
first-time offenders to less than a minimum mandatory sentence. The
Victory Act, like its partner PROTECT Act (an Ashcroft-authored
measure surreptitiously placed in Amber Alert legislation), aims to
take away a judge's power to decide the terms of a sentence by
brandishing an executive sword in the form of mandatory minimum
sentences -- some which aren't so minimal.

Aside from the administration picnic's executive vs. judicial
tug-o'-war on terrorism, the Cybercast News Service reports that the
National Consumer Coalition's Privacy Group fears that the Victory Act
would severely infringe on individual privacy rights. According to the
group, a section of the bill specifically allows for the subpoena of a
long list of consumer records -- everything from bank statements to
Internet services.

But perhaps most compelling is the Victory Act's link of hawalas, a
traditional form of Middle Eastern banking, to "narco-terrorism."
Hawalas are unauthorized banks used in regions of the Middle East
where banks are scarce. True, an unauthorized bank is less likely to
question an unauthorized source of money. But the bill outlaws
hawalas, a move which, while it may cut off the funding of illegal
activity in the US, could also cut off the funding of a lot of Arab
families who rely on such transactions, as Elaine Cassel of
Counterpunch writes:

"Of course, this monetary system is what supports tens of thousands of
family members of immigrants and legal aliens, who come to this
country, do the work Americans won't do, and send their hard-earned
dollars home to families living in abject poverty."

But of course, Hatch, Ashcroft, and cronies would never deliberately
support anti-immigrant legislation. Like everything else, "Victory" is
truly just a matter of National Security.
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