Despite Waging 'Jihad' on America, Afghan Drug Lord Cops a Plea Deal


10-18-07, 9:41 am

'Have no doubt.' The United States government has zero tolerance when it comes to illegal drug use and the peddling of drugs. Witness the get-tough policies of ONDCP (Office of National Drug Control Policy) under the direction of Drug Czar John P. Walters. In fact, the ONDCP is so hell bent on controlling the so-called drug plague that their policies have turned from overly intrusive to downright warlike at times. From suspicion-less student drug testing to mandatory minimum sentencing laws that dish out extraordinarily long sentences for small amounts of drugs, the drug war continues to grow as the government's national moral obsession.

However, the government's vision becomes blurred when it's dealing with bona fide drug lords—the real kingpins of the drug trade. In the first week of October, Haji Baz Mohammad, an Afghan drug lord, was sentenced to15 and a half years in prison. Although he faced life in prison, he was allowed a plea deal despite his bragging that he was waging an unconventional 'jihad' against the United States in the form of poisoning our communities by smuggling millions of dollars worth of heroin into our country. The U.S Attorney's office claimed that Mohammad handed over his enormous drug profits to extremist organizations such as the Taliban, dedicated to destroying freedom and justice. This is the same drug lord that President Bush declared a 'foreign narcotics kingpin' in 2001. The term is applied when the Commander-in-Chief decides a foreign narcotics trafficker threatens national security. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) then boasted that Mohammad—the first person ever to be extradited from Afghanistan—demonstrated the U.S. resolve to destroy the hold on opium lords have on Afghanistan.

But when the smoke cleared we see that the 15 and a half year sentence imposed was equal to the drug sentencing of thousands of Americans that are rotting away in gulags across the United States, often for simple, nonviolent drug law violations. These are marginalized offenders who don't have the bargaining chips to establish deals like Afghan drug lords. There are an estimated 500,000 Americans locked up because of the drug war. Many of them are serving lengthy sentences because of a 30-year government campaign to demonize illicit drug use and implement mandatory minimum sentencing.

In 1986, mandatory minimum sentencing laws were enacted by Congress, which compelled judges to deliver fixed sentences to individuals convicted of certain crimes, regardless of mitigating factors or culpability. Federal mandatory drug sentences are determined based on three factors: the type of drug, weight of the drug mixture and the number of prior convictions. Judges are unable to consider other important factors, such as the offender's role, motivation and the likelihood of recidivism.

The push to incarcerate drug offenders has been further exacerbated through the current federal sentencing law that punishes crack cocaine offenders much more severely than offenders possessing other types of drugs, for example, powder cocaine. Distributing just five grams of crack carries a minimum five-year federal prison sentence while distributing 500 grams of powder cocaine carries the same sentence. This 100:1 sentencing disparity has been almost universally criticized for its racially discriminatory impact by a wide variety of criminal justice and civil rights groups, and in Congress. Although whites and Hispanics form the majority of crack users, the vast majority of those convicted for crack cocaine offenses are African Americans.

Because of the war on drugs and through its use of mandatory minimum sentencing low-level drug offenders are routinely elevated to kingpin status and condemned to serve out long prison sentences that should be reserved only for actual drug kingpins, not individuals fabricated to that level. It's time to end these draconian laws and implement a sentencing structure that promotes fairness and justice.

--Anthony Papa is the author of 15 To Life and a communications specialist for Drug Policy Alliance.