Drug warriors invoke their ‘service’ to demand more drug war

A bunch of former federal prosecutors, drug war lieutenants, and Justice Department officials have written a letter to the leadership of the U.S. Senate in opposition to the Smarter Sentencing Act. The law would cut most mandatory minimums in half, and apply the sentencing reforms already passed in 2010 retroactively.

I suppose it probably stings a bit to see the public turn its back on a principle for which you spent much of your professional life fighting (the idea that people should spend decades in prison for nonviolent, consensual crimes) — and not just turn its back, but do so rather abruptly, given how long these laws have been on the books.

On Twitter, Julie Stewart of the advocacy group Families Against Mandatory Minimums noted the letter’s particularly telling first line:

“As former government officials who served in the war on drugs . . . “

The signatories return to that theme later in the letter:

“Many of us once served on the front lines of justice.”

Ah, the “front lines.” Apparently, Bill Bennett (one of the signatories) wasn’t just feeding quarters into Vegas video poker machines as he demanded that other people go to prison for their vices . . . he was also ducking sniper fire.

The notion that when it comes to having opinions about how or when we go to war, people who didn’t serve in the military should defer to those who did is already a tired fallacy. It’s all the more ridiculous when it’s invoked by a group whose “battlefield” was an air-conditioned office or a wood-panelled courtroom.

None of which is to say that the drug war metaphor hasn’t been far too real, in far too many ways. But it’s amusing to watch the delusional grandeur on display when career political operatives like George Terwilliger (who marshaled a Brooks Brothers battalion in the great Bush-Gore War of 2000) or Paul  McNulty (who lost a limb during the Clinton impeachment, and now battles PTSD as a result of the U.S. attorney firings scandal of 2007) try to claim an air of authority by likening their lives of professional climbing to battlefield heroism.

Such gallantry — and all to ensure that we keep the prisons filled.

Radley Balko blogs about criminal justice, the drug war and civil liberties for The Washington Post. He is the author of the book "Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces."
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Radley Balko · May 12