Fresh evidence that drugs fry the brain can be found in the unnaturally bright eyes and crazed passions of your Congress. In an effort to crack down on foreign drug lords, the House has rammed through a bill to let the president secretly designate certain foreigners as narcotics kingpins.
Upon such designation, the kingpin's U.S. assets--bank accounts, real estate, financial holdings--would be blocked. He or she would not be allowed so much as a credit card or a checkbook.
In addition, he or she and all family members would be barred from entry to this country. Children could not attend U.S. schools or colleges.
And any U.S. citizen who did business with such a designated kingpin would be subject to 10 years in prison and a $10 million fine.
It sounds tough--and it is. But what's screwy about it is that everything is done in secret, and the law specifically bars the courts from reviewing the president's secret decision.
"Suppose the president makes a mistake," says Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who unsuccessfully opposed passage. "The president decides Mr. X is a foreign narcotics kingpin. There is no public airing of the evidence. All Mr. X's assets are frozen. His lawyers can't defend him in court. There is no due process. This is pre-Magna Carta."
Nadler is not voicing sympathy for drug kingpins. He is trying to defend basic U.S. rights--especially for American citizens who might get caught up, unknowingly, in business deals with someone hit with a kingpin designation.
"If you're arrested and prosecuted for doing business with a designated drug kingpin or a subsidiary, you can't defend yourself by proving that he's not a kingpin," Nadler said. "The designation is not reviewable by the courts."
Theoretically, the mistakenly designated kingpin himself could appeal the designation--but how could he pay his lawyers? All his assets would be frozen. And if the lawyers try to represent a designated but unconvicted drug lord, are they, too, subject to 10 years in prison and a $10 million fine?
Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) backed the bill because he wants to see drug lords punished at least as much as local dealers, who get 20 or 30 years in prison. Fair enough.
But mistaken designation is not a theoretical problem. In June the National Drug Intelligence Center accused a Mexican shipping company, Transportacion Maritima Mexicana--falsely, according to its reputable American lawyers--of involvement in drug trafficking. If the House-passed bill had been in effect, the company and its U.S. investors could have seen their assets frozen without notice and with no right to go to court.
In the Senate, Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) is trying to add a provision for judicial review, but Congress is gripped by anti-drug hysteria.
When Transportacion Maritima's law firm, Verner Liipfert, which has such members as former senators Bob Dole and George Mitchell, tried to point out flaws in the legislation, Rep. Bill McCollum (R-Fla.) denounced the firm as a "narco lobbyist." Even defending basic U.S. rights now risks a smear.
"This bill is an embarrassment to the House," Nadler said. "If we declare something a war, some people think that we can suspend the Constitution in order to fight that war. We did that to our regret with communism in the 1950s. We may have done that with terrorism. And now we are being asked to do that with the war on drugs."
(c) 1999, New York Daily News