On May 15, I was invited to appear on Democracy Now!, along with Dr. Carl Hart, about Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his controversial new plan to have prosecutors across the country throw the book at drug offenders and charge them with the fullest extent of the law. This includes using mandatory minimum sentencing laws which handcuff judges and prevent them from looking at the totality of facts within a particular case.
Before going on air, we sat and caught up with what we were doing. Carl is a board member of the Drug Policy Alliance and the chair of the Department of Psychology and a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University. He also is the author of High Price: A Neuroscientist’s Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society.
Carl told me that he just returned from the Philippines, where he participated in a two-day drug policy forum conference. Hart spoke out against President Rodrigo Duterte’s insane drug war policy which has resulted in crimes against humanity. He has promoted the cold-blooded murder of many. CNN recently reported that Duterte has approved the murder of more than 8,000 drug users and sellers by Philippine police.
During the conference, Dr. Hart spoke out against Duterte’s assertion that methamphetamine (shabu) damages and shrinks the user’s brain and causes users to commit violent acts. Hart countered these assertions and said that there were no scientific facts to support this.
Duterte, nicknamed “the Punisher” by Time magazine, quickly spoke out against Hart in a Philippine newspaper story in which he made several crude remarks. Duterte, in response, called Dr. Hart a fool, saying his statement about “shabu” was based on an American forensic study.
“Of course shabu fries the brain,” Duterte insisted. “And a human rights rapporteur and a psychology professor can go on honeymoon if they don’t believe it.”
Duterte was referring to Agnes Callamard, a United Nations Special Rapporteur who is a stern critic of Duterte’s war on drugs. In the past the Philippine government invited Callamard to conduct an investigation on the alleged human rights violations committed in connection with the drug war and implemented conditions including being questioned under oath by Durtere. This did not materialize and Sen. Francis Pangilinan urged the administration to formally invite Callamard for an official visit to the Philippines without any conditions.
When Dr. Hart revealed his own drug use during his visit he began to get death threats against him via social media. A racist cartoon featuring Hart was also published in the Manila Times. Fearing his life was in danger, Dr. Hart cut short his planned two week visit and left after only five days to return home.
The question I ask is how President Trump could invite this madman Duterte to the Whitehouse to speak with him when it is a known fact that the president of the Philippines engages in this type of behavior. In response, Carl said, "Duterte’s ignorance is only surpassed by those who support him or invite him to the White House.”
Dr. Carl Hart was very brave to go to the Philippines and directly challenge Durterte’s actions. We need more concerned Americans like Hart to speak out against the drug war and tyrants like Duterte who support it.
Anthony Papa is manager of media and artist relations for the Drug Policy Alliance