NEW YORK--The Drug Enforcement Administration's exhibit "Target America: Terrorists, Traffickers, and You" opened today in Times Square, generating criticism from New Yorkers. The exhibit features remnants from the September 11th attacks and news programming from that day, alongside imagery of American drug users. It insinuates that American users are responsible for those horrific attacks.
"The DEA wants to hide their failed war on drugs behind the war on terrorism," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Drugs themselves don't create crime, it's drug prohibition that has lead to the illegal markets that generate immense profits and violence. What the DEA is doing is the equivalent of blaming beer drinkers for Al Capone's reign of terror."
The traveling exhibit, which has already been shown in Arlington, Virginia, Dallas, Texas, and Ashland, Nebraska, has its most high profile launch today in New York's Times Square, with former NY mayor Rudolph Giuliani and DEA officials attending the opening.
The exhibit links drug use and terrorism, echoing the ONDCP's controversial 2002 Super Bowl ads in which American young people "confess" to being terrorists because they have tried illicit drugs: in one ad, a young woman says, "Last weekend, I washed my car, hung out with a few friends, and helped murder a family in Colombia." "The ONDCP spent millions on ads that blamed US teenagers for murder and torture," said Nadelmann. "With this exhibit, is the DEA saying that Governor George Pataki, Mayor Bloomberg and hundreds of thousands of other New Yorkers who have used illegal drugs are responsible for September 11, 2001 and other acts of terrorism?"
Experts say that this exhibit is another expensive and ineffective strategy from the proponents of a failed policy. "If they really cared about American young people, they'd use that money to fund honest drug education and effective treatment," added Nadelmann.
Critics made the following points about the current DEA exhibit and the 2002 Superbowl ads:
Both are factually misleading: they blame drugs and non-violent Americans for terror funding, when, in fact, the drug war itself is responsible for creating the illegal markets that generate those funds.
They waste precious resources: the federal government spent $10 million on a television and print ad campaign to demonize Americans when more than half of the people in the country who need drug treatment cannot get it.
They are politically motivated: the drug czar's office is using millions of taxpayer dollars trying to persuade the American public and Congress that the failed drug war is still worth funding.
The exhibit and the ads do nothing to educate children about the health risks of drug use, or to stimulate real dialogue among parents and children about drugs. Instead, they dishonestly link the war on drugs to the war on terrorism in a desperate and cynical effort to protect drug war budgets.