As Obama grants commutations, U.S. continues to aid countries who execute suspected drug offenders
Radley Balko reports in the Washington Post:
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited the Philippines last week, where he met with controversial new president Rodrigo Duterte. As you may have read, Duterte is a bit crazy. In addition to other bizarre acts, he has essentially endorsed vigilantism in his country, offering a bounty for the execution of drug dealers. An Australian news service reported this weekthat 500 people have so far been extrajudicially killed by police and vigilantes. The Guardian puts the figure at over 700.
Kerry claimed to have made a vague reference to the killings: “I made it very clear that civil and human rights must be protected, even as we work together to keep our society safe.”
But Southeast Asian and Filipino news agencies are reporting that Duterte left the meeting with an assurance from Kerry that the United States will send the Philippines $32 million to help fight “drugs, terrorism, [and] crime.”
This passage from the Philippine Star quotes a Duterte spokesman about the new president’s conversation with Kerry:
Abella confirmed that Duterte had also briefed Kerry about his crackdown on drugs and crimes.
Asked if Kerry, who emphasized the need to uphold human rights in his previous engagements, was alarmed by the spate of killings in the country, Abella said: “There was no alarm that was mentioned there.”
“Although, President Duterte did mention about the way he has been handling the war against crime and especially the narcotic plague,” he added.
Pressed on what the US state secretary said about Duterte’s anti-crime and drug campaign, Abella replied: “He was listening very intently.”
Of course, that is Duterte’s account. But it seems to account with the State Department’s official line. The agency’s website makes no mention of the murders in its news releases about Kerry’s visit, nor apparently has any other U.S. government agency. Instead, the department states that “Kerry pledged U.S. willingness to provide continued assistance to the Philippine government as it works to address drug trafficking and violent extremism, and to deepen and strengthen bilateral relations across the board.”
This wouldn’t be the first time the United States has tacitly endorsed extrajudicial executions in the name of the drug war. In early 2003, the government of Thailand summarily executed thousands of suspected drug offenders over a period of just a few months. A 2007 investigation found that nearly 3,000 people were ultimately killed, only about half of which had any connection to illicit drugs. All the while, the United States was providing funding, training and assistance to Thai law enforcement. The Thai government had instituted the death penalty for drug crimes in 2001. Shortly thereafter, the Chicago Tribune reported that the United Stateshad troops in Northern Thailand to train special Thai military units in anti-drug tactics. In 2003, the year just under 3,000 people were executed, the United States gave Thailand $3.7 million in anti-drug foreign aid. In 2008, the new Thai government ramped up the drug war once again, promising a new round of executions. And the United Statescontinued to give the country millions in anti-narcotics aid.
Just last month, Indonesia executed four people for suspected drug crimes. That comes after eight executions in April 2015, and six more the previous January. The new government there has promised scores more, mostly of foreign nationals. The Indonesian executions aren’t nearly as alarming in numbers as those in the Philippines, and they’re at least occurring after some semblance of a trial. But there’s plenty of reason to be skeptical about the fairness of those trials. Not to mention the general notion of executing people for merely possessing or selling drugs.
But as the advocacy group Clemency Report points out, the United States hasn’t just turned a blind eye to these executions; it has praised and rewarded the country for its anti-drug efforts. Since 2011, when it opened a new office in the country, the DEA has been actively working with Indonesia’s anti-drug police agency, providing “wide-ranging support that includes training, technical assistance, equipment, and infrastructure.” In 2013, the same year Indonesia resumed executing drug offenders, the U.S. State Department praised the country for growing more “effective” in combating drugs, and noted that “U.S. assistance has been particularly helpful.” . . .