Over the last two years, I have written numerous posts about the ways in which the War on Terror in Afghanistan is being undermined by our misguided War on Drugs (see here for my most recent post on this subject, and links to earlier ones). In this article on Slate, Joel Cohen and Bennett L. Gershman provide yet another example:
By all appearances, Haji Bashaar Noorzai is a scoundrel. A shadowy figure with ties to the Taliban, Noorzai is heavily involved in international heroin trafficking, according to a federal indictment that is pending against him in New York. But he is a tribal rogue whom U.S. terrorism fighters have relied on, while looking away from his darker side as a dope dealer. For years, the relationship was mutually beneficial—Noorzai helped U.S. authorities uncover huge numbers of terrorist weapons, including Stinger missiles, and in return he got to ply his drug trade with impunity.
In 2004, it appears, Noorzai was invited to the United States for further briefing on his undercover work by two freelance "contractors" associated with the FBI, who told Noorzai they were FBI and Defense Department agents. He was assured that he would not be arrested, and could return home whenever he liked. The contractors introduced Noorzai to actual federal drug agents, who warmly welcomed him. He was lodged in a fancy New York hotel and debriefed for 10 days. And then he was arrested for drug trafficking. For more than two years since then, he has sat in jail.
Noorzai may indeed be a "scoundrel," one who may have committed crimes worse than drug trafficking. But it is the latter sin that got him arrested by federal agents. As Cohen and Gershman point out, other Afghan warlords and drug dealers are unlikely to cooperate with the US against Al Qaeda and the Taliban if doing so might land them in a federal prison courtesy of the Justice Department. And they are especially unlikely to do so if promises of immunity issued by the Pentagon or the FBI can be violated by the DOJ at any time. Whether or not the DOJ's actions in this case were legal, they represent spectacular stupidity from the standpoint of waging the War on Terror. Which is more important: punishing a drug trafficker or improving our ability to get intelligence on terrorists? The Bush Administration's priority seems to be the former; or at least that's what the relevant Justice Department officials seem to think. If the next president reverses these priorities, that will be an important sign that he or she is truly serious about winning the War on Terror.