Daily Archives: April 25, 2012

I’m not that powerful, Rupert Murdoch tells judge


News Corp Chief Rupert Murdoch (L) and his wife Wendi Deng (R) drive away from the High Court in central London on April 25, 2012 after Rupert Murdoch gave evidence at the Leveson Inquiry. Rupert Murdoch tried to downplay his political influence in landmark testimony to the inquiry into press ethics on April 25, even as evidence from his media empire prompted a government aide to resign. The 81-year-old mogul, speaking on oath during his first appearance at the Leveson Inquiry into press ethics, hit out at ‘sinister inferences’ about his ties to British leaders over the past four decades. Getty Images

Associated Press | Apr 25, 2012

By RAPHAEL SATTER

LONDON (AP) — News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch said Wednesday that his globe-spanning TV and newspaper empire doesn’t carry as much political sway as is often believed, telling a British inquiry into media ethics that he wasn’t the power behind the throne often depicted by his enemies.

Speaking softly, deliberately and with dry humor, Murdoch sought to deflate what he described as myths about his business, his agenda and his friendships with those at the pinnacle of British politics.

“If these lies are repeated again and again they catch on,” he said. “But they just aren’t true.”

The 81-year-old media baron denied ever calling in favors from British leaders and dismissed the oft-repeated claim that his top-selling daily, The Sun, could swing elections.

“We don’t have that sort of power,” he testified.

Murdoch was being quizzed under oath before an inquiry run by Lord Justice Brian Leveson, who is examining the relationship between British politicians and the press, a key question raised by the phone hacking scandal that brought down Murdoch’s News of the World tabloid in July.

Revelations of widespread illegal behavior at the top-selling Sunday publication rocked Britain’s establishment with evidence of media misdeeds, police corruption and too-cozy links between the press and politicians. Murdoch’s News International — the tabloid’s publisher — has been hit with over 100 lawsuits over phone hacking and dozens of reporters and media executives have been arrested.

Showing little equivocation, Murdoch batted away challenges to his ethics by inquiry lawyer Robert Jay.

Asked whether he set the political agenda for his U.K. editors, he denied it.

Asked whether he’d ever used his media influence to boost his business, he denied it.

Asked whether standards at his papers declined when he took them over, he denied it — and threw in a quip about his rivals.

“The Sun has never been a better paper than it is today,” Murdoch said. “I won’t say the same of my competitors.”

The inquiry was set up by Prime Minister David Cameron following the scandal’s resurgence in July. Murdoch’s testimony was among the most heavily anticipated — not least because of his close links to generations of British politicians, both from Cameron’s Conservatives and the opposition Labour Party.

Murdoch made few concessions to his inquisitor.

He denied that former Prime Minister Tony Blair of the Labour Party had consulted with him on how to discredit French leader Jacques Chirac in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He denied strategizing with Blair’s successor, Gordon Brown, on whether to call a snap election. And he denied lobbying Cameron on issues including broadcasting regulations, the ins-and-outs of which have since helped feed the scandal.

He did reveal a tense telephone exchange with Brown in September 2009, after the tycoon had decided to throw The Sun’s support behind rival Cameron.

“Well, your company has declared war on my government and we have no alternative but to make war on your company,” Murdoch quoted Brown as saying, adding he did not think that the prime minister “was in a very balanced state of mind.”

Brown released a statement Wednesday characterizing Murdoch’s version as false.

“I hope Mr. Murdoch will have the good grace to correct his account,” Brown said.

Murdoch also owned up to having made a colorful joke first reported by Blair: “If our flirtation is ever consummated, Tony, then I suspect we will end up making love like porcupines, very very carefully.”

But he denied that his personal friendship with Blair had led to any favors, thumping the table to punctuate his sentence.

“I never. Asked. Mr. Blair. For anything,” he said.

Media-watchers have speculated that Murdoch would seek to inflict political pain on the Cameron’s Conservatives, rumors which gained force when his son James gave damning testimony about British Olympics czar Jeremy Hunt on Tuesday. The younger Murdoch released documents that suggested that Hunt, a Cameron ally, had secretly smoothed the way for News Corp.’s bid for full control of the British Sky Broadcasting Group PLC, a lucrative satellite broadcaster.

The bid was contested by Murdoch’s competitors, who feared that if News Corp. increased its stake in BSkyB, it would reinforce his dominance of the British media landscape. Hunt had told lawmakers he would be impartial, but the documents showed his department giving News Corp. behind-the-scenes advice and intelligence.

Hunt’s political aide Adam Smith resigned Wednesday, saying he was responsible for the perception that News Corp. had “too close a relationship” with Hunt’s office. Smith said he had acted without Hunt’s authorization, but it was not clear how a special adviser could have acted so independently.

Although Murdoch was cooperative with the inquiry on Wednesday, he evoked a healthy helping of the phrase “I don’t remember,” particularly when confronted with potentially embarrassing anecdotes about his alleged remarks.

At one point, Jay quizzed Murdoch about a gleeful comment in which Murdoch took credit for smearing his left-wing opponents.

“If I said that, I’m afraid it was the influence of alcohol,” Murdoch replied.

Throughout the hearing, Murdoch attacked the idea that he traded on his political influence, calling it a “complete myth. One I want to put to bed once and for all.”

So determined was he that Murdoch appeared to claim he was totally blind to business considerations when deciding which politicians to back.

“You’re completely oblivious to the commercial benefits to your company of a particular party winning an election. Is that really the position?” asked a skeptical-sounding Jay.

“Yes,” Murdoch said. “Absolutely.”

His testimony resumes on Thursday.

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“We don’t have that sort of power,” Murdoch tells inquiry


LONDON, ENGLAND – APRIL 25: Rupert Murdoch leaves The Royal Courts of Justice with his wife Wendi Deng Murdoch after giving evidence to The leveson Inquiry on April 25, 2012 in London, England. This phase of the inquiry into the culture, practice and ethics of the press in the United Kingdom is looking at the owners of various media groups. The inquiry, which may take a year or more to complete, comes in the wake of the phone hacking scandal that saw the closure of The News of The World newspaper in 2011. Getty Images

Reuters | Apr 25, 2012

By Estelle Shirbon and Georgina Prodhan

LONDON (Reuters) – Rupert Murdoch is used to slipping into Downing Street by the back door for discreet meetings with prime ministers, but there was no such privacy on Wednesday when he faced a grilling about his political influence in the full glare of the world’s media.

It was one of the most extraordinary days in a career spanning six decades that has seen the owner of a provincial Australian newspaper morph into a global media magnate credited with the power to make or break governments.

Questioned under oath at a judicial inquiry prompted by revelations of endemic phone-hacking at his News of the World tabloid, which he shut down last July, Murdoch gave a confident performance in which he amiably played down the power he holds.

If his enemies had hoped to see him squirm under the forensic questioning of the inquiry’s top prosecutor, especially after a memorably unimpressive performance before British lawmakers last July with his son James, they were disappointed. Last time, a protester threw a foam “pie” at the elder Murdoch and was hit by his formidable wife, Wendi Deng.

Under questioning last July, Murdoch had looked old and tired, and said it was the humblest day of his life, as the extent of public outrage at the way the News of the World had treated ordinary people as well as celebrities sank in.

But at Wednesday’s hearing at London’s Royal Courts of Justice, one of the few times Murdoch has been hauled into any court, he appeared in command of the proceedings and quickly won over lawyers, journalists and the public alike. He smiled, was sometimes stern and left onlookers wondering how good, or bad, his memory of recent British political events really was.

Lest anybody underestimate him in his ninth decade, Murdoch jogged back to his seat after one of the breaks in proceedings, and showed he was as sharp as ever when it came to the quick put-down.

Had he thought British Prime Minister David Cameron was “lightweight” when he first met him? “No, not then.”

What did he think of former Prime Minister Gordon Brown threatening to wage war on News Corp, his company? “I did not think he was in a very balanced state of mind.”

SUN WOT WON IT

Murdoch’s many detractors say he uses his vast multi-media empire to promote his right-wing views, further his commercial interests and gain covert influence among the rich and powerful for himself and his children.

The media mogul conceded that politicians often courted him, but shrugged at the suggestion that his papers could swing British elections.

“We don’t have that sort of power,” he said, disowning the famous “It’s The Sun Wot Won It” front page run by his favorite tabloid on the morning after the Conservatives unexpectedly won the 1992 election.

Responding calmly and politely to questions, pausing to ponder his answers and cracking a few jokes along the way, the 81-year-old projected himself as a shrewd and sensible businessman with no secret agenda or delusions of grandeur – a far cry from the bogeyman portrayed by his numerous enemies.

It was only natural in a democracy that politicians should seek the support of the media, and there was nothing unusual about his own political contacts, he said.

“He was that version of Rupert Murdoch that is approachable, engaging, really anything you want him to be,” said Neil Chenoweth, a Australian investigative journalist who has been writing about Murdoch for more than two decades.

“I think it must be very reassuring for investors to see him on top of his material, a little conciliatory but not a lot,” said Chenoweth, the author of two books on Murdoch.

But Murdoch’s efforts to downplay his own importance were undermined by events in Westminster, a short distance away from the courtroom where Judge Brian Leveson’s inquiry was in progress.

AT THE HEART OF POWER

With excruciating timing, Cameron was in parliament for a weekly question time that was dominated by attacks on him and his government for being too close to the Murdoch empire, a theme that has dogged Cameron since revelations started pouring out in the hacking scandal.

While Cameron was jeered in a rowdy House of Commons, Murdoch was gently ducking difficult questions at the Leveson Inquiry with smiles, one-liners and pregnant pauses as he appeared to rack his brain for long-lost memories.

A crucial lunch with former Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to gain her backing for his 1981 takeover of the Times and the Sunday Times? He had no memory of it. Allegations of interference in editorial matters by former Times editor Harold Evans? He hadn’t read the book.

Nevertheless, for a self-styled outsider who likes to portray himself as a scourge of the establishment, Murdoch’s testimony offered tantalizing glimpses of a career that has in fact unfolded at the very heart of power.

He was probed on his relationship with Thatcher and grudgingly admitted that they were “on the same page” politically.

That is putting it mildly, according to many students of Murdoch’s career who say that under Thatcher’s government in the 1980s he and his papers shared her libertarian and individualist agenda and offered her support she could only have dreamed of.

“They were engaged in a joint crusade to regenerate Britain, its culture, its people, its place in the world,” said James Curran, co-author of “Power without Responsibility”, an authoritative textbook on the history of the British press.

“MAKING LOVE LIKE PORCUPINES”

But Wednesday’s grilling showed Murdoch’s political malleability, which analysts say has been one of the hallmarks of his success.

With the Thatcher era over and her Conservative successor John Major bogged down in party infighting, Murdoch switched allegiance to left-of-centre Tony Blair of New Labor, who flew to Australia as opposition leader to pay homage to Murdoch.

“This was a pragmatic, calculated relationship with an Atlanticist pro-markets social democrat he could do business with. It wasn’t a joint crusade, it was a carefully calibrated mutually advantageous relationship,” said Curran.

The Blair-Murdoch relationship was described in cruder terms at Leveson. Murdoch was asked if it was true that he had once told Blair that “if our flirtation was ever consummated, Tony, then I suspect we will end up making love like porcupines: very, very carefully.” The response: “I might have.”

The performance showed that the ageing Murdoch has lost none of his fighting spirit after a tumultuous year that saw him sacrifice the profitable News of the World, abandon a cherished bid to take over a satellite TV business and reluctantly let his son James and his favorite, Rebekah Brooks, resign from their posts at the British arm of his News Corp conglomerate.

SEX SCANDALS AND BARE-BREASTED GIRLS

These events have transfixed the British media and profoundly embarrassed the government, but Murdoch’s Leveson appearance served as a reminder of the many controversies he has overcome during his long and inexorable rise.

After expanding the family business he inherited in Australia and New Zealand, Murdoch burst onto the British scene in the late 1960s with the purchase of the News of the World and the Sun.

In his first decade as owner of the two papers, they were transformed into sensationalist scoop machines, serving up a diet of sex scandals and bare-breasted girls. Circulation soared to record levels.

When he set his sights on the venerable but struggling Times and Sunday Times in 1980, his takeover bid prompted cries of outrage from many critics who said the vulgar style of his tabloids disqualified him from running respectable papers.

Murdoch prevailed and owned the four newspapers until he had to close the News of the World amid scandal last year. He replaced it with a Sunday edition of the Sun and has a staggering 40 percent share in Britain’s daily newspaper market.

In 1986 came the battle of Wapping, when Murdoch moved his operations overnight to new facilities with their own printing press in a direct challenge to powerful unions who opposed the move because it would lead to massive job losses. After months of strikes and violent standoffs, Murdoch won.

Asked at Leveson whether one of the reasons why Thatcher, also a ruthless union-buster, had backed his bid for the Times group was that she expected him to crush the press unions, Murdoch was evasive.

“I don’t think she knew there would be trouble with the unions … I didn’t have the will to crush the unions. I might have had the desire, but that took years,” he chuckled.

Another way to kill US farmers: Seize their bank accounts on phony charges

Food Freedom News | Apr 23, 2012

By Rady Ananda

Monsanto’s Food and Drug Administration can’t close down small dairies and private food clubs fast enough, bursting on the scene with guns drawn as if the criminalized right to contract for natural foods we’ve consumed for millennia deserves SWAT attention.

Now, Obama has the Dept. of Justice going after small farmers under the post-911 “Bank Secrecy Act” which makes it a crime to deposit less than $10,000 when you earned more than that.

“The level we deposited was what it was and it was about the same every week,” Randy Sowers told Frederick News. The Sowers own and run South Mountain Creamery in Middletown, Maryland.

Admittedly, when the Sowers earned over $10,000 in February, and learned they’d have to fill out paperwork at the bank for such large deposits, they simply rolled the deposits over to keep them below the none-of-your-fucking-business amount, rather than waste time on bureaucratic red tape aimed at flagging terrorism or other illegal activities.

“Structuring,” explains Overlawyered.com, “is the federal criminal offense of splitting up bank deposits so as to keep them under a threshold such as $10,000 above which banks have to report transactions to the government.”

While being questioned, the Sowers were finally presented with a seizure order and advised that the feds had already emptied their bank account of $70,000.  The Dept. of Justice has since sued to keep $63,000 of the Sowers’ money, though they committed no crime other than maintaining their privacy.

Without funds, they will be unable to make purchases for the spring planting.

When a similar action was taken against Taylor’s Produce Stand last year, the feds seized $90,000, dropped the charges, and kept $45,000 of Taylor’s money.

Knowing that most farms operate on a very thin margin, such abuse of power wipes out a family’s income, and for a bonus, the feds enhance the monopoly power of Monsanto, Big Dairy and their supply chain.

You can just smell attorney Michael Taylor behind all this, Obama’s dairy dog.  Who you’ll find, instead, is US district attorney Stefan Cassella. He’s the first to head the DOJ’s Asset Forfeiture & Money Laundering Section, created in 2009, having wrote the books on it. He cut his teeth on seizing $1.2 billion from real money launderer, BCCI.  Guess his focus has changed since then.

The Maryland Dept. of Agriculture had no trouble hitting up the Sowers for a recipe in its Buy-Local cookbook; but Cassella must’ve missed that public service, or it’s what drew his attention – “Ah! A small dairy! Let’s rob them of their cash, those evil Big Dairy competitors. They probably sell raw milk under the table. Even if we find no evidence of wrongdoing, we’ll keep their money anyway.” (Cue Curly’s, “yuh, yuh, yuh.”)

City Paper reports that in 2011, “Maryland brought 14 of the nation’s 99 structuring cases, making it the top state for such prosecutions.  Nationally, the numbers have been rising; the 2011 figures are up 8.8 percent from the year before and up 57.1 percent from five years ago.”

Funny, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, and other criminal banksters are still in operation, despite committing millions of acts of fraud during mortgage reassignations. But the DOJ prioritizes squashing family farmers since it’s easier to pick the low-hanging fruit than do battle with well-financed criminals who’ve illegally seized the homes of millions of US citizens.

Former Maryland assistant U.S. attorney Steven Levin told the paper, “The emphasis is on basically seizing money, whether it is legally or illegally earned. It can lead to financial ruin for business owners, and there’s a potential for abuse here by the government.”

Ya think?

The Bank Secrecy Act was modified* after 9/11, another in a long line of Constitutionally-abhorrent laws enacted by officials who cannot prove they were elected to office (given those elections were held on electronic voting systems that can be hacked without leaving evidence of the crime).

With the current Administration’s Agenda 21 focus on destroying the natural food and herb industry, is it not unsurprising to see unconstitutional terrorist legislation used on innocent, law abiding citizens?

7-Year-Old Girl With Cerebral Palsy Gets Agressive TSA Pat-Down; Family Misses Flight


The seven-year-old’s leg braces won’t allow her to pass through metal detectors. (April 25, 2012)

IBTimes | Apr 25, 2012

The ever-controversial screening policies of the TSA are under the microscope again after Dina Frank, a 7-year-old girl with cerebral palsy, was rigorously patted down to the point where her family missed their flight.

“They make our lives completely difficult,” Dina’s father, Joshua Frank, told The Daily, as reported by CBS Washington, referring to the U.S. Transportation Security Administration. Dina’s “not a threat to national security.”

Dina’s condition prevents her from being able to go through metal detectors at airports because of her leg braces and crutches, which means TSA agents have to pat her down.

The experience is usually uncomfortable for Dina and her family asks that TSA agents be friendly with her during the pat down.

Mom: TSA agents at Wichita airport treated daughter, 4, like a terrorist

But Monday’s incident did not go as usual for Dina, as the agents were aggressive with her, the Franks said.

The pat-down ordeal caused the Franks to miss their flight from John F. Kennedy International Airport to their destination in Florida.

Joshua Frank is the latest to criticize the TSA over their screening policies, joining celebrities such as model Bar Refaeli, who suggested the TSA agent who patted her down must have been a lesbian over the way she was handled by the agent.

But did the TSA reach a new low over Dina’s pat-down?

“They’re harassing people. This is totally misguided policy,” Frank said. “Yes, I understand that TSA is in charge of national security and there’s all these threats. For [Dina] to be singled out, it’s crazy.”

The incident came just three days after Dina was featured on CBS 2 New York after she was able to take her first steps after getting a Botox treatment.

Dina’s mother, Marcy Frank, hailed the new treatment.

“Now she’ll walk around the neighborhood. We don’t need to take the wheelchair anywhere anymore. It’s incredible,” Marcy Frank told the news station.

Dina’s father said the treatment has changed his daughter’s life.

“As a parent, it’s just amazing to be able to see your daughter walk out onto the driveway and onto a school bus instead of having to be put in a wheelchair and having to be lifted onto the school bus is a life we couldn’t have even imagined a year ago,” he said.

Bribe-taking TSA screeners at LAX arrested for drug trafficking


This Jan. 10, 2007 file photo shows Transportation Security Officer Juan Morales at the Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles. Two former and current Transportation Security Administration employees have been arrested and indicted on drug conspiracy charges for allegedly allowing large amounts of cocaine and other drugs to pass through security screening at Los Angeles International Airport last year. Seven people face drug-related charges in a 22-count indictment unsealed Wednesday April 25, 2012, in Los Angeles federal court. (AP Photo/Ann Johansson, File)

TSA screeners charged in LA drug trafficking probe

Associated Press | Apr 25, 2012

By GREG RISLING

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Two former and two current Transportation Security Administration employees have been arrested on federal drug trafficking and bribery charges for allowing large amounts of cocaine and other drugs to pass through X-ray machines at security checkpoints in exchange for cash, authorities said.

A 22-count indictment unsealed Wednesday outlined five incidents where the employees took payments of up to $2,400 to provide drug couriers unfettered access at Los Angeles International Airport over a six-month period last year.

“The allegations in this case describe a significant breakdown of the screening system through the conduct of individuals who placed greed above the nation’s security needs,” said U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr.

Among those arrested and charged are Naral Richardson, 30, of Los Angeles, who was fired by TSA in 2010 and accused of orchestrating the scheme; John Whitfield, 23, of Los Angeles, a current TSA screener; Joy White, 27, of Compton, who was terminated last year; and Capeline McKinney, 25, of Los Angeles, also a current screener.

It wasn’t immediately known if any of the four had retained attorneys.

TSA screeners let drug-filled luggage through LAX for cash

TSA Screeners at L.A. Airport Charged With Taking Bribes

TSA screeners at LAX arrested on narcotics trafficking charges

Authorities became aware of the smuggling scheme last February when Richardson, who began working at TSA in 2002 and White, who was hired six years ago, arranged for co-defendant Duane Eleby, a suspected drug courier, to pass a large amount of cocaine through security screening at LAX.

But Eleby failed to follow instructions provided by White and was arrested after he went to the wrong terminal and another TSA screener found the cocaine, prosecutors said.

Federal agents then set up a sting where informants were able to pass cocaine and methamphetamine through security checkpoints without further inspection. In one case, after nearly four kilograms of meth went through an X-ray machine, Whitfield and an operative met in an airport bathroom where Whitfield was paid $600 for his efforts, court documents show.

In another instance, McKinney let more than 20 kilograms of cocaine to pass through her security checkpoint, authorities said.

Randy Parsons, TSA’s security director at LAX, said the agency is disappointed about the arrests but that it remained committed to holding its employees to the highest standards.

If convicted, all four employees face a minimum of 10 years in federal prison. Whitfield, who has worked at TSA since 2008, and McKinney, a seven-year veteran, are under suspension, authorities said.

There have been a handful of other arrests of TSA employees since the agency was created in response to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Last week, former TSA officer Jonathan Best pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute oxycodone for his role in a painkiller trafficking ring. Another former TSA officer, a former New York police officer and a former Florida state trooper have already pleaded guilty.

Antidepressants Do More Harm Than Good, Study Says


The antidepressant drug Prozac, also known as fluoxetine, is seen on a table. The side effects of antidepressants far outweigh their minimal benefits, according to a new study. (Photo: Reuters)

ibtimes.com | Apr 25, 2012

By Amir Khan

Antidepressants do more harm than good since patients presume the drugs are safe though numerous side effects are well known, according to a new study.

Harmful side effects of commonly prescribed antidepressants can include stroke and premature death and far outweigh the minimal benefits, according to the study authors.

“We need to be much more cautious about the widespread use of these drugs,” Paul Andrews, study author and evolutionary biologist at McMaster University, said in a statement. “It’s important because millions of people are prescribed anti-depressants each year, and the conventional wisdom about these drugs is that they’re safe and effective.”

One class of antidepressants relieves depressive symptoms by increasing the level of serotonin hormone, a mood regulator that contributes to feelings of well-being and happiness. The body produces serotonin for other non-neurological purposes such as blood clots, digestion and reproduction, researchers said.

“Serotonin is an ancient chemical,” Andrews said in a statement. “It’s intimately regulating many different processes, and when you interfere with these things you can expect, from an evolutionary perspective, that it’s going to cause some harm.”

Researchers found that antidepressants hinder serotonin regulation and can cause digestive problems, atypical sperm development, abnormal bleeding, stroke and premature death. Antidepressant manufacturers warn of side effects on drug labels though patients do not always consider how the side effects will affect their lives, according to the study authors.

“It is widely believed that antidepressant medications are both safe and effective; however, this belief was formed in the absence of adequate scientific verification,” the researchers wrote. “The weight of current evidence suggests that, in general, antidepressants are neither safe nor effective; they appear to do more harm than good.”

One in 20 Americans over the age of 12 reported feeling symptoms of depression between 2005 and 2006, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms include hopelessness, feeling like a failure, poor appetite, lack of interest in activities and suicidal thuogts.

People with depression miss almost five workdays every three months, according to the CDC. Depression causes 200 million lost workdays every year and costs employers between $17 billion and $44 billion annually, according to U.S. health authorities.

Antidepressants were the most frequently used prescription drug by people aged 18 to 44 between 2005 and 2008, according to the CDC. From 1988 to 2008, antidepressant use increased by almost 400 percent.

Doctors need to re-evaluate the prudence of dispensing antidepressant prescriptions on such a large scale, according to the study authors. The study’s findings will hopefully get clinicians to take a critical look at the drugs’ continuing use.

“It could change the way we think about such major pharmaceutical drugs,” he says. “You’ve got a minimal benefit, a laundry list of negative effects – some small, some rare and some not so rare. The issue is: Does the list of negative effects outweigh the minimal benefit?”

Opiates killed 8 Americans in Afghanistan, Army records show


56 soldiers, including the eight, were investigated for using, possessing or selling the drugs

More soldiers in the Army overall are testing positive for heroin use

CNN | Apr 23, 2012

By Michael Martinez

(CNN) — Eight American soldiers died of overdoses involving heroin, morphine or other opiates during deployments in Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011, according to U.S. Army investigative reports.

The overdoses were revealed in documents detailing how the Army investigated a total of 56 soldiers, including the eight who fell victim to overdoses, on suspicion of possessing, using or distributing heroin and other opiates.

At the same time, heroin use apparently is on the rise in the Army overall, as military statistics show that the number of soldiers testing positive for heroin has grown from 10 instances in fiscal year 2002 to 116 in fiscal year 2010.

Army officials didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment on Saturday. But records from the service’s Criminal Investigation Command, obtained by the conservative legal group Judicial Watch, provided glimpses into how soldiers bought drugs from Afghan juveniles, an Afghan interpreter and in one case, an employee of a Defense Department contractor, who was eventually fired.

The drug use is occurring in a country that is estimated to supply more than 90% of the world’s opium, and the Taliban insurgency is believed to be stockpiling the drug to finance their activities, according to a 2009 U.N. study. While the records show some soldiers using heroin, much of the opiate abuse by U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan involves prescription drugs such Percocet, the Army documents show.

Judicial Watch obtained the documents under the Freedom of Information of Act and provided them to CNN. Spokesman Col. Gary Kolb of the International Security Assistance Force, the NATO-led command in Afghanistan, verified the documents to CNN on Saturday.

One fatal overdose occurred in June 2010 at Forward Operating Base Blessing, after a soldier asked another soldier to buy black tar opium from a local Afghan outside the base’s entry control point. The first soldier died after consuming the opium like chewing tobacco and smoking pieces of it in a cigarette, the documents show.

The reports even show soldier lingo for the drug — calling it “Afghani dip” in one case where three soldiers were accused of using the opiate, the Army investigative reports show.

The United States has 89,000 troops in Afghanistan. The U.S. death toll since the September 11, 2001, attacks that triggered the war has risen to more than 1,850, including 82 this year, according to the U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Central Command.

Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, said his group was interested in soldiers’ drug use partly because the risk was present during the Vietnam War.

“You never want to see news of soldiers dying of drug use in Afghanistan,” Fitton said. “Our concern is, will the military treat this as the problem that it is, and are the families of the soldiers aware of the added risk in this drug-infested country?

“There is a dotted line between the uses. Prescription abuse can easily veer into heroin drug use,” Fitton added. “Afghanistan is the capital of this opiate production and the temptation is great there and the opportunity for drug use all the more.”

The group is concerned that “there hasn’t been enough public discussion, and we would encourage the leadership to discuss or talk about this issue more openly,” Fitton said.

In one case, a soldier bought heroin and the anti-anxiety drug Xanax from five “local national juveniles at multiple locations on Camp Phoenix, Afghanistan, and consumed them,” one report states. Soldiers also distributed heroin, Percocet and other drugs among themselves, according to the reports.

Another soldier fatally overdosed in December 2010 after taking several drugs, including morphine and codeine, though the drugs were not prescribed for him, the Army documents show.

One female soldier broke into the Brigade Medical Supply Office at Forward Operating Base Shank and stole expired prescription narcotics including morphine, Percocet, Valium, fentanyl and lorazepam, the documents show.

The investigative reports show soldiers using other drugs, including steroids and marijuana, and even hashish that was sold to U.S. servicemen by the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police personnel, the reports state.