THE GUARDIAN: US prosecutors and other senior officials who spearheaded the war against drug cartels have quit their jobs to defend Colombian cocaine traffickers, saying their clients are not bad people and that United States drug policy is wrong. Senior former assistant US attorneys and Drug Enforcement Administration agents are turning years of experience in investigating, indicting and extraditing narcos to the advantage of the alleged traffickers they now represent.
“I’m not embarrassed about the fact that I changed sides,” said Robert Feitel, a Washington-based attorney who used to pursue traffickers and money launderers at the Department of Justice. “And I’m not shy about saying that no one knows better how a prosecutor thinks. That’s what people get when they come to me. There are lots of hidden things to know about these cases.”
The fence-jumpers include Bonnie Klapper, who was feted for taking down the Norte del Valle cartel, Leo Arreguin, who headed the DEA’s office in Bogota, and reportedly former members of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, Ice. They work in separate legal practices with their own clients, not as a group. In interviews with the Guardian, Feitel and Klapper spoke of recognising the humanity of their clients and called for alternatives to a four-decade-old “war on drugs” which costs billions of dollars and incarcerates thousands. Feitel called for cocaine and cannabis to be legalised and complained that extradited drug suspects were treated worse than Guantanamo Bay detainees.
“I don’t think I could ever be a prosecutor again. The human drama that I see on this side is sometimes more than I can bear.” […] The sight of high-profile former US officials visiting clients in Colombian and US jails has astonished observers in Colombia – which has long followed Washington’s lead on drugs – but passed largely unnoticed in the US. For the people she once pursued, and those she now defended, trafficking was a family business and route out of poverty, she said.
“I have always felt that it was unfair of our government to place all of the onus on Colombians or Mexicans or Central Americans when the demand for the drugs comes from our own country.” Klapper called for “more innovative solutions” to replace the drug war’s “endless cycle of arrests, prosecutions and convictions, where there is always someone waiting in the wings to take the place of the last individual convicted.”
Feitel was more emphatic in calling the drug war a failure, saying decades of effort, billions of dollars and countless lives had made no appreciable difference to the quantity of drugs on American streets. He urged federal authorities to legalise and regulate cannabis and cocaine. “And I say that even though it would be bad for my business.” MORE