Vets to McCaffrey: Stop the Columbia Aid Package

"The veterans' letter Arrives like a grenade as drug czar attempts to suppress a journalistic report of his own alleged war crimes"

by Al Giordano

Special to the Narco News Bulletin

Washington, D.C., April 25, 2000: Seventy-five retired veterans have written the Drug Czar, General Barry McCaffrey (Ret.), urging reconsideration of the escalation of US military involvement in the Colombian civil war.

The veterans' communique arrives like a grenade at McCaffrey's desk just days after the Washington Post revealed that the General is trying to squash a New Yorker magazine story by author Seymour Hersh (who, in 1968 reported in a Pulitzer Prize awarded story that US troops committed a massacre of civilians in Mai Lai, Vietnam). Hersh's recent investigation reportedly explores alleged war crimes committed by McCaffrey -- commander of the US drug war today -- in the Gulf war and in the Vietnam conflict.

McCaffrey wrote a letter last week to New Yorker editor David Remnick in which he hid behind the rank-and-file troops of his Gulf War division in his attempt to suppress the Hersh story. "It is only fair to give notice that I cannot accept publication of false statements by Mr. Hersh that would dishonor the 24th Infantry Division," McCaffrey wrote to Remnick. And McCaffrey offered a veiled threat to the New Yorker that, if the facts of the Gulf War allegations (among them, the alleged assassination by his division of prisoners-of-war, in violation of international law) are published, not just McCaffrey, but his 19,000 troops, would sue the magazine for "libelous attacks" noting that unlike McCaffrey, the soldiers are not public figures.

Thus, McCaffrey's response or non-response to today's letter by US military veterans who oppose the $1.6 billion military aid package to Colombia will speak volumes as to whether the drug czar truly values his fellow veterans or merely invokes their names and reputations as a shield when his own personal glory is at stake.

The letter by the 75 military veterans noted the lack of clear goals behind the Colombia aid package, the inadequate definition of victory, the inability to differentiate between rebels and drug traffickers, the lack of an exit strategy and the fact that the aid package punts on the question of whether a long-term occupying force will be needed to prevent poppy and coca cultivation.

The letter was signed by veterans from every branch of the services and from every US war since World War II. It includes 2 colonels, 1 commander, 8 lieutenant colonels, 7 lieutenant commanders, 6 majors, 4 captains, 9 lieutenants and 38 enlisted veterans. Under the banner of Veterans for More Effective Drug Strategies, the group has published its own page on the internet at

In addition, they pointed out that escalation of US military involvement will derail the peace process and result in more drugs being available in the US. The letter urged emphasis on demand reduction within the US rather than militarism abroad.
Lieutenant Commander Sylvester Salcedo (Ret.), one of the organizers of the letter who returned a medal to President Clinton to protest the Colombian escalation, noted: "The US is embarking on a very dangerous course that will trap us in a foreign entanglement due to fundamental miscalculations being made by advocates of the drug war." Lt. Cmdr. Salcedo served as an intelligence officer for the Navy on drug enforcement operations.

Another organizer of the letter, Lieutenant Colonel Robert H. Dowd (Ret.), who is the author of "The Enemy is Us," an analysis of drug policy, noted: "This strategy repeats the mistakes of past interdiction and eradication programs. For the last 35 years such efforts have resulted in more drugs, new source countries, new trafficking routes and new drugs." He expressed concern that "the Colombian anti-cocaine effort is likely to spur the methamphetamine market within the US and make our drug problems worse."

The signers of the letter have asked General McCaffrey to meet with them to begin a dialogue that will develop more effective approaches to reducing drug problems and controlling the drug market.

The Narco News Bulletin, consistent with our editorial policy that the public speaks best when it is uncensored, publishes the full unabridged text of the April 25th veterans letter to McCaffrey as part of this story. Narco News will also make space available at to General McCaffrey should he choose to respond to the call-to-duty by his fellow military veterans.

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Dear General McCaffrey:

We are military veterans from a variety of backgrounds who join together in recognition that the anticipated escalation of U.S. military involvement in the four-decade-old Colombian civil war will do more harm than good. It is likely to derail the peace process in Colombia, entangle the United States in a military quagmire and make drugs more available to Americans.
We are writing to you to respectfully request a meeting to discuss these matters and urge you to reconsider your advocacy for this military aid package.

To give you more of a perspective on our concerns:

1. Military analysis: There has been a lack of military analysis of the Colombian civil war. Entering the Colombian civil war would once again involve U.S. military personnel in a civil war against a well-armed, well-financed and motivated indigenous army that blends easily with the surrounding population. The Andes jungle plateau is several times larger than South Vietnam which we were, for ten years, unable to control effectively with 500,000 armed American combatants, hundreds of helicopters and total air superiority, compared to the handful of "advisors" and less than a hundred helicopters in Colombia. The planning is painfully unrealistic.

The normal questions of military engagement have not been asked: What is the goal of our military involvement? What would we consider victory? How many additional resources are we willing to provide to this civil war? How are the Colombian troops on the ground supposed to differentiate between drug traffickers and insurgents (since the US funding is not supposed to be used for counterinsurgency, doesn't this create confusion)? How will the US military avoid being labeled as a human rights violator by being closely associated with the Colombian military? What is the end game or exit strategy for this military entanglement? If we are successful would an occupying force be needed to ensure that cocaine and heroin trafficking does not resume? It seems that because we are calling our involvement "drug control" the discussion of military analysis has been ignored. The lack of a military review increases the chance of failure.

2. Peace process: Recently representatives of both sides of the Colombian civil war completed a European tour that greatly advanced the peace process. Representatives of the tour noted that progress toward peace was being made at a rapid pace. However, the one thing they said could derail movement toward settlement of the civil war was the massive increase in US military aid. Have you considered that our involvement may do more to prolong the civil war and undermine the movement toward a peaceful resolution of the issues between Colombians?

3. Drug control: We have closely examined the history of interdiction and eradication efforts over the last 35 years. The consistent result of these policies is to increase the drug supply in the US by encouraging new source countries, developing new trafficking routes and creating new drugs. Indeed, after spending $250 billion on drug control since 1980 the price of cocaine and heroin are one-fourth of what they were in 1981 and purity of both drugs is at record highs.

The inexpensive availability of high purity heroin and cocaine is causing severe health problems in the US with record high overdose deaths and emergency room mentions of drugs. Yet, 57 percent of those who need treatment are unable to get it. The RAND Corporation estimates that treatment is 10 times more cost effective than interdiction in reducing cocaine consumption. Wouldn't it make more sense to focus our resources on reducing demand rather than on military policies that while intended to reduce availability have consistently increased drug availability?

The Colombian drug policy is confused further because all sides of the conflict - including the ones we are allying with - have been tied to drug trafficking. Can you point to any successful interdiction or eradication program in the last three decades that has not resulted in new source countries, new trafficking routes or new drugs coming into the US market? Do you recognize that drug control efforts in Colombia are likely to spur production in other countries and increase the use of man made drugs (e.g., stimulate the marketing of methamphetamine)?

We believe it is important that there is an open discussion on these issues before we become entangled in another foreign military mission based on a "fundamental miscalculation" like the Vietnam War. A meeting between your office, us and our allies would be a first step toward such a dialogue. Thus far the discussion of this issue in the legislative process seems to be avoiding these important issues rather than reviewing and analyzing them.

Please respond to Lieutenant Commander Sylvester Salcedo, USNR (Ret.) at 142 Montague Street, 4R, Brooklyn, NY 11201, 718-643-3552 or We look forward to hearing from you.

Very Respectfully,

Colonel Walter R. Brett, USAF (Ret.), Melbourne, FL
Colonel Ronald B. Weinert, USAFR (Ret.)
Commander Gene Tinelli, USN (Fmr.), Syracuse, NY
Lieutenant Colonel Mitchell Bienko, USAF (Ret.), Wexford, PA
Lieutenant Colonel Robert H. Dowd, USAF (Ret.), Miami, FL
Lieutenant Colonel Robert M. Dowd, USAF (Ret.), Jensen Beach, FL
Lieutenant Colonel Octavio Jordan, USAF (Ret.), Miami, FL
Lieutenant Colonel William E. Hart, USA (Ret.), Homestead, FL
Lieutenant Colonel Clifford D. Kern, USAF (Ret.), Aromis CA
Lieutenant Colonel Pete Martineau, USAF (Ret.), Fair Oaks, CA
Lieutenant Colonel Russell E. Shaw, MA., USAF (Ret.), Boulder, CO
Joe Carvajal, U.S. Foreign Service Officer (Ret.)
Lieutenant Commander Al Byrne, USN (Ret.), Howardsville, VA
Lieutenant Commander J. T, Hann, USN (Ret.), Miami, FL
Lieutenant Commander Frank Harrell, USN (Ret.), Miami, FL
Lieutenant Commander John H. Ingram, USCG (Ret.), Miami, FL
Lieutenant Commander Sylvester L. Salcedo, USNR (Ret.), Brooklyn, NY
Lieutenant Commander Thomas A. Saint, USCG(Ret.), Alameda, CA
Lieutenant Commander Troy N. Thweatt, USN (Ret.), Miami, FL
Major Walter E. Collier, USAF (Ret.), Miami, FL
Major Andrew P. Farris, USAF (inactive reserve)
Major George W. Gibson, USAF (Ret.), Katy, TX
Major David N. Reams, USAF (Ret.), Miami, FL
Major Albert J. Rourke, Jr., USAF (Ret), Miami, FL
Major Jack Spital, AUS (Ret.), Miami, FL
Captain Frederick Chase, Jr., USMCR (Fmr.), Framingham, MA
Captain Richard M. Evans, USAF (Fmr.) Northampton, MA
Captain William M. Kwalick, USA (Ret.), Key Largo, FL
Captain Ruth E. Mawyer, USAR, Nurse Corps (Fmr), Charlottesville, VA
Lieutenant John G. Chase, USNR (Fmr.), Palm Harbor, FL
Lieutenant Joseph W. DuRocher, USN (Fmr.), Orlando, FL
Lieutenant Mary Lynn Mathre, USN (Fmr.), Howardsville, VA
Lieutenant Bob Ramsey, USCGR (Fmr.), Dallas, TX
First Lieutenant Frank T Cloak, Jr., USAR (Fmr.), Albuquerque, NM
First Lieutenant Jerry Epstein, USMC (Fmr.), Houston, TX
First Lieutenant Dana Murphy-Parker, USA, Nurse Corp, (Fmr). Aurora, CO
First Lieutenant Lewis R. Nelson, USAR (Fmr.)
First Lieutenant Gary P. Noyes, USAF (Fmr.), Houston, TX
Chief Warrant Officer Richard Lake, USA, (Ret.), Toledo, OH
Sergeant First Class Dawn E. Tighe, USA (Ret.), San Diego, CA
Staff Sergeant, Thomas Hood, USAR (Ret.), Osseo, MN
Staff Sergeant David A. Pickett, USA (Fmr.), Bloomington, MN
Sergeant Don Beck, USAR (Fmr.), Odessa, TX
Sergeant Steve Paul, ARNG (Fmr.), Los Angeles, CA
Sergeant Dennis S. Sherman, USMC (Fmr.), San Antonio, TX
Sergeant Phillip Zerillo, USMC (Fmr.), East Hampton, NY
Hospital Corpsman Second Class Adlai Boyd, II, USN (Fmr.), Palm Harbor, FL
Operations Specialist Second Class Mike Smithson, USN, Syracuse, NY
Electronics Technician Second Class, Tom Grabowski, USCG (Fmr.), Pittsburgh, PA
Hospital Corpsman Second Class Rick Childs, USN, (Fmr.), Greenwood, VA
Petty Officer Second Class Robin M Hollinger, USN (Fmr.)
Petty Officer Second Class Ben Chitty, USN (Fmr.), Yonkers, NY
Petty Officer Third Class Peter J. Christ, USN (Fmr.), Cazenovia, NY
Coxswain Laben D. Huff, USN, (Fmr), Marble, NC
Communications Yeoman Third Class,Tom Bennett, USN (Fmr.), Mobridge,SD
Aviation Electronics Third Class Sonny Graham, USN (Fmr.)
Corporal Raphael A. Flores, USA (Fmr.), Bronx, NY
Corporal (David) Mervin Key, USA (Fmr.)
Corporal David W. Nolan, USMC, (Fmr.) Bloomington, IL
Corporal Glenn Portwood, USMC (Fmr.), Decatur, IL
Specialist Darren Brock, USA (Fmr.), Davie, FL
Specialist David Cline, USA (Fmr.), Jersey City, NJ
Specialist Colin A. Holtz USA (Fmr.), Missoula, MT
Specialist Bryan A. Krumm, USAR (Fmr.), Albuquerque, NM
Specialist Hal Noyes, USAR (Fmr.), Durham, NC
Specialist Stephen Sedlacko, USAR (Fmr.), Portland, OR
Specialist Tony M. Goins, USA (Fmr.), Oklahoma City, OK
Specialist Charles Sheehan-Miles, USA (Fmr.), Vienna, VA
Specialist Harry Simpson, USAR (Fmr.), Detroit, MI
Specialist Paul Sullivan, USA (Fmr), Fairfax, VA
Specialist Clifford Wallace Thornton, Jr., USAR (Fmr.), Windsor, CT
Specialist Walter F. Wouk, USA, (Fmr.), Summit, NY
Private First Class Leslie Davis, USAR (Fmr.), Minneapolis, MN
Private First Class John Clayton, Sr., USAR (Fmr.), Rockville, MD
Seaman David Isenberg, USN (Fmr.), Arlington, VA

Tom O'Connell, Lt. Colonel, USA (Ret.) San Mateo, CA