Desperate Over Drugs

The Cocaine Wars

by Paul Eddy, with Hugo Sabogal and Sara Walden
Norton, 399 pp., $18.95

Sealing the Borders: The Effects of Increased Military Participation in Drug Interdiction

by Peter Reuter and Gordon Crawford and Jonathan Cave
The RAND Corporation, 155 pp., $15.00 (paper)

Kings of Cocaine: Inside the Medellín Cartel
An Astonishing True Story of Murder, Money and International Corruption

by Guy Gugliotta and Jeff Leen
Simon and Schuster, 352 pp., $18.95

Desperadoes: Latin Drug Lords, US Lawmen, and the War America Can't Win

by Elaine Shannon
Viking, 499 pp., $21.95

White Rabbit: A Doctor's Story of Her Addiction and Recovery

by Martha Morrison MD.
Crown, 240 pp., $17.95

Drug Abuse Prevention: Further Efforts Needed to Identify Programs That Work

US General Accounting Office, GAO/HRD-88-26, 62 pp., Free (paper)

The American Disease: Origins of Narcotic Control

by David F. Musto MD.
Oxford University Press, 384 pp., $11.95
William Bennett
William Bennett; drawing by David Levine


The title “drug czar,” which George Bush recently conferred on William Bennett, nicely suggests the nature of the American drug bureaucracy; like prerevolutionary Russia, it is backward-looking, unmanageable, and feudal. Active in the “war on drugs” are eleven departments and thirty-seven federal agencies, ranging from the Pentagon and the FBI to the IRS and the Secret Service. In Congress, seventy-four committees and subcommittees have jurisdiction over narcotics matters. Their latest handiwork, the 264-page Anti–Drug Abuse Act of 1988, contains hundreds of programs addressing everything from herbicides to runaway youth. US drug agents are scattered across four continents, monitoring, investigating, tracking, and training.

“Czar” seems appropriate, too, for the person who will fill the position. Like the Russian monarchs, William Bennett brings no particular qualifications to the job. He has no experience with police departments or undercover agents, customs officials or eradication teams, treatment programs or rehabilitation centers. Nor, leaving aside a two-pack-a-day cigarette habit, does Bennett know much about the nature of addiction.

Within 180 days of his confirmation, Bennett must submit to Congress a blueprint for fighting drugs. He clearly has much homework to do. Fortunately a number of books have recently appeared on the subject. What, if anything, might Bennett learn from them?

The Pizza Connection: Lawyers, Money, Drugs, Mafia provides a detailed account of the landmark case in which a Sicilian Mafia ring was tried for importing one-and-a-half tons of pure heroin into the United States. The trial, held in Manhattan from October 1985 to February 1987, was the longest and most expensive criminal proceeding in US history. Shana Alexander had previously written three books about trials (including Very Much a Lady, on the Jean Harris case), but none of them quite prepared her for this one. “Despite the colorfulness of this trial, its excitement, challenge, and bravado, it was turning out to be even harder to follow than the others had been,” she writes in her preface. “I found myself gradually sinking deeper and deeper into the legal ooze, swamps of confusion, vast bogs of befuddlement.” To help us keep track of the “ranks of look-alike defendants,” Alexander supplies a seating chart, family tree, and cast of characters eighty-seven names long. If you get lost, she adds, “take comfort in the knowledge that you are not alone.”

Not exactly what one wants to hear upon opening a 442-page book. Alas, it’s only a matter of pages before we’re knee-deep in “ooze.” No fewer than twenty-two people are on trial here, each with his own lawyer. The government, led by US attorney Rudolph Giuliani, has five prosecutors. Day after day, month after month, the government painstakingly, laboriously, amasses its evidence, attempting to prove that the defendants conspired to import heroin from the Middle East and distribute it in the United States through a network of pizzerias in the East and Midwest. In all, 236 witnesses take the stand.…

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