Jeff Johnson | Senior Staff Writer | Thursday, May 12, 2005
USAID is the federal government agency primarily responsible for offering financial help to "countries recovering from disaster, trying to escape poverty, and engaging in democratic reforms."
Needle exchange programs are part of a strategy called "harm reduction," the contested hypothesis that a certain percentage of society will engage in high-risk behaviors like intravenous drug abuse, regardless of education and interdiction efforts. The theory is embraced by Soros and numerous drug legalization advocates, but has been rejected by both the United Nations' International Narcotics Control Board and the Bush Administration's Office of National Drug Control Policy.
Every appropriations bill passed by Congress includes conditions on how federal agencies may spend taxpayers' money. For example, funding laws for public health purposes contain prohibitions to the effect that, "None of the funds provided under this Act or an amendment made by this Act shall be used to provide individuals with hypodermic needles or syringes so that such individuals may use illegal drugs ..."
While USAID appears to have complied with the letter of those laws, at least one member of Congress says the foreign aid agency violated congressional intent by giving taxpayer dollars to groups like Soros' Open Society Institute, which support needle exchange programs.
U.S. Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.), who serves as chairman of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources - believes USAID needs to explain its actions.
"Not only is USAID exercising bad judgment by supporting the facilitation of so-called 'clean needle programs,'" Souder told Cybercast News Service, "but the agency may be violating U.S. Government policy, which prohibits the purchase of materials used in conjunction with a needle exchange program."
The USAID Mission to the Central Asia Republics (CAR) denied Souder's allegations in a response to congressional inquiries.
"[T]he Mission concludes that there is no reasonable basis to support allegations of misuse of taxpayers' dollars in its drug demand reduction and HIV/AIDS prevention activities," the USAID document stated. "Instead, the Mission suggests that inquiries were raised to create a policy debate about whether USAID should be prohibited from funding private organizations that conduct needle exchange or harm reduction activities as part of an overall strategy to combat HIV/AIDS among IDUs (injecting drug users) and other high risk groups."
USAID records show that the agency guided its grant recipients to spend federal funds in such a way as to free private dollars for the purchase of "clean" needles and syringes for intravenous drug users.
A USAID document entitled "Guidance on the Definition and Use of the Child Survival and Health Programs Fund and the Global HIV/AIDS Initiative Account" explains the process:
"USAID is committed to supporting effective strategies to prevent the spread of the HIV/AIDS pandemic by injecting drug users. However, [United States Government] policy is not to use federal funds for the purchase or distribution of injection equipment (needles and syringes) for injecting illegal drugs. Therefore, USAID funds may not be used to purchase the commodities to be used in either a needle/syringe exchange program or research programs on needle/syringe exchange," the handbook states.
"Many other activities targeting IDU and HIV/AIDS reduction are acceptable in a USAID funded program," the document continues.
The USAID guide lists several activities for which U.S. dollars may be used, including "providing factual information about the medical risks associated with the sharing or re-use of needles, syringes, and other drug equipment" and "educating about the risks of injecting drugs and sharing needles." The handbook then explains how grant recipients should go about seeking alternative funding to cover the cost of prohibited services without jeopardizing their taxpayer money.
"While USAID implementing agencies may cooperate with other donors and governments that fund those activities not permitted to be funded by USAID," the pamphlet explains, "in these cases, the USAID funds must be segregated and coded separately."
In another document, a draft report entitled "USAID/CAR Strategy on HIV/AIDS Prevention in Central Asia," USAID praised various Soros enterprises for promoting their agenda in that part of the world.
"An important role is played in the region's HIV/AIDS prevention efforts by the Soros Foundation/Open Society Institute, which supports methadone treatment and harm reduction programs at needle exchange sites. It is important to mention controversial aspects of the needle exchange programs due to the belief among prominent U.S. lawmakers that needle exchange may encourage drug use," the report states. "For instance, because of such controversy, USAID is prohibited from providing direct support for such programs."
Critics believe an email exchange between Assel Janayeva, "harm reduction coordinator" for the Soros Foundation Kazakhstan and Kerry Pelzman of USAID proves the government agency is using the private foundation to facilitate needle exchange programs, which it is forbidden from funding with U.S. taxpayer dollars. The electronic conversation begins with Janayeva submitting the Soros Foundation Kazakhstan's "final report" for the USAID/CAR-funded "Expanding and Enhancing HIV Prevention in Central Asia" project. Pelzman responds to the report:
"Thank you for submission of this report. Unfortunately, it needs to be considered a draft rather than final," Pelzman explained. "[T]he report should address only those activities funded by USAID. My understanding is that there was extensive and clear communication between USAID and OSI regarding the sensitivities around any appearance of USAID support for harm reduction and particularly needle exchange.
"While I appreciate that the activities were related, for any reader the appearance at this point is that USAID financed needle exchanges," Pelzman continued. "This is completely unacceptable. Some of the description in the text is fine; the problem is the extensive references to needle exchange ..."
Pelzman's email then lists several examples of language USAID wanted left out of the report:
"During the 33 months of its extended term (December 2001 to October 2004), the initiative helped fund 34 harm reduction projects in the region's five countries."
"Arguably, the most significant and enduring accomplishment of the USAID/CAR-OSI project was the initiation of dialogue between governments and civil society on issues around HIV prevention, safer sex and safer drug use."
... For example, a pilot needle-exchange project in a Kyrgyzstan prison was deemed effective, and the program subsequently was extended to all national prisons by an official governmental decree."
"The Project provided support to 20 programs throughout Central Asia that work directly with IDUs (injecting drug users). These programs provide a wide range of services to this population, including information and education resources promoting positive behavior change as well as access to needle and syringe exchange services and clean injection paraphernalia ..."
"Over 2003, 'Sotcium' distributed 319,787 needles and syringes and collected 239,395, the highest number of needles and syringes exchanged in the country.
The report later states that, "No USAID funds were used for the purchase of needles or syringes. OSI, however, contributed US $538,000 for needles and syringes."
Pelzman's email concluded that, "The text leaves the distinct impression that USAID is establishing needle-exchange programs throughout CAR (Central Asia Republics), while leaving the 'dirty-work,' i.e., the actuual [sic] purchase of needles and syrynges [sic] to OSI. It is unclear from the text whther [sic] USAID funds are used for the purchase of "clean injection paraphanelia [sic]."
Erin Finnerty, whose email address indicates that she works in the Soros Foundation headquarters in New York, responded to Pelzman's criticism.
"Please be assured that we will use it to revise the report to USAID's satisfaction," Finnerty wrote.
Soros defended himself Monday on National Public Radio, two weeks after Cybercast News Service reported that his Open Society Institute and its subsidiaries had received more than $30 million from U.S. taxpayers between 1998 and 2003.
"The Open Society Foundation has the same objectives as the State Department, except we concentrate more on promoting democracy than the State Department," Soros told NPR. "On the other hand, there's also quite a vocal political group that is out to persecute me personally and indirectly the foundations."
In a statement to Souder's subcommittee, USAID called claims that it is skirting the intent of U.S. law, "non-credible.
"This Mission, and the federal employees who work here, have faithfully executed the Administration's policy," USAID stated in its response to congressional criticism. "Non-credible allegations of wrongdoing and misuse undermine the critically important work of the Mission in a very challenging region."
But critics in Congress said the email exchange and the other "incriminating" documents are all the proof they need that USAID and Soros' foundations are embracing a response to drug abuse that is destined to fail.
"[W]hen evaluating drug control policies, we must look beyond the intent of a program and look to the results," Souder said in an earlier statement on the issue. "We should always apply a common-sense test: Do the policies in question reduce illegal drug use?
Souder said needle exchange programs, and the overarching philosophy of "harm reduction," of which they are a part, do not pass that test.
"Harm reduction" does not have the goal of getting people off of drugs," Souder concluded. "Instead of addressing the symptoms of addiction - such as giving (addicts) clean needles, telling them how to shoot up without blowing a vein, recommending that addicts abuse with someone else in case one of them stops breathing - we should break the bonds of their addiction and make them free from needles and pushers and pimps once and for all."
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