the War All Too Real
had rather expected that most American newspapers would feature
the photos of Veronica Bowers and her almost achingly lovely daughter
in the innocent days before her killing on the front page. Poignant
as the photos were, however, they were displaced by other news,
pushed to the inside pages or not used at all in many papers. Perhaps
the tussle over whether the United States or Peru was more to blame
seemed more interesting or newsworthy than a reminder of the promise
in those lives snuffed out so suddenly.
these latest innocent victims of the War on Drugs will be a catalyst
for broader rethinking of the prohibitory way the U.S. government
approaches potentially dangerous (and in fact not so dangerous)
substances is difficult to tell. Certainly all the knowledge necessary
has been assembled.
politics and public policy tend to be driven more by emotion and
publicity than by rational assessment and hardheaded analysis. It
is more than a little unfair that so much attention is focused on
the missionaries killed so well, almost casually this time. For
the last year we've had stories about skirmishes in Colombia almost
every week, with a dozen killed here, seven or eight there, 50 elsewhere.
Were all those Colombian lives less intrinsically valuable, more
inherently interesting and worthy of discussion than the life of
an American missionary connected to a respectable organization?
as Roni Bowers was a Christian she would be the first to deny it.
produce casualties from what is euphemistically called "friendly
fire" or "collateral damage." The cold-blooded killing
of Roni Bowers and her daughter and it was cold-blooded, conscious
and intentional, however the blame is finally assessed could be
seen as almost promiscuous collateral damage in an inherently violent
and careless conflict. And the sad thing is that the instinct of
both governments to cover up and deny might have happened if the
victims had not been Americans with connections to a serious missionary
organization and relatives back home who learned the facts as participants
facts still are being sorted out, what seems to be clear is that
a CIA plane notified the military of Peru that a private Cessna
185 airplane was suspected of carrying drugs. The Peruvian Air Force
then shot down the plane.
both governments at first tried to pretend that nothing at all had
happened. Then the US government tried to deny that drug agents
were even tailing the Cessna plane or communicating with the Peruvians
it has supplied and urged to become more active "partners"
(or is that "accomplices"?) in the Holy War on Drugs.
The Peruvian government at first tried to deny that the Cessna had
even filed a flight plan, which presumably would make it the more
LIES AS USUAL
these were all lies, proving once again that in war the first casualty
is truth. Because there was an established organization sponsoring
the missionaries, it didn't take that long for the lies to unravel.
Unfortunately most of the media will not emphasize the early lies,
but implicitly chalk it up to understandable confusion ion the immediate
wake of and unfortunate tragedy.
Peruvians said they ordered the plane to land. But "the pilot
was in radio contact with the tower at the time the shooting began.
The tower people heard that and were aware of what was going on
over the radio," Michael Loftis told ABC News; he's president
of the Association of Baptists for
World Evangelism, with which Ms. Bowers was associated.
proper flight plan had been filled out and was on file at the flight
tower where the plane was landing; a copy
of the flight plan is on the ABWE Web site. The ABWE site also
says that the pilot was in contact with the Peruvian control tower.
colleague at the Orange County Register, John Seiler, contacted
Ian Vasquez, born in Peru and now director of the Cato
Institute's Project on Global Economic Liberty. This kind of
indiscriminate shooting down of alleged drug planes "is a policy
we dare not conduct in the United States," Ian Vasquez said.
also pointed out that the US government "supposedly is trying
to help advance civil society" in Peru through aiding such
democratic institutions as the legislature and free markets. But
such military assaults, as well as "pervasive corruption from
the drug war," have the opposite result. "This is the
result of the drug war. The result is corruption and violence, not
a reduction in drugs going to the United States."
time the incident came to public attention and continues to attract
more coverage in part because the victims were the kind of goodhearted,
decent Americans with whom most of us can identify. "But typically
the victims of the drug war in Latin America are peasants, so they're
not noticed," Ian Vasquez said. The peasants often are caught
in the crossfire between "the military and drug-financed groups."
talked to Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Lindesmith
Center-Drug Policy Foundation, perhaps the leading advocate
of drug policy reform in the country. Besides noting just how despicable
it was to purposely and consciously kill people in pursuit of a
failed policy, he pointed out that there are plenty of anonymous
victims of the drug war right here in the United States.
the police raid the wrong apartment or terrorize innocent family
members while conducting a 'dynamic entry' raid into some drug seller's
home, more drug-war victims are created," Nadelmann said. "Many
were shocked at the way Elian Gonzalez was removed from his relatives'
home last year, with the assault rifle apparently pointed right
at the face of the frightened young boy. But similar raids are conducted
on 'enemies' in the drug war every day in America. It was from the
drug war that the Feds learned and refined such tactics."
IN THE WRONG DIRECTION
the Bush administration seems to be moving in the wrong direction
when it comes to the Latin American drug war. Already Plan Colombia
has been transformed into the "Andean Initiative." The
reason. Countries surrounding Colombia, including Peru, Bolivia
and Panama, have expressed trepidation about Colombia's narco-civil
war spilling across borders into their countries. Rather than using
such concerns as an occasion for rethinking the Colombia incursion,
the administration has sought to buy the neighbors off with promises
of increased aid and materiel.
this is more like the action of a self-conscious world empire, which
treats other countries not as nations with equal rights but as de
facto colonies, than of the America devoted to liberty and self-determination
we all thought we grew up in.
than being reconsidered, the ill-advised war in Colombia is due
to be expanded and to become much more expensive to American taxpayers.
The scuttlebutt that John Walters, a hard-line drug warrior who
was assistant to the infamous William Bennett when he was "drug
czar" is the administration's choice to be the new drug dictator
is especially ominous. Walters was the designated hitter for certain
Republicans who wanted to claim that the Clinton administration,
as it increased spending and filled the prisons with even more drug
"criminals" just wasn't prosecuting the "war"
aggressively or vigorously enough.
metaphor "war on drugs" has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The actual title of the office Mr. Walters is rumored to be slated
to head is the Office of National Drug Control Policy, not the Office
of Maximum Prohibition Enforcement. That could mean it could be
used as a platform for independent assessment of various criminal-justice,
harm-reduction and rehabilitation-oriented policies, with the mission
of developing the best blend of approaches to achieve discrete and
realistic goals. Instead it is likely to remain a platform for repression
and self-righteous lectures. And war with real casualties and real
IN THE WIND?
signs that most Americans are ready for different approaches are
multifarious. Not only has medical marijuana been approved every
time it has been on a state ballot, by margins ranging from 56 to
69 percent, but California passed Proposition 36 (similar to a measure
conservative Arizona voters passed twice, once after the state legislature
tried to nullify it), which mandates probation and treatment rather
than incarceration for the first three simple drug-possession offenses.
Washington, however, the bureaucrats who have so much invested in
the drug war are sternly resisting the message the voters, who are
theoretically supposed to be their bosses, are trying to send them.
The federal government's official position, in defiance of all the
scientific information (including a great deal developed and summarized
by the government itself in various reports) is that marijuana has
no medical uses and is uniquely dangerous and subject to abuse.
It is small comfort to those who question the Holy War that it has
to be built on a tissue of lies and misrepresentations. The liars
still control the levers of power.
for some reason the movie "Traffic," released in the wake
of all these developments, seems to have stirred more questioning
than ever before regarding the drug war. Most Americans in respectable
mainstream surveys will now respond "yes" to the question
whether the drug war is a failure, although there is little consensus
about what should be done in light of this assessment.
the killing of Roni Bowers and her daughter Charity wake up more
Americans to the deadly realities of the war on drugs and hasten
a reassessment of government policy? It might happen, although it
would be premature to make a prediction. The irrational fear of
chemical compounds and plants that the government has systematically
encouraged to bolster its war still grips many Americans. And the
warriors still control most of the levers of power.
then there are those photographs of a young woman and her daughter,
two gentle souls whose potential to do good in life was so suddenly
and ignominiously ripped from them by a Peruvian fighter jet. Who
can gaze on them and not wonder whether a policy that treated these
souls full of life and joy as victims to be killed carelessly, almost
thoughtlessly because incomplete, incorrect information suggested
that their plane might be that of a drug trafficker, is fundamentally
wrong and un-American?
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