Pubdate: Tue, 01 May 2001
Source: American Spectator Magazine (US)
Copyright: 2001 The American Spectator
Author: James Bovard
Note: James Bovard is the author of "Feeling Your Pain": The Explosion & 
Abuse of Government Power in the Clinton-Gore Years (St. Martin's Press)


The Bush administration and federal agencies are still struggling with the 
backlash from the April 20 shootdown of a Cessna airplane with five 
Americans aboard by Peruvian jet fighters. Everybody regrets that a CIA 
surveillance plane notified Peruvian jets that a plane carrying Baptist 
missionaries might be transporting drug traffickers. But unless the U.S. 
government is to suffer severe repercussions from similar drug war debacles 
in the future, it might want to undertake a few simple reforms:

In order to maintain public confidence, clear guidelines must be 
established to prevent U.S. government agencies from changing the official 
story of events more than once every 24 hours during the first week after 
any such controversy. The finger-pointing between the CIA, the Pentagon, 
and other agencies distracted attention from the truth that all blame for 
the killings rests squarely with the government of Peru.

Minor tactical adjustments can prevent major PR problems. Some commentators 
have fixated on the fact that Peruvian jets repeatedly strafed the 
survivors as their burning plane floated in the Amazon River. The U.S. 
government, which provides approximately $100 million in anti-drug aid to 
Peru each year, should insist that Peruvian jets no longer machine-gun 
crash survivors in any locale likely to have ample witnesses. The U.S. has 
a right to insist that foreign governments show at least a modicum of 
respect for the sensibilities of the American public in how U.S. tax 
dollars are spent.

U.S. drug agencies should take a page from the Pentagon's Vietnam-era 
playbook to help Americans understand that we are winning big-time. 
Commentators are obsessing that two American citizens were killed in an 
anti-drug action. However, hundreds -- if not thousands -- of innocent 
Latin American civilians have been killed in the drug war in the last 
decade. The U.S. drug policy's ratio of foreign kills to U.S. casualties 
should be the envy of any military planner.

The U.S. government has been shockingly slow in putting front-and-center 
the suffering of the other victims of this tragedy. Not until four days 
after the shootdown did the Washington Post dutifully report the statement 
of an unnamed U.S. government official that the American crew of the CIA 
spotter plane "is absolutely destroyed by this. They didn't want it to 
happen. They didn't have control over it anymore."

Why didn't the government get this statement out within 24 hours after 
Veronica Bowers and her infant daughter were killed? And why is the 
government withholding details of the agony of the CIA contractors' wives 
and children who have been subjected to endless one-sided news reports 
about the travails of Bowers's husband and surviving son?

The U.S. government has also been surprisingly laggard in announcing the 
appointment of a "blue ribbon independent panel" to investigate the 
tragedy. These independent panels, which always include at least one or two 
pliant former U.S. senators, are vital to maintaining public faith in 
government since they almost always will issue an exhaustive report proving 
that no government official is to blame for anything that happened.

In the future, U.S. government officials must move expeditiously to cast 
suspicions on the victims of government action. It would have been a simple 
matter for one of the unnamed U.S. government officials who fill the 
media's stories on this incident to broach the issue of cocaine use by 
Baptists in the United States. Simply having an authoritative government 
figure (all unnamed government officials are by definition authoritative) 
pose the question would have done wonders to raise doubts about whether the 
missionaries' version of events was as squeaky clean as everyone assumed.

U.S. agencies need to prepare a contingency plan before the next disaster 
strikes. Television footage of the survivors and the dead mother may cause 
some Americans to have doubts about the drug war. Such coverage could 
easily be counter-weighed by a bevy of high profile domestic busts 
(including at least one Hollywood star and one overpaid athlete superstar), 
the appointment of a new drug czar who promises to finally "get tough" with 
drug users, and the emergency printing and distribution of ten million 
"Just Say No!" buttons to school children.

If these simple guidelines are assiduously followed, there will be far less 
danger that future fiascoes with high-profile victims will disrupt the 
smooth functioning of federal policies and programs.
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