Pubdate: Mon, 21 May 2001
Source: Tribune Review (PA)
Copyright: 2001 Tribune-Review Publishing Co.
Author: Ralph Reiland


Twelve years ago, Nobel laureate Milton Friedman wrote an "Open Letter to 
Bill Bennett" warning about the policies that Bennett and former President 
Bush were advocating to fight drugs: "The path you propose of more police, 
more jails, use of the military in foreign countries, harsh penalties for 
drug users, and a whole panoply of repressive measures can only make a bad 
situation worse. The drug war cannot be won by those tactics without 
undermining the human liberty and individual freedom that you and I cherish."

As it's turned out, Friedman's words were prophetic: "Every friend of 
freedom, and I know you are one, must be as revolted as I am by the 
prospect of turning the United States into an armed camp, by the vision of 
jails filled with casual drug users and of an army of enforcers empowered 
to invade the liberty of citizens on slight evidence. A country in which 
shooting down unidentified planes `on suspicion' can be seriously 
considered as a drug-war tactic is not the kind of United States that 
either you or I want to hand on to future generations."


Last month, American missionary Veronica Bowers, 35, and her 7-month-old 
newly adopted daughter, Charity, became ground zero in America's war on 
drugs when a fighter jet shot a private Cessna seaplane out of the sky over 
the jungle canopy of Peru. Veronica had been in South America for nearly a 
decade, raising her children on a houseboat and delivering food, medicine 
and Bible stories to villagers along the Amazon.

Five people were in the Cessna that morning - the pilot, Veronica, Charity, 
Veronica's husband, Jim Bowers, and their adopted son, Cory, 7. 
provided the details: "Jim Bowers was feeding Charity Cheerios when the 
Peruvian jet dived toward them. He handed the baby to Veronica. Seconds 
later, bullets ripped through the cabin - one entering Veronica's back and 
going into Charity's skull. Both died instantly. The plane was thrown into 
a steep spiral, and flames erupted all around them. Seriously wounded in 
both legs, pilot Kevin Donaldson somehow managed to land the plane. In the 
chaos, Bowers pulled the bodies of his wife and daughter from the burning 
wreckage. Bowers and his son perched atop the capsized plane's pontoons 
until natives arrived in a canoe half an hour later."

The downing of the U.S. missionary plane occurred as both President George 
W. Bush and Peruvian Prime Minister Perez de Cuellar were attending the 
Summit of the Americas in Quebec City, Canada. Bush explained the American 
role in the shoot-down: "Our role was simply to pass on information." 
Translation: Our role was to have a U.S. surveillance plane track the 
missionary plane before it was shot down, mistaking it for a drug-smuggling 
flight, and "pass on information" to the Peruvian air force, information 
like the plane's location and tail numbers.

"Our government," said Bush, "is involved with helping our friends in South 
America identify airplanes that might be carrying illegal drugs." Might be. 
White House spokesman Ari Fleisher said the U.S. crew of CIA-operated 
surveillance aircraft tracking the missionary plane "did its best to make 
certain that all the rules were followed."


Closer to home, Pedro Oregon Navarro is also no longer among the living. It 
was 1:40 a.m. when six members of Houston's anti-gang task force barged 
into Navarro's home and shot him to death. They thought they were raiding 
the home of a drug dealer, but they were mistaken.

Timothy Lynch at the Cato Institute's Center for Constitutional Studies 
tells the story: "It all began when two police officers pulled over a car 
occupied by three young men. One of the occupants was placed under arrest 
for public intoxication. Now in serious trouble because he was already on 
probation for a previous drug offense, the street-wise arrestee thought 
fast. He told the officers that he would give them the name and address of 
a drug dealer if they would just let him go. The cops agreed. The drunk 
told them a bunch of lies and gave them Navarro's address."

Making no attempt to corroborate the information, the two police officers 
called for a backup of four more cops and set out for Navarro's address. 
"When Navarro's brother-in-law opened the door, the police rushed in," 
reports Lynch. "Navarro, who'd been asleep for several hours, heard the 
ruckus and grabbed a handgun he kept in his bedroom. It was all over in 
just a few moments. The police kicked in his bedroom door and bullets 
started flying. Navarro was shot 12 times. His own gun was never fired."

And so, after decades of studies showing that treatment is far more 
effective in reducing drug use than are midnight raids, jails, informants, 
wiretapping, racial profiling, property confiscation, border interdiction 
and shooting down planes over Peru, here we go again, one more time, with 
George W. Bush's nomination of John Walters as our next drug czar, a 
shoot-'em-down and lock-'em-up guy who says it's an "all-too-common myth" 
that we have too many small-time drug users in prison, a guy who's declared 
that treatment for drug addiction is just "the latest manifestation of the 
liberals' commitment to a therapeutic state."

Ralph R. Reiland is the B. Kenneth Simon Professor of Free Enterprise at 
Robert Morris College and a local restaurateur. E-mail him at:  ---
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