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Drug-War Killings in Peru

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IN APRIL, two more innocent people were killed in the U.S government’s 30-year war on drugs. This time, the victims were a 35-year-old missionary named Veronica Bowers and her 7-month-old baby, Charity, who were flying in a small Cessna from Brazil to Peru with Bowers’s husband, another of their children, and the pilot.

After a CIA plane issued an alert to the Peruvian military that the Bowerses plane might be smuggling drugs, a Peruvian military plane attacked and shot down the Cessna. Bowers’s husband and the other child survived the attack, as did the pilot, albeit with severe leg wounds from the bullets that the Peruvian plane fired.

How long are the American people going to put up with this deadly nonsense? When is enough enough? Isn’t 30 years of failure and destruction sufficient to convince people that it’s time to give it up — to end, not reform or “win,” the war on drugs?

How many more innocent people must die? How many more robberies and muggings in order to pay the exorbitant black-market prices for the drugs must occur? How many more addicts must be jailed? How much more government corruption must be uncovered? How much longer must we pay attention to the “good intentions” of the drug warriors?

And “good intentions” are all they have left — nothing more. Thirty years ago, when President Richard Nixon was trying to make political hay, he declared war on drugs. Never mind that many of the opponents to the Vietnam War were drug users — that certainly would not have influenced a man like Richard Nixon. His intentions were no doubt honorable — to punish people who had the audacity to do bad things to themselves. After all, how could they effectively kill and be killed in Vietnam if they didn’t take care of themselves?

A few months ago, I participated in a television program in Dallas about the drug war. A DEA agent, who was about to retire, was on the panel and was waxing eloquent about the need to rid our society of the scourge of drugs.

I asked him, “Aren’t your arguments the same ones you made 30 years ago? Here you are three decades later, retiring with your government pension, simply repeating the same old bromides. If your arguments have failed to produce ‘success,’ as you yourself define that term, after 30 years, why should anyone consider your arguments?”

The assault on freedom

On the same television program, a congressman from Texas was interviewed by telephone and began repeating the same old drug-war bromides that we’ve heard for 30 long years about the need to continue the war on drugs. I asked him, “Congressman, you and I are about the same age. What in the world gives you the moral authority to jail me for doing something harmful to myself?”

And that, of course, is a crucial question. The war on drugs is horribly destructive, as the Bowers family has discovered, but the core of the rot and the evil is the central idea behind the war — that government officials claim the authority to punish a person for engaging in self-destructive behavior.

Consider, for example, the case of the actor Robert Downey Jr. As most everyone knows, Downey is a drug addict, and consequently the state will not leave him alone. In other words, if Downey decides to sit in the privacy of his own home and ingest drugs, the state will grab him and jail him simply for doing something harmful to himself.

How can a people honestly claim to be free when their own government officials have the power to jail them for engaging in self-destructive behavior in the privacy of their own homes? I submit that the right to engage in such behavior is the very essence of human freedom.

The fact is that “good intentions” in the war on drugs mean nothing. Thirty years ago, the drug warriors led people into believing that if they just sacrificed more of their freedom, American society could be nice, pleasant, and free of drugs.

Thirty years later, their same words ring hollow. Their beloved war has produced violence, robberies, muggings, gangs, gang wars, killings, and corruption. And Veronica Bowers and her baby are just recent victims.

Moral responsibility

U.S. government officials have expressed regret over the deaths of Veronica and Charity Bowers. Isn’t that nice? But it doesn’t quite bring them back, does it?

Ever since the killings, the officials in the CIA plane that issued the drug-war alert to the Peruvian Air Force have been scrambling to avoid responsibility for the deaths, claiming that the deaths are entirely the fault of the Peruvian plane.

But the people in the CIA are responsible for the deaths of Veronica and Charity Bowers. Not in a legal sense, because Congress, not surprisingly, previously enacted special legislation that exempted them from any legal responsibility in this type of situation.

But they are responsible in a moral sense. After all, when there is a bank robbery in which a guard is shot and killed, aren’t all the bank robbers responsible for the deaths, both legally and morally, not simply the robber who pulled the trigger?

CIA people, however, are not the only ones morally responsible for these deaths and all the other deaths and destruction associated with the war on drugs. The president, the members of Congress, the DEA, and other government officials are also morally culpable.

And they’re not the only ones. Ultimately, ordinary citizens who support the immoral and destructive policies of their own government are morally accountable for the consequences of those policies. In the eternal long run, there might be many people who will be surprised to learn that the old adage “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” has a lot more truth to it than people suspect.

Drug-war corruption

U.S. government officials maintain that it’s necessary to continue sending hundreds of millions of dollars to Latin American governments to “stop drugs from entering the United States.” That’s just nonsense, pure and simple.

For one thing, the money simply goes into the pockets of those government officials. I don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble of innocence, but Latin American governments are corrupt. Let me repeat that: Latin American governments are corrupt. Foreign-aid money — which the Internal Revenue Service takes by force from the American people and which could have been better used by the families from whom it was taken — lands in the bank accounts of corrupt Latin American government officials.

Moreover, when Latin American military officials “fight” the war on drugs, it’s all a sham. More often than not, the officials are actively involved in the drug trade, either as partners or as protectors against arrest and prosecution.

Let me reemphasize this for any wide-eyed, innocent Americans who still believe in the drug war: Latin American government officials are making a financial killing on both ends. The first end is either as drug dealers or as guards paid to “look the other way.” The other end is by fattening their bank accounts with money from American taxpayers to “fight” the war on drugs.

It would be difficult to find a better example of all this than in Peru, where Veronica and Charity Bowers were killed. Consider the following excerpt from a May 9, 2001, Washington Post article entitled “U.S. Allies in Drug War in Disgrace” by Anthony Failola:

Gen. Juan Miguel del Aguila, head of Peru’s National Anti-Terrorism Bureau until last year and, later, security chief of the National Police, recalled frequent meetings with U.S. intelligence agents right up to the moment when [President Alberto] Fujimori abandoned the presidency and fled to Japan in November. “The U.S. was our partner in every respect, giving us intelligence, training, equipment and working closely with us in the field,” said del Aguila, who is charged with conspiracy in the state-sponsored bombing last year of a bank in central Lima, an act meant to look like the handiwork of Fujimori opponents to portray them as radicals. “The United States was our best ally.”

Less chatty, Gen. Nicolas Hermoza Rios, an honors graduate from the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Ga., shooed away a foreign journalist. The former head of Fujimori’s joint chiefs during most of the 1990s — a decade when Peru vied with Colombia as the top recipient of U.S. military aid in South America — Hermoza had just pleaded guilty to taking $14 million in illicit gains from arms deals. He was still fighting more potent charges of taking protection money from the same drug lords the United States was paying Peru to fight.

The arrests of 18 generals in the six months since Fujimori’s fall — among more than 70 of his government’s high-ranking military and intelligence officials against whom criminal charges have been brought — have lifted a curtain on the dark side of Washington’s strategic partnership with Peru during the 1990s. Hailed as a model for U.S. military cooperation with Latin America, the tight alliance was part of a quest to crush leftist guerrillas and drug traffickers. To that end, the United States provided Peru not only cash, but also training, equipment, intelligence and manpower from the CIA, DEA and U.S. armed forces.

But a purge underway here since Fujimori’s disgrace has shown that many of the people the United States worked with most closely to accomplish its goals — especially in the drug war — appear to have been working both sides of the street, forming a network of corruption right under the noses of their U.S. partners. For many Peruvians, this has raised the question whether U.S. officials working here were duped or just averted their gaze.

“The United States was working with people involved in massive criminal activity in Peru,”said Anel Townsend, head of a Peruvian congressional subcommittee probing government links to drug trafficking in the 1990s.

“If U.S. intelligence did not know what was going on, it certainly should have. You can’t just offer that kind of assistance to a government like Fujimori’s and then take no responsibility for the consequences.”

And, of course, we shouldn’t forget the CIA’s close Peruvian buddy, Peru’s former intelligence chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, one of Peru’s most brutal and feared government officials. He’s now on the lam after being caught on videotape bribing a member of the Peruvian Congress and can no longer rely on his protector, Fujimori. Returning to the Washington Post article,

Vladimiro Montesinos, for instance, was for years Peru’s top liaison with Washington and Fujimori’s intelligence chief. He is now a fugitive with a $5 million price on his head. Continually defended by U.S. officials and the CIA as a staunch ally in the drug war, Montesinos is facing 31 criminal counts, including charges that he ordered civilian massacres in 1991 and 1992 and that he protected drug smugglers while aiding the United States in capturing others.

State-sponsored terrorism, torture, and murder

Finally, it’s important to keep in mind that many of the Latin American governments that have received U.S. taxpayer money have been brutal, authoritarian regimes whose methods of suppressing opposition and dissent have included terrorism, torture, and murder. Especially guilty are Latin American military personnel who have received their military training at the U.S. Army’s infamous School of the Americas at Fort Benning. No American who supports the war on drugs can escape moral culpability for all of the death and destruction that the war has produced, in both the United States and Latin America. When the American people who support this war finally come to the realization that despite their “good intentions,” they themselves bear individual moral responsibility for their beliefs, the war on drugs might finally be brought to an end.

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    Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.