Drugs, Death, Spin, and u2018Collateral Damage'

In the aftermath of the infamous killing of a Baptist missionary and her seven-month old daughter last weekend by the Peruvian Air Force, there has been no shortage of spin by the U.S. Government and its domestic allies on both the right and the left. Tyranny, it seems, means never having to say you are sorry.

First, let us look at the political right, that entity which gave us the Drug War in the first place. At first, the Washington Times, which has been quick to point out government misconduct elsewhere, had nothing at all. The online edition the Monday after the shoot down had nothing at all, while only one article appeared on Tuesday.

However, in that same edition, there was a column by Robert Charles, who was chief counsel to the National Security Subcommittee (1995-1999), chief staffer to the Speakers Task Force on Drugs (1997-1999), and conducted repeated oversight trips to Peru and Colombia examining U.S. and host country drug war operations. He currently teaches law and government at Harvard University Extension School. In his column, this "drug warrior" basically dismisses this whole abomination as being the fault of drug dealers.

The watershed is somewhat different. This tragedy points up the ever-widening circles of innocent life lost while Colombian drug traffickers remain at large.

Great sadness attends tragic mistakes that result in loss of innocent life but that is precisely what Colombian drug traffickers do every day. They steal away innocent lives. They rob from innocents across this hemisphere, especially the United States, the very promise of life. Last year, more than 15,000 young Americans died at the hands of drug overdoses, many involving Colombian heroin and cocaine. The coca base for this cocaine is often produced in Peru.

Make no mistake: Ultimate responsibility for this friendly fire accident lies with the unrepentant drug lords who are the unambiguous first cause of the Peruvian shoot-down policy. If they did not traffic coca base in great quantities over the exact flight path of this light plane in nearly identical airframes, consumed by trafficking wealth and utterly indifferent to the countless young lives they steal, this event would never have happened.

There is one problem with this argument: the so-called drug lords did not finger this plane to the Peruvian pilots; it was a planeload of CIA agents who did that dirty deed. Furthermore, all of these overdoses that Charles laments came despite the presence of these shoot down programs. In the past few years, according to news accounts, about South American armed forces jets have shot down about 25 planes. Were all of these "drug flights"? Are there other stories of innocents being killed that we have not been told?

In my search for other articles, I found very little. Linda Chavez wrote that this was a terrible tragedy — and that was all. Likewise, the Chattanooga Free Press editorialized that this was a "terrible tragedy." Gee, who could disagree with that?

Leftist papers like the Washington Post and the New York Times have also seen fit not to mention this incident beyond the front pages. After all, the victims here were Baptist missionaries, people who the journalists who staff these newspapers consider to be a dire threat to our freedoms.

In other words, the deaths of Veronica and Chastity Bowers were nothing more than "collateral damage" in the war on drugs. Like the civilians in a Serbian passenger train who happened to be blown up by a U.S. Air Force jet, the employees of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, or the innocents who happened to be "in the wrong place at the wrong time" in Kosovo, they represent an acceptable level of killing.

The problem here is that many conservatives — and leftists, for that matter — believe that the "war on drugs" is both necessary and righteous. For example, in his article, Charles declares that the killings should reinforce our efforts to stop drug trafficking.

In the end, what the incident in Peru teaches us is that this hemisphere, and our society particularly, cannot afford to look away. We must recommit ourselves to stopping the loss of life that stems whether by teen-age overdose or friendly fire shoot-down from an absence of community and national leadership on an issue dear to every parent and most Americans.

In other words, despite the fact that this whole operation, as recently noted in an article in Salon, is suspect at best and rotten at worst, we press on. Like our war on poverty, war on AIDS, war on illiteracy, and whatever wars the government tells us we must fight, the outcome is always the same. We fail and fail, and instead of cutting our losses and leaving, we commit even more resources and experience even more failure.

Furthermore, we should remember the outrage that followed Timothy McVeigh’s remarks that the deaths of 19 children in the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995 were nothing more than "collateral damage." People were rightly horrified at McVeigh’s lack of remorse, yet the same officials who are killing McVeigh for his deeds are already excusing the CIA for killing Bowers and her daughter.

It would be nice to say that Veronica and Chastity Bowers did not "die in vain." As a Christian, I believe that their deaths were not an absurdity or an act of meaninglessness. However, if any "crusade" must follow this outrage, it should be a campaign to end this drug war once and for all. The corruption is so great that even those who enter this conflict with the best of intentions are either killed or turned into liars.

I don’t think that any of the CIA staffers aboard that plane last weekend wanted Veronica and Chastity Bowers to die, yet these government employees must bear responsibility. An analogy demonstrates my point.

Assume that I am a private detective and I am tracking a former soldier from Don Corleone’s criminal enterprise. The former soldier is in the Witness Protection Program, but I find him, anyway. Furthermore, when I report his whereabouts to Corleone, I urge him not to kill his former associate, but Corleone refuses to listen and kills him anyway.

Would I bear responsibility for the man’s death? Even if that death had been accidental, it would seem that I would, and I am sure that any court of law would say the same. In my opinion, then, we must hold the CIA to the same standard. Unfortunately, my guess is that no one will be admonished for anything, and certainly no official personage of the United States of America will be held accountable at all.

William L. Anderson, Ph.D., is assistant professor of economics at North Greenville College in Tigerville, South Carolina. He is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.