by James E. Garcia
reports about the shoot-down of a civilian aircraft carrying American missionaries in Peru has revealed some disturbing facts.
Just last week, The New York Times reported that the U.S. government, as early as 1994, worried that innocent civilians might be killed as a result of its joint anti-drug operations with the Peruvian Air Force.
We also know now that the Clinton Administration halfheartedly and only briefly debated whether it should be waging its war against Peruvian drug traffickers alongside the likes of Vladimiro Montesinos, the head of Peru's intelligence agency.
Mr. Montesinos, long suspected of corruption, is now a fugitive and being sought on charges including suspicions that he was involved in massacres, arms trafficking, money laundering and vote rigging. Montesinos' old boss, President Alberto Fujimori now lives in self-imposed exile in Japan.
But what Americans should find most disturbing is that the U.S. has and continues to take part in the wholly non-judicial practice of convicting and executing people who are merely suspected of drug trafficking.
It is a practice, which if carried out within the boundaries of our nation's borders, would elicit outrage from civil liberties groups, lawmakers and the general public.
Here's how it works. Congress authorizes the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, among others, to contract with private firms to gather intelligence on behalf of the Peruvian government. Or we gather the information ourselves. That information is then used to implicate Peruvians in criminal activity, drug trafficking in this case, often without the benefit of a formal police investigation or any direct evidence that illegal drugs are being transported. Then based solely on the information gathered by the CIA and other U.S. drug agencies, the Peruvian Air Force, with the full knowledge of the U.S. government, proceeds to shoot down planes flown by suspected drug dealers out of the sky.
No trial. No judge. No jury. These suspects are convicted and executed on the spot.
Yes, it is a great tragedy that two innocent American civilians died as a result of the U.S. anti-drug policy in Latin America. But is it really any less tragic to kill foreigners who are merely suspected of trafficking in illegal drugs. Even suspected drug traffickers have rights. Or doesn that concept apply when the U.S. is operating overseas?
Let's bring it home for a moment. Would we execute, on the spot, an American suspected of loading his trunk full of marijuana and trying to smuggle it from Dallas to Chicago? Of course not. The courts would demand evidence that a crime was committed. The accused would expect a trial date to be set so that a jury of their peers could judge whether the alleged crime was actually committed. And even if that trunk was loaded with cocaine, we wouldn't sentence that person to the death penalty.
Yet our government in its largely fruitless efforts to stem the flow of cocaine and other drugs to the U.S. allows its agents to participate, with the full consent and authorization of the U.S. Congress, in the premeditated execution of civilians abroad -- and now two Americans, one of them an infant, who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The U.S., of course, is trying to place the blame for the deaths of the missionaries on a trigger-happy Peruvian fighter pilot. But this is a little like hiring a hit man to kill your business partner and then claiming the murder wasn't your fault because you failed to inform the assassin that you had changed your mind.
Congress should end its involvement in joint anti-drug operations with the Peruvian military, or at least insist that our efforts there meet the same constitutional standards of justice we strive to apply within our own borders. Americans shouldn't cast aside the universal principles of justice and due process just because we're trying to help fight crime in a foreign country.
May 28, 2001 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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