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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. TIME.com 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 Fleiser 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 back-up 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.”