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Bogota, Colombia -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, on a one-day visit to Colombia, said Tuesday that the United States would support that nation in resuming a policy that allows Colombian fighter pilots to force or shoot down planes suspected of ferrying drugs.
Such a policy, which has been criticized by human rights groups, was suspended over Colombia and Peru in 2001 after a Peruvian fighter jet mistakenly shot down a private plane carrying American missionaries, killing two people, one an infant.
A White House statement said that President Bush had determined that Colombia had since "put in place appropriate procedures to protect against loss of innocent life."
The announcement did not specify those safeguards, but U.S. officials said they would include radio or visual contact, first trying to force suspect planes to land, and then firing warning shots. Only as a last resort, U.S. officials said, would a plane be downed.
"Some of these procedures existed in the old program," one U.S. official said, "but they were not enforced."
A much more limited program, still being developed, may be put in place in coming months in Peru, officials said.
The announcement was timed as part of the visit by Rumsfeld, who arrived in Bogota on Tuesday morning under tight security to underscore U.S. support for President Alvaro Uribe.
The Uribe government has received $2.5 billion from Washington in mostly military aid since 2000 for its battles against leftist rebels and drug traffickers. Colombia is likely to get another $700 million this year.
The Colombian drug trade, which supplies most of the cocaine entering the United States, has been increasingly tied to both the leftist insurgency and right-wing paramilitary groups. To move the drug, traffickers have often relied on private aircraft.
"There are plenty of ways that illegal trade can move -- land, sea or air --
and if you're not attentive to the air, it becomes a preferred method," said Rumsfeld, who was traveling with reporters.
As in the past, the U.S. role in the drug interdiction plan will consist of working closely with Colombian officials to identify suspect planes, officials said.
Under the new policy, coordinates from U.S. and Colombian radar stations will be passed on to Colombian crews flying Cessna Citation surveillance planes. The surveillance planes will then direct Colombian air force jets toward the suspect aircraft.
The surveillance planes will have at least one bilingual observer, most likely an American, to maintain contact with radar operators and Colombian air force commanders, U.S. officials said. The pilots have also undergone extensive language training.
This U.S. role will be overseen by the State Department, which has taken over the program from the CIA. The State Department has contracted with Arinc Inc., a Maryland-based aviation company, to train Colombian pilots for the surveillance aircraft and other technicians. Previously, the work was conducted by Dyncorp, another company with close links to the CIA.
Officials said that orders to shoot down a plane could come only from Colombia's air force commander, Gen. Hector Fabio Velasco, and planes would have to be within Colombian airspace.
Human Rights Watch officials, who have met with U.S. and Colombian officials to raise concerns, say the program violates America's own use-of- force principles, which in law enforcement are limited to imminent threats.
"To use force is equivalent to an extra-judicial execution," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, director of the Americas division of Human Rights Watch.
Vivanco also criticized Velasco's role. Some U.S. officials have been prodding Uribe to cashier Velasco because of the air force's role in the 1998 bombing of the village of Santo Domingo, in which 18 civilians were killed.
The United States has banned aid to the air force unit responsible for the bombing.
The air interdiction effort began in Peru in 1995 and quickly had a crucial effect in the drug war in the Andes.
Drug traffickers had used small private planes to ferry coca paste, the main ingredient for cocaine, from Peru to the Colombian jungle labs that manufacture cocaine. About 40 planes were shot or forced down in Peru, and others were seized on the ground. Increasingly, traffickers shifted to ground or river transportation.
But on April 20, 2001, a Peruvian fighter shot down a plane carrying a group of American missionaries, killing Veronica Bowers and her baby daughter, Charity. A State Department report later found that the shooting had been caused, in part, by a language barrier, lack of oversight and the use of short cuts and improvisation during missions.
And tell my why Rumsfield is overseeing this instead of someone related to drugs like John Walters? Cause the overall thing is to kill the traffickers who deal in cocaine and such. Military and drugs? conspiracy? guess we'll never know.
-------------------- Prohibition will work great injury to the cause of temperance. It is a species of intemperance within itself, for it goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man's appetite by legislation, and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes. A Prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded.
- Abraham Lincoln: Speech in the Illinois House of Representatives, Dec 18, 1840.
Anyone remember the missionary plane they accidentally shot down a few years back thinking it was carrying drugs? I wonder how long it will be before that happens agina.
-------------------- "Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience." - C.S. Lewis
"I would rather be exposed to the inconveniencies attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it." - Thomas Jefferson
Quote: Such a policy, which has been criticized by human rights groups, was suspended over Colombia and Peru in 2001 after a Peruvian fighter jet mistakenly shot down a private plane carrying American missionaries, killing two people, one an infant.
Successfully shooting down many planes carrying drugs sure makes up for these 3 innocent lives... at least in the US's eyes.