Lawmaker says `chaos' ruled in plane downing

Mich. congressman questions drug program

May 26, 2001|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON - A congressman who reviewed video and audiotapes of the Peruvian downing of a missionaries' plane with one of the survivors said yesterday that he was "disturbed" by the "lack of professionalism and chaos" that marked the incident.

"This wasn't even a close call - there was no reason to shoot down that plane," said Rep. Peter Hoekstra, a Michigan Republican who listened to the tapes this week with Jim Bowers, a Baptist missionary whose wife, Roni, and infant daughter, Charity, were killed in the April 20 attack over Peru.

Hoekstra, like several other conservatives in Congress, said he could not support the resumption of the U.S.-Peru program that was suspended after the shoot-down unless the final option - firing on a plane suspected of being a drug flight - is eliminated.

"You're talking about machine gun bullets going through a clearly marked civilian plane that was doing nothing out of the ordinary," said Hoekstra. "You'd expect they would go through a careful procedure, but that did not happen. It was chaotic, lacked discipline and was very unprofessional."

A team of U.S. and Peruvian officials has been investigating the accident for a month, and their report will probably go to President Bush and intelligence committees on Capitol Hill after next week's congressional recess, said Sen. Bob Graham, a Florida Democrat.

Whatever the investigation's findings, support for the "air bridge" interdiction program, designed to deter, force down or even shoot down drug planes, has all but disappeared on Capitol Hill.

Graham, the new chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, signaled that U.S. officials might be ready to back away from the program. Because coca production has largely shifted from Peru and Bolivia to Colombia, he said, the need for the aggressive efforts over Peru has been reduced.

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