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Over the past 17 years, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has opposed proposed changes in policy authorizing the shoot down or force down of civil aircraft here and abroad. The tragic incident in Peru on April 20, 2001, resulting from this policy was predicted by AOPA in 1994 when we opposed the U.S. plan to furnish radar tracking and targeting information to South American governments to be used to intercept and shoot down suspected drug smugglers.
The language in the conference report is as follows:
(Andean Counterdrug Initiative section)."That none of the funds appropriated by this Act may be made available to support a Peruvian air interdiction program until the Secretary of State and Director of Central Intelligence certify to the Congress, 30 days before any resumption of United States involvement in a Peruvian air interdiction program, than an air interdiction program that permits the ability of the Peruvian Air Force to shoot down aircraft will include enhanced safeguards and procedures to prevent the occurrence of any incident similar to the April 20, 2001 incident."
AOPA fought long campaigns in 1989, 1994 and 1998 to defeat proposed legislation authorizing various government agencies to shoot or force down civilian aircraft suspected of drug trafficking domestically and internationally.
In 1994 Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) added, over AOPA's opposition, a provision in the Defense Authorization Act of 1995 that grants immunity from prosecution to U.S. officials and contractors who assist foreign governments in tracking and shooting down aircraft suspected of drug operations. Representative (now Senator) Bob Torricelli (D-N.J.) introduced similar shoot down legislation in the House. Congressmen Senator Malcolm Wallop (R-Wyo.) and Representative Benjamin Gilman (R-N.Y.) spoke out against this shoot down provision.
In a floor statement on September 12, 1994, on the Defense Authorization Act of 1995, Senator Wallop said, "For many years we have opposed, for both legal and safety reasons, other countries' occasionally announced intentions to shoot at civil aircraft. Once such a practice begins, it could have dangerous and widespread consequences that could affect the safety of innocent people worldwide. As the world leader in civil aviation, the United States would have more to lose than any other country in the development of such a practice...By elevating drug trafficking to the level of a threat to national security - justifying the use of deadly force against civil aircraft--[this provision] fundamentally departs from accepted standards of international law and long-held U.S. policy."
Necessitated by the tragic incident in Peru, Representative Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) has introduced legislation (H.R. 1818) to repeal this shoot down authority provision and Representative Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.) has added an amendment to the FY02 Foreign Operations Appropriations bill that will withhold funding for the Peru portion of the Andean Counterdrug Initiative unless Congress receives a full report on the Peru shoot down incident of April 20, 2001. As we stated in our June 1994 letter to the U.S. Department of State, "How can anyone feel assured that a Cessna carrying members of Congress on an overseas fact-finding mission could never be mistaken for an identical Cessna full of drug smugglers?" Critics of the foreign shoot down authority fear U.S. liability if an innocent aircraft is shot down. There are effective alternatives to the use of deadly force, alternatives in which the consequences of mistake are far less likely to result in injury or death.
While AOPA supports efforts to fight drug smuggling, we believe the use of deadly force against aircraft is fundamentally wrong and a violation of international law intended to protect civilian pilots and their passengers.
AOPA thanks our members for their continued support in protecting the freedom to fly.