Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has voiced strong concerns about U.S. involvement in Peruvian drug interdiction efforts, because the use of deadly force is permitted against civilian aircraft under the U.S./Peruvian partnership. AOPA and the International Council of Aircraft Owner and Pilot Associations (IAOPA) have long opposed shoot-down rules that permit targeting of civilian aircraft that pose no threat to national security.
In a statement from the Senate floor last Friday, Leahy said, "I urge the administration to reconsider this policy. Yes, we want to stop drugs. Yes, we want to conduct aerial surveillance of suspected aircraft. But shooting civilian aircraft out of the sky when there is no cause for self-defense, no imminent threat to innocent life, and not even proof of illegality, I believe goes too far."
Citing the April 20, 2001, downing of a missionary aircraft in Peru, resulting in the death of a mother and infant daughter, Leahy believes that regardless of new safeguards, the new system would not be safe from human error. "I am concerned that the foreign pilots are performing the role of prosecutor, jury and executioner, even when there may be no cause for self-defense and no proof that the operators of the targeted aircraft have broken any law."
The rules in question differ from the U.S. military's shoot-down authority within U.S. national airspace because they govern actions over foreign soil, and because the activities of the suspect aircraft do not pose an imminent threat to U.S. national security or continuity of government.
Leahy is the ranking member (senior Democrat) of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations, as well as ranking member of the Judiciary Committee.