Thursday, November 27, 2008

Missionary's family hopes CIA probe brings justice

by Grand Rapids Press
November 21, 2008

Gloria Luttig

Even after seven years, Florida resident Gloria Luttig says the hurt remains. But Luttig, 70, is more determined than ever to find justice after the release of a damning probe into the CIA's role in the 2001 downing of a plane carrying her daughter and granddaughter on a missionary flight in Peru.

"My child was murdered. My granddaughter was murdered. I want to see somebody held accountable for this," Luttig said Thursday.

"I am a Christian, but I think somebody has to pay for this. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth."

Her daughter, Veronica "Roni" Bowers, 35, of Muskegon, was holding her 7-month-old daughter, Charity, on April 20, 2001, when their plane was misidentified as a potential drug-smuggling aircraft and fired upon by a Peruvian Air Force jet.

A bullet struck Bowers in the back, killing her and the baby. Bowers' husband, Jim, then 37, son, Corey, 8, and the pilot survived the crash that followed the shooting.

A report by the Office of Inspector General concludes the CIA routinely broke safety procedures in its drug-interdiction program and then covered up evidence of its failings to Congress and the Department of Justice.

Although much of the report remains classified, U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Holland, said it found that the CIA was operating "outside the law" and lied to Congress and the Department of Justice about how the program was run.

Hoekstra called for a criminal investigation and hearings before the House Intelligence Committee.

"We cannot have a community that operates outside the law and covers up what it does and lies to Congress. This is a shoot-down that should not have occurred if we had an agency that was working appropriately," he said.

The incident was part of a CIA-managed drug interdiction scheme begun in the 1990s that resulted in numerous other aircraft shot down by armed Peruvian planes. But, according to the report by the Office of Inspector General, that program routinely violated intercept procedures.

Hoekstra said about 10 planes were shot down before the Bowers' aircraft, in consistent violation of safety procedures that would have prevented the incident.

"The result was that ... suspect aircraft were shot down within two to three minutes of being sighted by the Peruvian fighter -- without being properly identified, without being given the required warnings to land, and without being given time to respond to such warnings as were being given," the report stated.

After the missionary plane was shot down, the report stated, the cover-up began.

"Within hours, CIA officers began to characterize the shoot-down as a one-time mistake in an otherwise well-run program. In fact, this was not the case."

The report said the CIA "did not fulfill its legal obligations" in keeping Congress and the National Security Council informed of its activities.

It stated that "in seeking to avoid criminal charges" and civil liability, CIA legal officials "advised agency managers to avoid written products lest they be subject to legal scrutiny."

It said the agency stonewalled former National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who requested information on who had given approval to change procedures required in the program.

It stated the investigation "found no evidence that any agency officer ever responded to her request for information."

Previous investigations failed to convince family members they were being told the entire story.

"Some of the members of the CIA have been promoted since then," Gloria Luttig said.

"I want it out in the open, and I want it out in the open now. It's just been one farce after another."

In 2005, after a three-year investigation, federal prosecutors ended a criminal inquiry with no charges into whether at least four CIA officers lied to lawmakers and agency superiors about the clandestine operation.

At the time, Hoekstra agreed with that decision.

"I didn't see anything that would have pointed to anything that could have, or should have, been prosecuted," Hoekstra said then.

The conduct under scrutiny was part of a CIA operation authorized by President Bill Clinton beginning in 1994 to help the Peruvian Air Force prevent drug flights over the country.

A U.S. and Peruvian inquiry in 2001 found that the shooting stemmed from language problems, poor communications and shortcuts in following procedures.

In 2002, Congress approved an $8 million payment to settle survivors' claims stemming from the incident.

Jim Bowers could not be reached for comment.

Texas resident Garnett Luttig Jr., 48, brother to Veronica Bowers, said the family awaits the justice they believe they deserve.

"Our family has never gotten any straight answers from anybody. It was all just pushed under the table.

"As far as I'm concerned, somebody murdered my sister. Somebody needs to pay for it."

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