Relatives of an American missionary family whose aircraft was shot down over Peru in a CIA operation in 2001, killing two people, denounced disciplinary action against the agents involved yesterday and demanded that those responsible should be jailed.
Jim and Veronica “Roni” Bowers worked as Baptist missionaries in remote jungle along the Amazon river near Iquitos, in the north of the country. They were returning with their six-year-old son, Cory, and infant daughter Charity from a trip to Brazil in a Cessna light aircraft piloted by Kevin Donaldson when it was seen by CIA spotters.
A CIA aircraft followed the Bowers for almost two hours and called in the Peruvian Air Force to intercept the Cessna. In dramatic video footage of the incident, a fighter can be seen “buzzing” the Cessna before opening fire a few moments later. Mrs Bowers and Charity were killed.
After nine years of investigation, however, the CIA insisted that none of its officers had acted inappropriately when the aircraft was mistakenly attacked as part of a covert anti-drug effort called the Airbridge Denial Programme. It announced that it had taken disciplinary action against 16 officers involved in the incident,
“I am sick and tired of this Government. There is nothing but a bunch of liars up there,” Garnett Luttig, who lost his daughter and granddaughter, told The Times from his home in Pace, Florida. “They have lied. They have covered up,” he said. “My opinion is some people need to go to prison — a bunch of them.”
The cockpit voice recorder showed that the two CIA pilots believed the Bowers’ aircraft was a drug flight, but then had second thoughts. The CIA operatives then sought guidance by radio from the Peruvian air force ground controller.
“Are you sure is bandito? Are you sure?” one asked.
“Yes, OK,” the Peruvian replied.
One of the CIA men confides to the other: “I think we’re making a mistake.”
Unable to speak Spanish except for a few phrases, the CIA team had difficulty calling off the operation. As the Peruvian jet began firing, one CIA man screamed: “Tell him to terminate! Don’t shoot. No more — no mas!”
By then it was too late. Mrs Bowers and her daughter had been killed by a bullet that passed though her back and lodged in the infant’s skull. With the pilot wounded in both legs, the Cessna made an emergency landing on the river.
Investigations revealed that the Cessna was one of 15 small civilian aircraft shot down during the covert programme from 1995 to 2001. The CIA inspector-general said in November that in most cases the flights were shot down “without being properly identified, without being given the required warnings to land, and without being given time to respond to such warnings as were given to land”.