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2001-05-23

Outraged Members of Congress Move to Halt US Funding of Secret Armies in the Andes

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Congressional outrage over the killing of civilians by the Peruvian Air Force has spurred increased opposition to US privatization of the drug war.

Congressperson Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat and one of the most progressive voices in Congress, has just introduced legislation–the Andean Region Contractor Accountability Act (ARCAA)–to end US funding of secret armies in the Andes.

Guest:

  • Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL-9)

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We continue on the issue of secret wars in Latin America and mercenary forces. Congressional outrage over the killing of innocent civilians, the missionary and her infant, by the Peruvian Air Force, having been targeted by a CIA crew on a plane, has spurred increased opposition to U.S. privatization of the drug war.

Congressperson Jan Schakowsky, a Democrat of Illinois, one of the leading progressive voices in Congress, has just introduced a bill to end U.S. funding of secret armies in the Andean region, and she joins us on the phone from Congress right now. Welcome to Democracy Now!

REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY: Thank you. I’m glad to be with you.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, can you explain the bill that you’ve just introduced?

REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY: I’ve introduced legislation that would prohibit the United States government from entering into any contract with private organizations or individuals, quote, "to carry out military, law enforcement, armed rescue, or other related operations in the countries of the Andean region, including any operations relating to narcotics control efforts." Essentially, this says we can’t enter into these kind of private contracts that lead us into secret wars.

AMY GOODMAN: We just finished a half-hour conversation with Juan Tamayo, who is Miami Herald Andean correspondent in Bogota, Colombia, going through Dyncorp and MPRI and the other private companies. Do you call these "mercenaries"?

REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY: I would say "mercenaries" is exactly the right word to use. It’s interesting that, actually, Juan has more information than members of Congress are able to get. I talked to the CIA, and they wouldn’t even tell me — they wouldn’t neither confirm nor deny that private contractors were involved in the Peruvian shoot down, that how much money is being spent. It’s all top secret. They won’t tell us anything, which has — your lead-in was congressional outrage. This was on both sides of the aisle, from either end of the political spectrum. The most conservative to the most progressive of members are just furious about the lack of information.

AMY GOODMAN: So what kind of support do you have?

REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY: Well, how this is going to eventually play out is unclear, but I know that Dan Burton, who chairs the Government Reform Committee, is pretty determined to get at the bottom of it. He doesn’t understand why that would be classified information. If we’re using taxpayer dollars to fund these activities, if in fact they’re legitimate activities, then shouldn’t the American people know about it? So I’m hoping at least disclosure will be the end of it.

In terms of support, I have a number of co-sponsors on the Democratic side of the aisle and intend to continue to push this legislation.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re talking about so many ex-CIA operatives; former military men, like MPRI being headed by retired General Carl Vuono, who commanded the Army during Desert Storm; ambassadors; former CIA officials. Can you really talk about these as separate from the government? Is it just a way of providing deniability for the U.S. government in these military actions abroad?

REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY: Well, I think that it may be that. That’s one of the questions that I asked, if it was to provide deniability. Are we trying to avoid public scrutiny, controversy, embarrassment? Do we want to end up hiding body bags from the media and shielding them from public opinion? I think these are all important questions that need to be answered. But to me it’s pretty obvious on its face. We’re already spending $300 billion a year to fund the world’s most powerful military. How much more are taxpayers paying, and why?

AMY GOODMAN: The name of the bill you’ve introduced, if people are interested and getting in touch with their Congress members?

REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY: Yeah, the name of the legislation is the Andean Region Contractor Accountability Act, and the number is HR1591.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s the Andean Region Contractor Accountability Act or ARCAA, legislation that would prohibit the federal government from funding private armies in the Andean region.

Jan Schakowsky, I want to thank you for being with us. I know you’re just in the midst of caucus meetings and other congressional activities. Jan Schakowsky is a Congress member from Illinois, a Democrat.

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