Thursday, March 26, 2009

US Invasion of Panama - TOC

US Invasion of Panama
US Military Operation Name: Just Cause

Excerpts From: The International War Crimes Tribunal

On December 20, 1989, President Bush ordered a military assault on Panama using aircraft, artillery, helicopter gunships and experimenting with new weapons, including the Stealth bomber. The attack was a surprise assault targeting civilian and non-combatant government structures. In the El Chorillo district of Panama City alone, hundreds of civilians were killed and between 15,000 and 30,000 made homeless. U.S. soldiers buried dead Panamanians in mass graves, often without identification. The head of state, Manuel Noriega, who was systematically demonized by the U.S. government and press, ultimately surrendered to U.S. forces and was brought to Miami, Florida, on extra-territorial U.S. criminal charges.

The U.S. invasion of Panama violated all the international laws Iraq violated when it invaded Kuwait and more. Many more Panamanians were killed by U.S. forces than Iraq killed Kuwaitis.

President Bush violated the Charter of the United Nations, the Hague and Geneva Conventions, committed crimes against peace, war crimes and violated the U.S.Constitution and numerous U.S. criminal statutes in ordering and directing the assault on Panama.

The U.S. invasion took between 1,000 and 4,000 Panamanian lives. The United States government is still covering up the death toll. U.S. aggression caused massive property destruction throughout Panama.



1.  Introduction

2.  Why the Panamanian people are fighting for national dignity

3.  Panama’s fight for sovereignty: A history

4.  Panama’s only sin is refusing to go down on its knees

5.  The resistance of Panama’s people is of truly historic significance

6.  Notes


John Perkins discusses his involvement in Panama
(Video Duration: 1:47)


13 Heavens NoteSee also the following blog posts:

The United States Invades Panama

Torrijos was dead, but Panama continued to hold a special place in my heart. Living in South Florida, I had access to many sources of information about current events in Central America. Torrijos's legacy lived on, even if it was filtered through people who were not graced with his compassionate personality and strength of character. Attempts to settle differences throughout the hemisphere continued after his death, as did Panama's determination to force the United States to live up to the terms of the Canal Treaty.

Torrijos's successor, Manuel Noriega, at first appeared committed to following in his mentor's footsteps . I never met Noriega personally, but by all accounts, he initially endeavored to further the cause of Latin America's poor and oppressed. One of his most important projects was the continued exploration of prospects for building a new canal, to be financed and constructed by the Japanese. Predictably, he encountered a great deal of resistance from Washington and from private U.S. companies. As Noriega himself writes:

Secretary of State George Shultz was a former executive of the multinational construction company Bechtel; Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger had been a Bechtel vice president. Bechtel would have liked nothing better than to earn the billions of dollars in revenue that canal construction would generate ... The Reagan and Bush administrations feared the possibility that Japan might dominate an eventual canal construction project; not only was there a misplaced concern about security, there was also the question of commercial rivalry. U.S. construction firms stood to lose billions of dollars.l

But Noriega was no Torrijos. He did not have his former boss's charisma or integrity. Over time, he developed an unsavory reputation for corruption and drug dealing, and was even suspected of arranging the assassination of a political rival, Hugo Spadafora.

Noriega built his reputation as a colonel heading up the Panamanian Defense Forces' G-2 unit, the military intelligence command that was the national liaison with the CIA . In this capacity, he developed a close relationship with CIA Director William J. Casey. The CIA used this connection to further its agenda throughout the Caribbean and Central and South America. For example, when the Reagan administration wanted to give Castro advance warning of the 1983 U.S. invasion of Grenada, Casey turned to Noriega, asking him to serve as messenger. The colonel also helped the CIA infiltrate Colombian and other drug cartels.

By 1984, Noriega had been promoted to general and commander in chief of the Panamanian Defense Forces. It is reported that when Casey arrived in Panama City that year and was met at the airport by the local CIA chief, he asked, "Where's my boy? Where's Noriega?" When the general visited Washington, the two men met privately at Casey's house. Many years later, Noriega would admit that his close bond with Casey made him feel invincible. He believed that the CIA, like G-2, was the strongest branch of its country's government. He was convinced that Casey would protect him, despite Noriega's stance on the Panama Canal Treaty and U .S. Canal Zone military bases.2

Thus, while Torrijos had been an international icon for justice and equality, Noriega became a symbol of corruption and decadence. His notoriety in this regard was assured when, on June 12, 1986, the New York Times ran a front-page article with the headline, "Panama Strongman Said to Trade in Drugs and Illicit Money." The expose, written by a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, alleged that the general was a secret and illegal partner in several Latin American businesses; that he had spied on and for both the United States and Cuba, acting as a sort of double agent; that G-2, under his orders, had in fact beheaded Hugo Spadafora ; and that Noriega had personally directed "the most significant drug running in Panama ." This article was accompanied by an unflattering portrait of the general, and a follow-up the next day included more details .3

Compounding his other problems, Noriega was also saddled with a U.S. president who suffered from an image problem, what journalists referred to as George H. W. Bush's "wimp factor."4 This took on special significance when Noriega adamantly refused to consider a fifteen-year extension for the School of the Americas. The general's memoirs provide an interesting insight:

As determined and proud as we were to follow through with Torrijos's legacy, the United States didn't want any of this to happen. They wanted an extension or a renegotiation for the installation [School of the Americas], saying that with their growing war preparations in Central America, they still needed it . But that School of the Americas was an embarrassment to us. We didn't want a training ground for death squads and repressive rightwing militaries on our soil.5

Perhaps, therefore, the world should have anticipated it, but in fact the world was stunned when, on December 20, 1989, the United States attacked Panama with what was reported to be the largest airborne assault on a city since World War II.It was an unprovoked attack on a civilian population. Panama and her people posed absolutely no threat to the United States or to any other country. Politicians, governments, and press around the world denounced the unilateral U.S. action as a clear violation of international law.

Had this military operation been directed against a country that had committed mass murder or other human rights crimes — Pinochet's Chile, Stroessner's Paraguay, Somosa's Nicaragua, D'Aubuisson's El Salvador, or Saddam's Iraq, for example—the world might have understood. But Panama had done nothing of the sort; it had merely dared to defy the wishes of a handful of powerful politicians and corporate executives. It had insisted that the Canal Treaty be honored, it had held discussions with social reformers, and it had explored the possibility of building a new canal with Japanese financing and construction companies. As a result, it suffered devastating consequences. As Noriega puts it:

I want to make it very clear : the destabilization campaign launched by the United States in 1986, ending with the 1989 Panama invasion, was a result of the U.S. rejection of any scenario in which future control of the Panama Canal might be in the hands of an independent, sovereign Panama— supported by Japan . . . Shultz and Weinberger, meanwhile, masquerading as officials operating in the public interest and basking in popular ignorance about the powerful economic interests they represented, were building a propaganda campaign to shoot me down.7

Washington's stated justification for the attack was based on one man. The United States' sole rationale for sending its young men and women to risk their lives and consciences killing innocent people, including untold numbers of children, and setting fire to huge sections of Panama City, was Noriega. He was characterized as evil, as the enemy of the people, as a drug-trafficking monster, and as such he provided the administration with an excuse for the massive invasion of a country with two million inhabitants — which coincidentally happened to sit on one of the most valuable pieces of real estate in the world.

I found the invasion disturbing to the point of driving me into a depression that lasted many days. I knew that Noriega had bodyguards, yet I could not help believing that the jackals could have taken him out, as they had Roldos and Torrijos. Most of his bodyguards, I suspected, had been trained by U.S. military personnel and probably could have been paid either to look the other way or to carry out an assassination themselves.

The more I thought and read about the invasion, therefore, the more convinced I became that it signaled a U .S. policy turn back toward the old methods of empire building, that the Bush administration was determined to go one better than Reagan and to demonstrate to the world that it would not hesitate to use massive force in order to achieve its ends. It also seemed that the goal in Panama, in addition to replacing the Torrijos legacy with a puppet administration favorable to the United States, was to frighten countries like Iraq into submission.

David Harris, a contributing editor at the New York Times Magazine and the author of many books, has an interesting observation. In his 2001 book Shooting the Moon, he states:

Of all the thousands of rulers, potentates, strongmen, juntas, and warlords the Americans have dealt with in all corners of the world, General Manuel Antonio Noriega is the only one the Americans came after like this . Just once in its 225 years of formal national existence has the United States ever invaded another country and carried its ruler back to the United States to face trial and imprisonment for violations of American law committed on that ruler's own native foreign turf. 8

Following the bombardment, the United States suddenly found itself in a delicate situation. For a while, it seemed as though the whole thing would backfire. The Bush administration might have quashed the wimp rumors, but now it faced the problem of legitimacy, of appearing to be a bully caught in an act of terrorism. It was disclosed that the U.S. Army had prohibited the press, the Red Cross, and other outside observers from entering the heavily bombed areas for three days, while soldiers incinerated and buried the casualties. The press asked questions about how much evidence of criminal and other inappropriate behavior was destroyed, and about how many died because they were denied timely medical attention, but such questions were never answered.

We shall never know many of the facts about the invasion, nor shall we know the true extent of the massacre. Defense Secretary Richard Cheney claimed a death toll between five hundred and six hundred, but independent human rights groups estimated it at three thousand to five thousand, with another twenty-five thousand left homeless.9 Noriega was arrested, flown to Miami, and sentenced to forty years' imprisonment; at that time, he was the only person in the United States officially classified as a prisoner of war.' 10

The world was outraged by this breach of international law and by the needless destruction of a defenseless people at the hands of the most powerful military force on the planet, but few in the United

States were aware of either the outrage or the crimes Washington had committed. Press coverage was very limited. A number of factors contributed to this, including government policy, White House phone calls to publishers and television executives, congress-people who dared not object, lest the wimp factor become their problem, and journalists who thought the public needed heroes rather than objectivity.

One exception was Peter Eisner, Newsday editor and Associated Press reporter who covered the Panama invasion and continued to analyze it for many years. In The Memoirs of Manuel Noriega: America's Prisoner, published in 1997, Eisner writes:

The death, destruction and injustice wrought in the name of fighting Noriega —and the lies surrounding that event —were threats to the basic American principles of democracy... Soldiers were ordered to kill in Panama and they did so after being told they had to rescue a country from the clamp of a cruel, depraved dictator; once they acted, the people of their country (the U.S.) marched lockstep behind them. 11

After lengthy research, including interviews with Noriega in his Miami prison cell, Eisner states:

On the key points, I do not think the evidence shows Noriega was guilty of the charges against him. I do not think his actions as a foreign military leader or a sovereign head of state justify the invasion of Panama or that he represented a threat to U.S. national security.12

Eisner concludes:

My analysis of the political situation and my reporting in Panama before, during, and after the invasion brought me to the conclusion that the U .S. invasion of Panama was an abominable abuse of power. The invasion principally served the goals of arrogant American politicians and their Panamanian allies, at the expense of unconscionable bloodshed.13

The Arias family and the pre-Torrijos oligarchy, which had served as U.S. puppets from the time when Panama was torn from Colombia until Torrijos took over, were reinstated. The new Canal Treaty became a moot point. In essence, Washington once again controlled the waterway, despite anything the official documents said.

As I reflected on those incidents and all that I had experienced while working for MAIN, I found myself asking the same questions over and over: How many decisions —including ones of great historical significance that impact millions of people—are made by men and women who are driven by personal motives rather than by a desire to do the right thing? How many of our top government officials are driven by personal greed instead of national loyalty? How many wars are fought because a president does not want his constituents to perceive him as a wimp?

Despite my promises to SWEC's president, my frustration and feelings of impotence about the Panama invasion prodded me into resuming work on my book, except now I decided to focus on Torrijos. I saw his story as a way to expose many of the injustices that infect our world, and as a way to rid myself of my guilt. This time, however, I was determined to keep silent about what I was doing, rather than seeking advice from friends and peers.

As I worked on the book, I was stunned by the magnitude of what we EHMs had accomplished, in so many places. I tried to concentrate on a few countries that stood out, but the list of places where I had worked and which were worse off afterward was astounding. I also was horrified by the extent of my own corruption. I had done a great deal of soul searching, yet I realized that while I was in the midst of it I had been so focused on my daily activities that I had not seen the larger perspective . Thus, when I was in Indonesia I fretted over the things Howard Parker and I discussed, or the issues raised by Rasy's young Indonesian friends . While I was working in Panama, I was deeply affected by the implications of what I had seen during Fidel's introduction of the slums, the Canal Zone, and the discotheque. In Iran, my conversations with Yamin and Doc troubled me immensely. Now, the act of writing this book gave me an overview I understood how easy it had been not to see the larger picture and therefore to miss the true significance of my actions.

How simple this sounds, and how self-evident; yet, how insidious the nature of these experiences. For me it conjures the image of a soldier. In the beginning, he is naive. He may question the morality of killing other people, but mostly he has to deal with his own fear, has to focus on survival . After he kills his first enemy, he is overwhelmed with emotions. He may wonder about the family of the dead man and feel a sense of remorse. But as time goes on and he participates in more battles, kills more people, he becomes hardened. He is transformed into a professional soldier.

I had become a professional soldier. Admitting that fact opened the door for a better understanding of the process by which crimes are committed and empires are built . I could now comprehend why so many people have committed atrocious acts — how, for example, good, family-loving Iranians could work for the shah's brutal secret police, how good Germans could follow the orders of Hitler, how good American men and women could bomb Panama City.

As an EHM, I never drew a penny directly from the NSA or any other government agency; MAIN paid my salary. I was a private citizen, employed by a private corporation. Understanding this helped me see more clearly the emerging role of the corporate executive-as -EHM. A whole new class of soldier was emerging on the world scene, and these people were becoming desensitized to their own actions.

I wrote:

Today, men and women are going into Thailand, the Philippines, Botswana, Bolivia, and every other country where they hope to find people desperate for work . They go to these places with the express purpose of exploiting wretched people — people whose children are severely malnourished, even starving, people who live in shantytowns and have lost all hope of a better life, people who have ceased to even dream of another day . These men and women leave their plush offices in Manhattan or San Francisco or Chicago, streak across continents and oceans in luxurious jetliners, check into first-class hotels, and dine at the finest restaurants the country has to offer. Then they go searching for desperate people.

Today, we still have slave traders. They no longer find it necessary to march into the forests of Africa looking for prime specimens who will bring top dollar on the auction blocks in Charleston, Cartagena, and Havana. They simply recruit desperate people and build a factory to produce the jackets, blue jeans, tennis shoes, automobile parts, computer components, and thousands of other items they can sell in the markets of their choosing. Or they may elect not even to own the factory themselves; instead, they hire a local businessman to do all their dirty work for them.

These men and women think of themselves as upright. They return to their homes with photographs of quaint sites and ancient ruins, to show to their children. They attend seminars where they pat each other on the back and exchange tidbits of advice about dealing with the eccentricities of customs in far-off lands . Their bosses hire lawyers who assure them that what they are doing is perfectly legal. They have a cadre of psychotherapists and other human resource experts at their disposal to convince them that they are helping those desperate people.

The old-fashioned slave trader told himself that he was dealing with a species that was not entirely human, and that he was offering them the opportunity to become Christianized. He also understood that slaves were fundamental to the survival of his own society, that they were the foundation of his economy. The modern slave trader assures himself (or herself) that the desperate people are better off earning one dollar a day than no dollars at all, and that they are receiving the opportunity to become integrated into the larger world community'. She also understands that these desperate people are fundamental to the survival of her company, that they are the foundation for her own lifestyle. She never stops to think about the larger implications of what she, her lifestyle, and the economic system behind them are doing to the world — or of how they may ultimately impact her children's future. 

- pages 173-181


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