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Segment #8:  THE PANAMA DECEPTION

Panamanian woman crying:  “My daughter did not belong to any group! She had nothing to do with Noriega!  She was innocent!  She had nothing to do with all of this! And they killed her!”

Elizabeth Montgomery, Narrator:  “On December 19th 1989, while Panamanians were getting ready for the Christmas holidays, the United States was secretly mobilizing 26,000 troops for a midnight attack.”

“The invasion was swift, intense and merciless.”

“When it was over, thousands lay dead and wounded and the country was in shambles.”

“Millions of U.S. tax dollars were swallowed up in three days of brutal violence.” 

“In many ways, the invasion served as a testing ground for the Persian Gulf War one year later.  It is also an indication of the kinds of intervention the United States may undertake in the years to come.  But still, big questions remain.  What exactly happened during the invasion of Panama? And why?”

“As the invasion unfolded, Americans stayed glued to their TV’s and newspapers for coverage.  But how much of the real picture did the media give them?”

Michael Parenti, Author / Professor:  “The performance of the mainstream news media in the coverage of Panama, has been just about total collaboration with the administration.  Not a critical murmur, not a critical perspective, not a second thought.” 

Mark Hertsgaard, Author / Journalist:  “The story that the White House was pushing, was getting this so-called Narco-terrorist in a net.  And that was the thrust of all of the coverage.  When are we going to get Noriega?  Have they let Noriega get away?”

American news segments:  “By late today, they had taken control of much of the country but their chief target, General Manuel Noriega, escaped.” 

“Manuel Noriega belongs to that special fraternity of international villains.  Men like Qadaffi, Idi Amin, and the Ayatollah Khomeni, whom Americans just love to hate.” 

Valerie Van Isler, International journalist:  “They focused on Noriega to the exclusion of what was happening to the Panamanian people, to the exclusion to the bodies in the street, to the exclusion of the number dead, to the exclusion of what happened to the women and children in that country, during this midnight invasion.”

Narrator:  “Noriega was head of Panama’s military intelligence and had a long standing relationship with the United States.  He had been on the CIA payroll since the 60’s.  When George Bush became Director of the CIA in 1976, under President Ford, he inherited Noriega as a contact.  Despite evidence that Noriega was involved in drug trafficking, Bush kept Noriega on the payroll.  In fact, he increased Noriega’s salary to more than $100,000 a year and eliminated a requirement that intelligence reports on Panama include information on drug trafficking.”

“With support from the CIA, Noriega was able to outmaneuver his rivals and in August of 1983, he became Commander of the Panamanian Military.   As the Reagan administration expanded its covert war against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua, Noriega became increasingly helpful.  Working with the CIA, and with Israeli arms dealers, Noriega helped coordinate an arms supply network to provide weapons to contra bases in northern Costa Rica.”

Professor Peter Dale Scott, Author / Professor:  “Noriega’s involvement in the drug traffic really increased his importance as a source for the CIA and as someone who was able to conduct dirty tricks in the region for the CIA.  So it’s no accident that the CIA became the most prominent defenders of Noriega against the drug charges, because that’s the sort of thing which CIA clients tend to do.” 

Narrator:  “Despite Noriega’s collaboration with many U.S. covert operations, he was becoming increasingly uncooperative with U.S. objectives in Central America.  In 1984, he angered the Reagan administration by hosting Latin American leaders at the Contadora Peace Talks.  The talks called for an end to U.S. intervention in Central American affairs.” 

American news segments:  “But relations with Panama are under a new cloud tonight because of news reports alleging…..”

“Senator Jesse Helms charged today that the military strongmen of Panama, Manuel Noriega, is the number one drug trafficker in the Americas.” 

Narrator:  “The Reagan administration now openly called for his removal.” 

Former President Ronald Reagan:  “We do want Noriega out of there and a return to a civilian democratic government.”

Narrator:  “The U.S. now undertook a systematic effort to overthrow Noriega.  Economic sanctions were stepped up and additional troops were dispatched to Panama.” 

American news segment:  “The United States tonight declared in effect that Panama’s General Manuel Noriega is a threat to this country’s national security.”

Former President George Bush, Sr.:  “Mr. Noriega, the drug indicted, drug-related, indicted dictator of Panama.  We want to bring him to justice.  We want to get him out and we want to restore democracy to Panama ....”

Narrator:  “Sabina Virgo, a national labor organizer, was in Panama just weeks before the invasion.  

Sabina Virgo, National Labor Organizer, U.S.:  “Provocations against the Panamanian people by the United States military troops were very frequent in Panama and they had several results and in my opinion probably a couple of different intents.  One, I think, was to create an international incident, was to have United States troops just hassle the Panamanian people until an incident resulted and from that incident the United States could then say that they were going into Panama for the protection of American life, which is in fact exactly what happened.” 

Narrator:  “On December 20th, U.S. troops invaded Panama.  The invasion was code-named Operation Just Cause.  Shortly after midnight, U.S. troops simultaneously attacked 27 targets, many of which were in densely populated areas.  One of the primary targets in Panama City was the headquarters of the Panamanian Defense Forces, located in the crowded neighborhood of El Chorillo.  U.S. troops shelled the area for four hours before moving in and calling for surrender.”

Voice of US soldier:  “We ask you to surrender..... If you do not, we are prepared to level each and every building…..”

Narrator:  “It soon became clear that the objectives were not limited only to military targets.  According to witnesses, many of the surrounding residential neighborhoods were deliberately attacked and destroyed.”  

Unknown person describing what they saw:  “They shot at everything that moved, without mercy and without thinking whether there were children or women or people fighting. Instead, everything that moved they shot.”

Woman speaking in Spanish (Voice of translator):  “The North Americans began burning down El Chorillo at about 6:30 in the morning.  They would throw a small device into a house and would catch on fire. They would burn a house and then move to another and begin the process all over again.  They burned from one street to the next.  They coordinated the burning through walkie-talkies.”

Narrator:  “The Pentagon used Panama as a testing ground for newly developed high tech weapons such as the Stealth Fighter, the Apache Attack helicopter, and laser guided missiles.” 

Rear Admiral Eugene Carrol, Center for Defense Information:  “President Bush wanted to make certain that this was going to be a success. This was going to be his vindication, denial of the wimp factor in spades.  So they sent down a force that wasn’t going to encounter any effective resistance but simply overwhelm the opposition and the fact that it would cause tremendous peripheral damage, damage to innocent civilians on a wide scale, was not of concern in the planning.”

Mark Hertsgaard, Author / Journalist:  “My God, we were sending in artillery and air strikes against a very heavily populated urban area.  There was absolutely no question that there were going to be immense numbers of civilian casualties.”

Narrator:  “During the days and weeks following the invasion, the U.S. policy of applying overwhelming deadly force continued.  There were many reports of indiscriminate killings and executions of unarmed civilians.”

Gavrielle Gemma: Independent Commission of Inquiry:  “We have eye witness accounts on the part of a number of Panamanians where soldiers took Panamanians who had been captured after the invasion and executed them on the street.”

Narrator:  “During the week of the invasion, more than 18,000 people who fled from the areas of attack were forced into temporary detention centers created by the U.S. forces.” 

Gavrielle Gemma:  “They arrested close to 7,000 Panamanian individuals.  They arrested almost every trade union leader, the leaders of the nationalist parties, of progressive parties, of Left parties in Panama. They arrested people who were cultural leaders.  There are still hundreds of Panamanians who remain in jail, with no due process, with no formal charges against them.”

Narrator:  “As a result of the U.S. invasion, an estimated 20,000 Panamanians lost their homes.  Hardest hit were residents in the poor neighborhoods of San Miguelito, Colon, Panama Veijo, and El Chorillo.”

“How many people were killed in Panama?  And who were they?  These questions may never be answered because the United States military undertook elaborate efforts to conceal the number of dead, how they died, and the location of their bodies.”

Robert Knight, journalist:  “What happened in Panama is a hidden horror.  Many of the bodies were bulldozed into piles and immolated in the slums where they were collected.  Other bodies were left in the garbage shoots of the poor projects in which they died from the shooting, from the artillery, from the machine guns, from the airborne attacks.  Others were said to have been pushed into the ocean.”

Representative Charles Rangel (Democrat, New York):  “The truth of the matter is that we don’t even know how many Panamanians we have killed.  But we should have more information on what happened.  How many civilians were killed? 

Narrator:  “The National Human Rights Commission of Panama interviewed hundreds of people in an effort to determine how many had died.”

Olga Mejia, (National Human Rights Commission):  “What we have is different testimonies that help us to arrive to the conclusion that for sure, there were more than 4,000 people who died.”

Jeff Cohen, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (www.fair.org):  “The U.S. military said 250 civilians were killed.  I mean, there isn’t a credible source in Panama that believes that’s true.  Whether it’s ambulance drivers, human rights monitors, doctors who worked in hospitals, neighbors of bombed out blocks.  It’s just clearly false.  That story would be so easy to tell for any journalist worth his or her salt.  But they’re not telling it.”

Michael Parenti:  “When they interviewed people in Panama about what they thought of it, they invariably were interviewing white, middle class people, who could speak English.  They didn’t really go into the poor neighborhoods where people had been bombed.   Did you see one media actually go into the bombed areas and talk to people who had lost a family or lost everything they had in the bombings?   They focused totally on the invasion as a tactical event.  Was it effective?  Did it work well?  Are we losing many American lives?” 

American news segments:  “While another unit moved in by helicopter”….. “15 American servicemen have died”……. “Gertrude Candy Haland, from Dixon, Illinois, is the twentieth American to die.”

Parenti:  “They focused with utter ethnocentrism only on American lives.  The only life that was precious, the only life that one could report on, the only life that one could consider as a serious loss was an American life.”

Narrator:  “In the months following the invasion, Panamanians were shocked to discover the existence of mass graves where hundreds, perhaps thousands, of bodies were hastily dumped into pits and buried by U.S. troops.” 

Jose Morin (Center for Constitutional Rights):  “To date, there have been 15 mass graves that have been identified throughout Panama. The United States military was directly responsible for the killings of the men, women and children that are in these mass graves and for their burial.  These mass graves exist throughout Panama and some are believed to be on U.S. military bases which creates a difficulty in terms of access to these mass graves.”

Voice of translator: “We found many young people, 15, 16, 18 years old.  We found people in their ‘60s, and in their ‘70s.  We found people killed by a shot to the back of their heads.  Dead with their hands tied.  Dead with casts on their legs or arms.” 

Narrator:  “Although the U.S. media created a perception of support for the invasion within the United States, the invasion was overwhelmingly condemned in the international community.”

Jeff Cohen:  “If you look at any document in international law, any of numerous treaties, it’s clear that this invasion was illegal.  It’s not debatable.” 

Joseph Morin, (Center for Constitutional Rights):  “The Panama invasion violates the UN Charter and the OAS Charter which have specific prohibitions against invasions of sovereign country and invasions of the territorial integrity of other countries.  These prohibitions are very strict and clear under international law.  The United States actions, in violation of human rights, also violates the Geneva Convention which protects civilians from indiscriminate acts of violence as had occurred against civilian victims in Panama.” 

Mark Hertsgaard:  “The four biggest most important papers in this country all endorsed the rightness of the Panama invasion.  That’s the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, strong endorsements, the New Times and the Wall Street Journal.  Everyone of them.  Now, a little body known as the United Nations had a vote about this. On December 29th they voted by an overwhelming majority to condemn the invasion as, in their words, “a flagrant violation of international law.” 

Michael Parenti:  “The media was so cooperative with the government because the media are owned by the same interests that are being defended in Central America by that government policy.  The media are not close to corporate America.  They are not favorable to corporate America.   They are corporate America.  They are an integral part of corporate America.”

Ramsey Clark:  “We are a plutocracy.  We ought to face it, a country in which wealth controls.  May be true of all countries more or less but uniquely true of ours because of our materialism and the concentration of wealth here.  Even our democratic processes are hardly that because money dominates politics and we know it.  Through politics, it dominates government, and it dominates the media. We really need desperately to find new ways to hear independent voices and points of view.  It’s the only way we are going to find the truth.”

Former President George Bush Sr.: “The goals of the United States have been to safeguard the lives of Americans, to defend democracy in Panama .....”

Rear Admiral Eugene Carrol:  “Then President Bush said we had to go to restore democracy in Panama.  How in the world do you restore that which has never existed?  Panama has never been a democracy since we created Panama for our own purposes in 1903.  And all we did was go down to restore American control and dominance in Panama.”

Narrator:  “The new government installed by the invasion, was headed by the U.S.-backed candidates from the aborted national election, Endara, Calderon and Ford.  Hours before the invasion, they were taken to a U.S. military base where they were sworn in as the President and Vice Presidents.”

Esmeralda Brown, (United Nations Methodist Office): “Of course he is not going to say that Panama is occupied.  In fact, he might not even call it an invasion.  It wasn’t his kind that were killed or massacred.  He lives in the nicer area in the oligarchical area and you know his interest is protected.  He is not running Panama, he is a puppet of the U.S. government.  The U.S. government is running Panama.  They are running all of the ministries in Panama. He’s only abiding by what he’s told to do.” 

Robert Knight, (Investigative Journalist):  “The invasion sets the stage for the wars of the 21st century in South America.  The 2,000-mile invasion from Washington to Panama City took place primarily with bases from the United States. The essential value of the Southern Command is to get another 2,000 miles of intervention capability which takes us right into the heart of the Andean cocoa producing region, where the wars of the next decade are entirely likely to take place.” 

Peter Kornbluh, (National Security Archive):  “Panama is another example of destroying a country to save it. And it’s another case of how the United States has exercised a “might makes right” doctrine among smaller countries of the Third World.  It has long been U.S. practice to invade these countries, get what we want, and leave the people that live there to kind of rot.”

Angry woman, (Voice of translator): “George Bush, may his children be spared what my daughter has been subjected to.  My daughter, who doesn’t want to live!  May his generation be spared what our generation is living through! He should ask God for forgiveness for all the damage caused to many families down here!” 

Former President George Bush, Sr.: “One year ago the people of Panama lived in fear under the thumb of a dictator.  Today, democracy is restored.  Panama is free.” 

Narrator:  “In March 1991, President Guillermo Endara proposed a constitutional amendment that would forever abolish Panama’s right to have an army.  Later that year, a law was passed by the United States Congress to renegotiate the Panama Canal Treaties to ensure continued U.S. military presence in Panama, on the grounds that Panama was no longer capable of defending the canal.”

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