Missing the Real Noriega Story

Exclusive: The mainstream media’s obituaries for Gen. Manuel Noriega missed the real story: the U.S. government’s rank hypocrisy in justifying a bloody invasion that deepened Panama’s role in the drug trade, explains Jonathan Marshall.

By Jonathan Marshall

The death of former Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega on May 29 elicited few if any tears. But it should have sparked more reflection in the United States on his ugly history of service to the CIA, the hypocrisy of Washington’s sudden discovery of his abuses once Noriega became an unreliable ally against the Nicaraguan Sandinistas, and the George H.W. Bush administration’s bloody and illegal invasion of Panama in December 1989.

Vice President George H.W. Bush meeting with Panamanian Gen. Manuel Noriega in the mid-1980s when Noriega was considered a key ally in helping the Nicaraguan Contras wage a brutal guerrilla war to overthrow the leftist Sandinista government.

In fairness, many progressives and mainstream journalists have called attention to this troublesome history over the years. But few have dared to question the nearly universal condemnation of Noriega as a protector of international drug traffickers. That incendiary claim — first broadcast loudly by the unlikely trio of right-wing Sen. Jesse Helms, R-North Carolina; liberal Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts; and investigative journalist Seymour Hersh — galvanized the American public to support his ouster.

After the U.S. invasion, which killed hundreds of Panamanians and 23 U.S. soldiers, Noriega was arrested on Jan. 3, 1990 by armed U.S. drug agents.

President George H. W. Bush declared that Noriega’s “apprehension and return to the United States should send a clear signal that the United States is serious in its determination that those charged with promoting the distribution of drugs cannot escape the scrutiny of justice.” U.S. Ambassador Deane Hinton called the invasion “the biggest drug bust in history.”

Convicted in 1992 on eight felony counts following what officials called the “trial of the century,” Noriega was sentenced to 40 years in jail. Although released early from U.S. incarceration, he spent the rest of his life in French and Panamanian prisons.

The resulting publicity created lasting myths about Noriega and drugs. Journalists who should know better have described Noriega as “one of the world’s biggest drug kingpins,” to quote Time magazine.  In fact, Louis Kellner, the U.S. attorney who oversaw his Miami indictment and trial admitted, “Noriega was never a major player in the drug war.”

Indeed, at worst, he was a small fry compared to the military rulers of Honduras, whose epic protection of the cocaine trade was tolerated by Washington in return for using that country as a staging base for Contra operations against the Sandinista-led government of Nicaragua in the 1980s.

Deeply Flawed Trial

A few close observers of the long, expensive, and controversial trial believe it failed to prove Noriega’s guilt at all.

Panamanian Gen. Manuel Noriega is escorted onto a U.S. Air Force aircraft by agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency after his arrest in January 1990. (U.S. military photo)

David Adams, who covered it extensively for the London Independent, said the government’s case was “marred by incompetent witnesses, false testimony, and poor presentation.”

Newsday’s Peter Eisner quoted Judge William Hoeveler, who presided over the trial, as saying “the outcome could have been different” if Noriega had been better represented.

Although the government put more than two dozen people on the stand, their testimony was not always relevant or credible.

Paul Rothstein, Georgetown University law professor and former chairman of the American Bar Association’s criminal evidence committee, said of the government’s witnesses, “What promised to be the trumpeting of elephants turned out to be the whimperings of mice.”

Big-time drug bosses enjoyed great rewards for telling the jury what the government wanted. Observed reporter Glenn Garvin, “To convict Noriega, the strike force had to make a flurry of deals with other accused narcotraffickers, bargaining a collective 1,435 years in prison down to 81.”

The fierce Noriega critic R. M. Kostner declared, “The prosecution was shameless in its bribery of witnesses. What co-defendants got for flipping made me sometimes wish that I had been indicted. The proceedings were almost totally politicized. It was clear long before they opened that, regardless of evidence, Noriega could not possibly be acquitted – a very sad thing for the United States.”

Other witnesses who never took the stand contradicted the government’s case years later. Retired Medellin cocaine lord Juan David Ochoa claimed in an interview with Frontline that “at no moment did [Noriega] protect us. . . . As far as I know he had nothing to do with the drug trade.”

Greg Passic, former head of financial operations for the DEA, said, “The Colombians I talked to in the drug transportation business said they didn’t deal with Noriega at all. To deal with him you would just have to pay him more money. They didn’t need it. It would be expensive.”

In fact, DEA officials repeatedly lauded Noriega’s cooperation with their anti-drug investigations, both in public letters of support and in private. Recalled Duane Clarridge, former head of Latin America operations for the CIA, “The DEA had told us that they were getting great support in Panama, and from Noriega in particular, in interdicting drugs.”

More than a year after the U.S. invasion, when it was absolutely impolitic to voice such sentiments, one “federal drug enforcement source” told a reporter, “Noriega was helping us, not ten percent, not twenty percent of the time, but in every instance we asked him to do so, one-hundred percent of the time. . . . These were key operations . . . that struck at both the Cali and Medellin cartels.”

Even the U.S. ambassador to Panama in the final years of Noriega’s rule, Arthur H. Davis Jr., said in an oral history interview, “all I know is that, all the time I was there, Noriega . . . cooperated one hundred percent with our people. Anytime we had a ship that we wanted to be interdicted on the high seas and we asked permission, they gave permission. . . . Anytime there was some prominent drug man coming up and we knew about it, Noriega would help us with it. And when we found out about things, the [Panamanian Defense Forces] would go over there and round them up and turn them over to us.”

Turning Against Noriega

One of the high points of Noriega’s cooperation was Operation Pisces, a three-year undercover probe that culminated in 1987. Attorney General Edwin Meese called it “nothing less than the largest and most successful undercover investigation in federal drug law enforcement history.”

Then-Vice President George H.W. Bush with CIA Director William Casey at the White House on Feb. 11, 1981. (Photo credit: Reagan Library)

Among those indicted were Medellin Cartel kingpins Pablo Escobar and Fabio Ochoa. Panama made 40 arrests and seized $12 million from accounts in 18 local banks. Said one U.S. prosecutor who helped direct the case, “The Panamanian officials we were dealing with were sincerely cooperative. . . . They could have breached security, and they didn’t.”

The operation may have pleased the DEA, but it angered the country’s financial elite, who directly profited from money laundering. One local banker warned, “this could end the Panamanian banking system, because people will no longer believe they can count on bank secrecy.”

Within two months, spooked investors withdrew up to $4 billion of the country’s $39 billion in bank deposits, triggering the most serious banking crisis in Panama’s history.

A Western diplomat said of Noriega, “The bankers can bring him down. They are complaining in Washington and they’ve got a lot of clout.” The demonstrations organized that summer by Panama’s business elite — and Noriega’s heavy-handed response to them — triggered his eventual slide from power

The bankers were joined by angry cartel leaders, who viewed Noriega as an “obstacle to the functioning” of their money laundering operations in Panama, in the words of drug policy expert Rensellaer Lee.

A lawyer for the bosses of the Cali Cartel complained that his clients were “frustrated by the problems” Noriega created for them in Panama.

Cali leaders later got their revenge when they paid $1.25 million to bribe a drug trafficker to become a key witness against Noriega in his Miami trial. In exchange for the testimony, eager U.S. prosecutors agreed to cut nine years off the sentence of an unrelated Cali trafficker — brother of one of that cartel’s senior leaders.

When Noriega’s defense team cried foul, a federal appeals court declined to order a new trial, but criticized the government for appearing “to have treaded close to the line of willful blindness” in its eagerness to win a conviction.

Medellin leaders were just as unhappy with Noriega as those in Cali. A pilot for one of the biggest Medellin smugglers described Pablo Escobar’s reaction after Noriega approved a raid on one of his cocaine labs in May 1984: “He was just really out of whack with Noriega. He was like, ‘This guy is dead. No matter what, he is dead.”’

It would be foolish to assert that Noriega, alone among all leaders in Central America, kept his hands clean of drugs. But much of his personal fortune is easily accounted for from other sources, such as the sale of Panamanian passports on the black market.

Whatever Noriega’s involvement with drug traffickers, as I have shown elsewhere, the Bush administration displayed unbelievable cynicism when, even before his capture, it swore in a new president of Panama who had sat on the board of one of the most notorious drug-money-laundering banks in the country. His attorney general, who unfroze the bank accounts of Cali traffickers, later became legal counsel for the Cali Cartel’s top smuggler in Panama.

Following Noriega’s ouster, not surprisingly, cocaine trafficking began surging in the country. A year and a half after his arrest, unnamed “U.S. experts” told Time magazine that “the unexpected result . . . is that the rival Cali cartel established a base in Panama and has since inundated the country, along with Mexico, Guatemala and the Caribbean, with vast quantities of cocaine destined for the U.S. and Europe.”

Today, though, all that is forgotten, along with the questionable course of justice during Noriega’s trial. Noriega, even in death, deserves no eulogies, but he does deserve a more balanced judgment of history.

Jonathan Marshall is a regular contributor to ConsortiumNews.com.

 

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57 comments for “Missing the Real Noriega Story

  1. Joe Tedesky
    June 1, 2017 at 10:15 am

    Noriega’s history will read much like Gadafi’s, and others when the history is corrected to the truth.

    • Joe L.
      June 2, 2017 at 11:01 am

      Joe Tedesky… If you have not seen it then you should watch the award winning documentary on Panama entitled “The Panama Deception” – https://vimeo.com/17831456. It shows the grim reality of Panama, the US Government breaking international law, and the complicity of the mainstream media with US Government actions.

    • Lin Cleveland
      June 3, 2017 at 12:15 pm

      You mean like the work of Howard Zinn? Truth now blacklisted by the NEA!

  2. Joe Tedesky
    June 1, 2017 at 10:16 am

    Anton Chaitkin gives us a history lesson which spans the time of FDR-Churchill to our curtain time as of now. Plenty of JFK, Dulles, Lemnitzer, to Chuck Schummer warning Donald Trump to what the CIA can do to you if you don’t play along. Lots of City of London intrigue to go along with a pretty cool history lesson…..

    http://thesaker.is/the-coup-then-and-now-the-enemies-of-humanity-try-to-give-trump-the-jfk-treatment/

    It’s long, but you will enjoy reading it.

    • Bob Van Noy
      June 1, 2017 at 2:28 pm

      Thank you Joe. That is probably the best summary of America’s situation pending the end of the war with Germany. It explains the complexity of American, British, German and Soviet concerns at the time. Simply merging the dates for the events is eyeopening and, of course loosing our President at that time was probably the worst thing because he had a good grasp of the situation. Again, thank you…

      • Bob Van Noy
        June 1, 2017 at 2:37 pm

        I also read this which reflects on the Geo-dynamics of the time and explains where Zbigniew Brzezinski was coming from. The Grand Chessboad indeed…

        http://johnhelmer.net/zbigniew-brzezinski-the-svengali-of-jimmy-carters-presidency-is-dead-but-the-evil-lives-on/

        • Joe Tedesky
          June 1, 2017 at 3:05 pm

          I read that article yesterday, and for me that was one more reason why not like Brzezinski.

        • Joe Tedesky
          June 1, 2017 at 8:54 pm

          Bob I just read this article about the Kennedy’s back channeling with Nika Khrushchev and his people. This Kennedy back channeling with Russia although similar to what Trump may have done, isn’t so much a comparison of any detente likelihoods, as much as it is about the agenda sought. JFK was attempting to avoid a nuclear war, while it is still unknown to what purposes were to be served regarding Trump’s Russian liaison.

          https://www.sott.net/article/352575-JFKs-Russian-Conspiracy-How-a-secret-back-channel-may-have-saved-the-world

          Sorry about getting of topic, but I thought it maybe worth the read for any of you who may find thiese articles interesting.

          • Bob Van Noy
            June 2, 2017 at 8:50 am

            Really great article Joe. I too do not want to go off topic, but I much appreciate these links. We’re seeing a President Kennedy operate in real time… On his 100th Anniversary!
            Joe email me at robert.edward5@aol.com

      • Joe Tedesky
        June 1, 2017 at 3:04 pm

        I’m glad you liked the link. It goes without saying how much of what we are dealing with today are direct results of where we have been.

    • Danny Weil
      June 2, 2017 at 6:48 pm

      The Saker is a must read and you can hear his recent interviews on Guns and Butter. Just google: Guns and Butter.

  3. Joe L.
    June 1, 2017 at 11:38 am

    I watched a documentary on this awhile back called “The Panama Deception”. It amazes me that the United States can do this kind of stuff decade after decade, Democrat or Republican, and still so many people are completely oblivious or cannot believe that the US would do something like this today. A history of overthrowing “democracies” stemming back to around WW2 and installing dictators, some of which the US trained themselves at the School of the America’s (now WHINSEC). Of course nowadays they try a soft approach by undermining the governments in any given region using the National Endowment for Democracy and USAID (such as in Venezuela in 2002, or I believe in Cuba in 2010, in Egypt during the “Arab Spring”, and I also believe in Ukraine where a person working for USAID became the Finance Minister). Then what blows my mind is that America is complaining about Russia “possibly” interfering in its’ election (though I have not seen any real evidence). How is it possible, in the 21st century, with the Gulf of Tonkin, the Iraq War, babies being thrown from incubators etc. that people still believe the media and the US Government?

    Anyway, if anyone has a chance, I recommend watching “The Panama Deception”.

    • Paul G.
      June 1, 2017 at 12:41 pm

      The video is available on you tube.

    • Capn Mike
      June 2, 2017 at 5:06 pm

      Joe – Good Stuff, Thanx

      • Joe L.
        June 2, 2017 at 11:22 pm

        Can Mike… You are very welcome. Actually part of what I found disturbing about watching “The Panama Deception” was seeing some of the very same actors responsible for the invasion of Iraq – such as Colin Powell and Dick Cheney. More people need to open their eyes to the truth or maybe the lies that the US Government peddles for war.

        • Joe L.
          June 2, 2017 at 11:23 pm

          Sorry Capn Mike… I forgot the “p” – it was a long day.

  4. Patricia Victour
    June 1, 2017 at 11:41 am

    Really enjoyed (if that’s the word) this trip down a lane seldom traveled. I sort of knew that Noriega was thrown under the bus, and this article nicely filled in the blanks. Good reminder that the more things change, the more they stay the same when it comes to America’s perfidious “foreign policy.” The hypocrisy pie just gets piled higher, doesn’t it.

  5. June 1, 2017 at 11:53 am

    G,W,H.Bush’s invasion of Panama was also to put the confrontattion with the USSR back on a North-South basis for fear if the East-West one continued, it, given the investigation by Special Counsell Lawrence Walsh, would throw light on Reagan’s non-nuclear showdown with the Soviets, triggered at Swedish PM Olof Palme’s expense,

  6. Cal Lash
    June 1, 2017 at 12:20 pm

    Sooner or later Trump will have to play ball wirh “The Big Dogs” or become a victim of Amores Perros.
    I’m still suprised that DEA hasn’t found a way to deal with the knowing CIA agent getting a blow job from a minor female a few blocks from where and while DEA Agent Kiki Caremena was being tortured and murdered.

  7. Paul G.
    June 1, 2017 at 12:38 pm

    I knew Noriega was a CIA asset, and at the time wondered why invade a country for a drug bust-a little extravagant. The link ” sudden discovery of his abuses” which is a lengthy Mother Jones article is essential for understanding the situation and this article. Noriega was attempting to organize other CA countries for peaceful solutions to the region’s problems. This posed a major problem for the US sponsored Contra war in Nicaragua, which was Reagan’s favorite projection of violence at the time. Noriega was more than an “unreliable ally”, he was a major threat to the Contra terrorism sponsered by the CIA.

    Of course the Contras were heavily involved in drug smuggling, which may have been benefiting the druggeros who testified against him, in addition to the aforementioned banks. This whole sordid mess reveals the spectacular depths of decadence the CIA and Reagan/Bush nexus stooped to.

    • Bill Bodden
      June 1, 2017 at 2:46 pm

      This whole sordid mess reveals the spectacular depths of decadence the CIA and Reagan/Bush nexus stooped to.

      Make that: This whole sordid mess reveals the spectacular depths of decadence the American Establishment and an ill-informed people stooped to.

      Perhaps Trump and his administration will bring all of this to an end – through a failure to reverse climate change and other forms of moral and ethical decadence.

  8. June 1, 2017 at 12:44 pm

    Well said, Jonathan. My story about what really happened (and the fraud surrounding it), which appeared almost 20 years ago in Miami New Times, still stands up, I think. http://www.miaminewtimes.com/news/uncertain-justice-6360191

    • Jonathan Marshall
      June 1, 2017 at 1:50 pm

      Peter, so glad you saw this story. I owe a debt to your reporting, which was very brave.

    • backwardsevolution
      June 1, 2017 at 3:38 pm

      Peter Eisner – I read your article and thought it was brilliant. Corruption, bribery, lies. How does Armando hold his head up or get through a day? I would be racked with guilt, but it doesn’t sound like he is. And the lessening of sentences for witnesses testifying against Noriega? Despicable. What a story, but par for the course for the U.S. I wonder what the judge thinks now, whether he’s read all those books on his shelf. Of course, the judicial system is never really about the truth, is it?

      • June 1, 2017 at 6:27 pm

        These are all the right questions. I think the judge tried to tell himself that he was just being the referee in a plain old drug case, and that the political side was not his domain. Many us of left the courtroom after the case was over with the feeling that the prosecution had gone too far to pull off a must-win conviction.

    • Bill Bodden
      June 1, 2017 at 6:04 pm

      CAUTION ON MR. EISNER’S LINK. I checked this link and made the mistake of letting the website access my location on the strength of Jonathan Marshall’s comment. The Miami New Times website took over my computer and the only way I could get rid of it was to go through a restart. The page with Mr. Eisner’s article was frozen most of the time so I never read much of it. I dread the thought of getting more crap out of this site. The MNT website has been added to my list of reasons for detesting Miami.

  9. evelync
    June 1, 2017 at 12:46 pm

    If TPTB were serious about the drug trade they’d work on the demand side of that equation thought an information/education/ addiction program plus a jobs program and whatever it took to overcome the causes of this cultural affliction. Instead, It seems like the bankers and the drug traffickers feed off each other and benefit off it. And sometimes the government joins in – as Robert Parry explains regarding the Iran Contra Scandal and the witch hunt against Gary Webb for breaking the story in the Mercury News about the CIA’s complicity in the drug trade at that time:
    https://consortiumnews.com/2014/10/18/wposts-slimy-assault-on-gary-webb/

    • Joe Tedesky
      June 1, 2017 at 3:08 pm

      The drug war is filled with the same intrigue as the war of terror….hmm do you think there is any connection?

      The lying establishment has lies hidden inside of lies. I guess that’s why their professionals.

  10. mike k
    June 1, 2017 at 12:54 pm

    More of our ugly history to clear our heads about our “exceptional” nation.

  11. Michael K Rohde
    June 1, 2017 at 1:33 pm

    I knew the expert who helped select the jury in Noriega’s trial, Frank Rubio, lead counsel, hired her. She described the governments’ case much the same way, drug sellers and manufacturers facing life sentences were a steady stream of witnesses with everything to gain by implicating Noreiga and nothing to lose because they were looking at dying in a super-max prison in the U.S. if they didn’t testify against him instead of 5-10 years in a minimum security facility with a tennis court. She had selected juries in some of the most notorious drug cases in the eastern U.S. from Florida to New Jersey and this one stood out in her experience as one of the worst examples of compromised witnesses testifying for the government she had seen. There was no way Noreiga was going to escape this legal assault, no matter how dreamy his legal dream team was and how much money they spent. She said she never felt so overwhelmed by the federal government that brought its’ full force and malice down on a single player in the criminal justice system. She described it as kind of scary feeling so small in the face of her own government. Bush was not going to be denied.

  12. Exiled off mainstreet
    June 1, 2017 at 1:56 pm

    Attacking a country because the president is no longer acting as a loyal servitor of the attacking country meets the classic definition of aggressive war and is, as such, a war crime. This central fact attached the status of war criminal to all of the chief actors of the Bush senior regime. The fact that they got away with it with no consequences except fulsome propaganda praise for their resolute actions set a precedent which all subsequent US administrations have followed, making war crimes a central element of the yankee method of world dominance since that time.

  13. backwardsevolution
    June 1, 2017 at 2:01 pm

    The invasion of Panama was a grisly affair:

    “Elizabeth Montgomery, narrating The Panama Deception, says: “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.” [4]

    Witnesses recounted U.S. soldiers setting residential buildings on fire. Video footage shows the charred remains of rows of housing complexes in El Chorillo, one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

    “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 it would catch on fire,” recounted an anonymous witness in the film. “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.” [5]

    People were crushed by tanks, captured Panamanians were executed on the street, and bodies were piled together and burned. Survivors were reportedly hired to fill mass graves for $6 per body.”

    2,000 to 3,000 Panamanians were murdered.

    http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/12/15/the-invasion-of-panama/

  14. backwardsevolution
    June 1, 2017 at 2:06 pm

    The above Counterpunch article I posted (which is currently under moderation) speaks to the U.S.’s new reason for invading countries: humanitarian reasons.

    “Despite the international outrage, Bush enjoyed a political boost from the aggression. His poll numbers shot to record highs not seen “since Presidents Kennedy and Dwight D. Eisenhower.” The President had authorized crimes against the peace and war crimes. Rather than being held accountable, he benefitted. So did the Pentagon and defense contractors who desperately needed a new raison d’ etre after the fall of Communism.

    No longer able to use the fear-mongering Cold War rationales it had for the last 40 years, Washington found a new propaganda tool to justify its aggressive military interventions and occupations. Washington was able to appropriate human rights language to create the contradictory, fictional notion of “humanitarian intervention.”

    “Washington was desperate for new ideological weapons to justify – both at home and abroad – its global strategies,” writes James Peck. “A new humanitarian ethos legitimizing massive interventions – including war – emerged in the 1990s only after Washington had been pushing such an approach for some time.”

    The stage was set for the even more horrific invasion of Iraq the following summer. Operation Gothic Serpent in Somalia, the NATO bombing of Serbia, Iraq (again), and the Bush and Obama interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq (a third time), Pakistan, Libya, Somalia (again), Yemen, Iraq (a fourth time) and Syria would follow.”

  15. backwardsevolution
    June 1, 2017 at 2:11 pm

    Noam Chomsky spells it out perfectly:

    “It’s all quite predictable, as study after study shows,” Noam Chomsky writes. “A brutal tyrant crosses the line from admirable friend to ‘villain’ and ‘scum’ when he commits the crime of independence.”

    Independence, not going completely along with what the U.S. wants, having your own thoughts about what is good and right for your people = a death sentence.

  16. LarcoMarco
    June 1, 2017 at 4:15 pm

    My #1 Question has always been: Why didn’t Noriega bring his CIA cooperation on the drug trade to light? He even had letters of commendation that he could have used to provide support in his defense. Even if inadmissible in court, there would have been ample opportunities to publicize/leak information to provide a more balanced pictured of a complex personality. And in Noriegsa’s 25 subsequent years’ imprisonment in three countries, he still seemd to have nothing to say in his own defense.

  17. Brewer
    June 1, 2017 at 4:59 pm

    Nothing of substance to contribute but I have a story that may amuse.
    In 1988, en route to the South Pacific, I traversed the canal (1st mate on a Herreshoff 45 – Mobjack). Panama was unbelievably cheap due to embargoes applied by the U.S. and Colon was dangerous. A cabbie (who looked like a gigantic Mr T) demanded five dollars for a short ride (that normally rated about 50c) “or I rip your eyes out!”
    A local we hired as a line-handler for the canal passage was brother to Cleto Hernandez, one of Noriega’s enforcers and he advised us to simply mention that name if we had any further trouble. We had several occasions to do so with remarkable success! As a result, our sojourn in Panama City is one of my most treasured yachting memories. Though I never met his brother, Bobby Hernandez was a thorough gentleman and I came away wondering if Noriega could indeed be the villain he was portrayed if his associates were of the same stock. The locals did not seem to think so but I must admit, through our contact with Hernandez, we probably moved in circles supportive of the administration.

  18. Realist
    June 1, 2017 at 6:20 pm

    What other country has the United States invaded to arrest drug traffickers? Right, none. We act like we have jurisdiction everywhere on the globe, and on the flimsiest of pretenses. If the U.S. Army had any legitimate right to enforce U.S. drug laws on foreign soil, Mexico and Columbia would be occupied countries right now. It’s ironic in that we do occupy Afghanistan, but their opium trade has never been more robust, and the cocaine trade from Columbia and Peru to Los Angeles only increased under Bushdaddy and Slick Willy after Noriega was eliminated from the loop. For the U.S. to slaughter 100’s of innocent Panamanians was more than a bit over the top in effecting a mere drug bust. That’s the equivalent of sending in the entire Illinois national guard to destroy every El Rukn street gang member throughout their entire hood on the Southside of Chicago. (Though maybe we will live to see the day.) Forgive me for feeling skeptical about Bushdaddy’s motives.

    Getting away with this kind of thing is what gives Congress the crazy idea that it can legislate control over what vessels visit Russian ports and what world ports Russian vessels may visit, including the claimed prerogative of U.S. inspections on site, the seizing of Russian ships that have purportedly visited North Korea and the seizing of North Korean ships anchored in Russian ports. The Russians characterized this piece of legislation as a de facto declaration of war by the United States, if Trump signs it. The deluded Congress also presses for the same sanctions against China, Iran and Syria in this latest piece of overreach.

    I’m tempted to say Panama (and Grenada) set the precedent, but we know that already happened numerous times during the career of Gen. Smedley “War is a Racket” Butler throughout Latin America in the early 20th century. Before that we poached all of Texas and the American Southwest from Mexico by starting wars with them, and then we added to our island empire by carrying out a glorious little war against Spain, of which Guantanamo is still a fond keepsake. It’s always the other guy’s fault, and we just happen to benefit (or at least our moneyed interests do) by playing the altruistic “good Samaritan.”

    • Joe Tedesky
      June 1, 2017 at 9:02 pm

      I often wonder to what difference financially it would be to making riches with world hegemony against doing business the straight way. FDR apparently imagined a colonist free world where sovereign nations would just plainly do business with other sovereign nations, as opposed to war and occupation over foreign lands. Just a thought.

      • Realist
        June 2, 2017 at 1:31 am

        Yeah, I don’t know why Iran has to fight a war with the Sunni Arab world just because the Saudis and their American sponsors want one. Why can’t the Iranian Shiites just say to the Saudi Wahabists, alright, we will have absolutely nothing to do with you–no trade, no diplomatic relations, no travel, not even any phone lines or digital communication. Just butt out of our business with other countries that are no concern of yours. Build a beautiful wall on our border and everything will be cool. The “hermit kingdom” of North Korea has done the closest possible thing to this, going without trade or relations with most of the world but are still not left alone by the United States. Truth be told, South Korea would really prefer that America lighten up on them.

  19. Steve
    June 1, 2017 at 7:20 pm

    A little excerpt from Noam Chomsky illustrating official Washington and MSM manipulation of public opinion on this….

    “Throughout this process, the US press followed Washington’s lead, selecting villains in 
    terms of current needs. Actions we’d formerly condoned became crimes. For example, in 1984, the Panamanian presidential election had been won by Arnulfo Arias. The election was stolen by Noriega, with considerable violence and fraud.

    But Noriega hadn’t yet become disobedient. He was our man in Panama, and the Arias party was considered to have dangerous elements of “ultranationalism.” The Reagan administration therefore applauded the violence and fraud, and sent Secretary of State George Shultz down to legitimate the stolen election and praise Noriega’s version of “democracy” as a model for the errant Sandinistas.

    The Washington-media alliance and the major journals refrained from criticizing the fraudulent elections, but dismissed as utterly worthless the Sandinistas’ far more free and honest election in the same year-because it could not be controlled.

    In May 1989, Noriega again stole an election, this time from a representative of the business opposition, Guillermo Endara. Noriega used less violence than in 1984. But the Reagan administration had given the signal that it had turned against Noriega. Following the predictable script, the press expressed outrage over his failure to meet our lofty democratic standards.

    The press also began passionately denouncing human rights violations that previously didn’t reach the threshold of their attention. By the time we invaded Panama in December 1989, the press had demonized Noriega, turning him into the worst monster since Attila the Hun. (It was basically a replay of the demonization of Qaddafi of Libya.) Ted Koppel was orating that “Noriega belongs to that special fraternity of international villains, men like Qaddafi, Idi Amin and the Ayatollah Khomeini, whom Americans just love to hate.” Dan Rather placed him “at the top of the list of the world’s drug thieves and scums.” In fact, Noriega remained a very minor thug exactly what he was when he was on the CIA payroll.

    In 1988, for example, Americas Watch published a report on human rights in Panama, giving an unpleasant picture. But as their reports-and other inquiries-make clear, Noriega’s human rights record was nothing remotely like that of other US clients in the region, and no worse than in the days when Noriega was still a favorite, following orders.”

  20. Pft
    June 1, 2017 at 8:53 pm

    We are nearing the End of History where all that left is a Populist Fiction full of myths, coincidences, accidents, incompetence and many lies. Perhaps somewhere our elites have composed a true history but fewer than 6 million people globally will have access to it

  21. Max
    June 1, 2017 at 11:21 pm

    I knew an outlaw biker who went into business. He had the exact same van the guys running the cash to the bank in duffel bags had. You don’t want to be the crooked general, the banker or the kingpin. The guys in the vans go on forever.

  22. Douglas Baker
    June 2, 2017 at 12:53 am

    6/01/2017 Jonathan, Love that you made time to write this. Like those American Indian scouts who gave service for those that then controlled the United States internal war on the American Indian people with remainders collected and forced into concentration camps with the public relations tag, “reservations” and replaced if the reservation would successfully sustain agriculture or had mineral or water assets, with children taken away from parents to be trained as servants in the United States underclass, General Manuel Noriega became a pass around prisoner doing time on put up charges in Florida, and France before being homesteaded in Panama to die, as Apache warrior, Goyaale, better known as Geronimo, was in Arkansas, Florida and finally Indian Territory of Oklahoma; while those that got with the U.S. program as scouts saw may serve in Alcatraz prison as a thank you for aiding and abetting the destruction of the American peoples in what is now Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Wonder if Noriega’s skull will end up in the “Skull and Bones” Tombs at Yale University as a show and tell artifact to display to new pledges as Geronimo’s was after dug up by Prescott Bush while serving at Fort Still, Oklahoma?

  23. backwardsevolution
    June 2, 2017 at 5:06 am

    Jonathan Marshall – that was a very good article. Thank you.

  24. June 2, 2017 at 7:22 am

    And doesn’t it say something about the character of too many American people that the President’s poll numbers go up with the bombings? If true and not false corporate media reporting, it is sick in America…

  25. Barzini
    June 2, 2017 at 9:16 am

    My guess is that the invasion of Panama took place because Noriega knew too much. President George H.W. Bush poses as a hail-fellow-well-met from Yale, but he had a dark side which he was successful in keeping from the American people. Noriega knew the inside story of Bush’s corruption and he was a loose cannon to boot, so he had to go.

  26. W.L. Athas
    June 2, 2017 at 9:31 am

    This guy is talking through his posterior. Noriega was guilty as charged, he was killing American citizens and Keller was not the USA in Miami during the trial. Dexter Lehiten was the acting USA. We had witnesses who physically put Noriega meeting with the Medellin Cartel and accepting money to turn his country into a transshipment point for drugs. He also permitted the construction of a cocaine laboratory in the Darien Provience.

  27. gepay
    June 2, 2017 at 2:20 pm

    I wonder why Jonathan Marshall just accepted the US Military’s count of Panamanians killed by the US forces as in the hundreds. Independent sources put it at 2-4 thousand. Who would you believe? other than that, US entities were probably more likely to be involved in the cocaine trade (arms to the contras, cocaine on the way back) than Noriega. The court stor;y is eminently believable. I, my self, in 1968, was asked by the FBI to falsely testify in court. They harassed me for years when I refused.

  28. vinny mondello
    June 2, 2017 at 3:02 pm

    Who have we not betrayed throughout out history from colony to country?

  29. Ralfo
    June 3, 2017 at 2:28 am

    “Missing the Real Noriega Story” has completely missed “The Real TRUE Story”. The story goes back to the notorious clandestine action of Ronald Reagan arming and supporting the Contras fighting the Sandinista in Nicaragua. Nixon needed money to get the arms for the Contras. It is less well known that he obtained the money by bringing cocaine into the US by using CIA military cargo aircraft. The drug was picked up in small airstrips in Colombia then flew to Panama to refuel for the return trip to the US**. Manuel Noriega was an accomplice of Reagan, an informer for the CIA and a small drug trafficker himself. With the new president and ex-director of the CIA, George H. Bush didn’t need Noriega and wanted him silenced. Noriega threaten to reveal his real involvement he had with Reagan and the CIA. That was the real reason for the invasion of Panama and the taking of Noriega. There has been dozens of heads of state drug traffickers in Latin America for decades without any US intervention. Venezuela’s president Nicolas Maduro, vice-president Tariq El Assaimi, Diosdado Cabello (president of the Unified Socialist Party), and hundreds of others in power who are huge drug traffickers wanted by the DEA. Still the US stands idly watching while they are killing thousands of innocent people in Venezuela. Why would the US take the trouble with an insignificant drug trafficker like Manuel Noriega?
    ** Eye witness statement from a Panamanian Air Force Colonel

  30. TellTheTruth-2
    June 3, 2017 at 9:11 am

    Great Article Jonathan …

  31. Ram
    June 3, 2017 at 10:30 am

    ” American Justice ” carries a special meaning.

  32. NazdaPokmov
    June 3, 2017 at 6:51 pm

    Noriega was imprisoned because he had his hand in the CIA cookie jar and kept skimming off money for himself from all their drug importing deals….this is plain and simple for what happens to someone who crosses the CIA.

  33. June 4, 2017 at 6:02 am

    Lafeite the Pirate learned too late in the 1 as how America does business in the late 1770s dealing with Andrew Jackson.

  34. Balderdash
    June 4, 2017 at 1:48 pm

    i believe Noriega was one of the ‘stars’ of the rcent book “Eonfessions of an Economic Hit Man’. For all his ‘independence’ and that of his predecessor Omar Trujillo – guess who still has the Canal?

    Noriega’stale wasn’t about dope or communism, it was about peons, in their place, and their good’ old Uncle Sammy standing, erect, behind them. And he was holding tthe damp cloth for wiping up afterward. He got what he deserved, deservedly from his ‘real’ pals.

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