6. WHAT REALLY HAPPENED TO PANAMA IS A DIFFERENT
According to a variety of non-mainstream but authoritative
sources, the U.S. invasion of Panama on December 20, 1989, received inadequate
and erroneous news coverage. It now appears that the legal implications of the
invasion, the Bush-Noriega relationship and the actual post-invasion conditions
in Panama have all been misrepresented to the American people. But perhaps the
most fraudulent news coverage dealt with the true numbers of civilian and combat
Official accounts spoke of 202 dead Panamanian civilians, 314
dead Panamanian soldiers, and 23 dead Americans. The press was oddly silent two
months after the invasion when a Southern Command official acknowledged to the
L.A. Times that only 50 Panamanian soldiers died. And, American soldiers reported
that at least 60 to 70 Americans were killed, possibly many more. Apparently some
combat deaths were disguised as accidental deaths unrelated to the invasion. The
new findings indicate that the U.S. lost more soldiers than Panama. Physicians
for Human Rights (PHR) has challenged the government figure of 202 dead civilians
and former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark has put the figure at 3,000, using
the phrase "conspiracy of silence" to describe efforts to bury the true
civilian death toll. The official U.S. report was based on unconfirmed battlefield
observations and mortuary and hospital statistics. PHR's investigation tallied
burial sites, mortuaries, hospital records, and interviews with officials.
addition to Stealth aircraft dropping 2000-pound bombs, U.S. soldiers are reported
to have directly fired upon civilian homes with machine guns, rockets, and tanks
in the barrio of El Chorillo surrounding Noriega's headquarters. U.S. soldiers
evacuated apartments and summarily burned them to the ground. Witnesses reported
U.S. troops killing wounded civilians with either gunshots or rifle-butts to the
CBS's "60 Minutes," in a September 1990 expose, reported
the existence of at least six yet-to-be-exhumed mass graves to conclude that Panamanian
civilian deaths could run as high as 4,000. The findings of many watch groups
support the "60 Minutes" casualty report. Peace and Justice in Panama,
The Central American Human Rights Commission, Panamanian National Human Rights
Commission, Panamanian Episcopal Commission and the National Lawyers Guild all
calculate the death toll to range from two to four thousand.
The actual death toll has been obscured through U.S. military practices
of incineration of corpses prior to identification, burial of remains
in common graves prior to identification, and U.S. military control
of administrative offices of hospitals and morgues, as well as the removal
of hospital and morgue registries from their original sites. The U.S.
retained direct and full control of Panamanian media until mid-February.
U.S. journalists were sequestered in military barracks for the first
36 hours of the invasion and then saw only official authorized sites.
RESEARCHER: DYLAN BENNETT
SOURCE: Panama Delegation Report, AP 189 Paseo Estudiantes, San Jose,
AUTHOR: Central American Human Rights Commission
SOURCE: SAN FRANCISCO BAY GUARDIAN, 520 Hampshire St., San Francisco,
TITLE: "The hidden body count"
AUTHOR: Jonathan Franklin
SOURCE: CBS NEWS, "60 Minutes," 524 West 57th St., New York,
TITLE: "Victims of Just Cause"
CORRESPONDENT: Mike Wallace
SOURCE: Guatemalan Human Rights Commission, USA, 1359 Monroe St., NE,
Washington, DC 20017,
DATE: 6/30/90 (Letter to The Washington Post)
TITLE: "How Many Died in Panama?"
AUTHOR: Joanne Heisel
SOURCE: THE NATION, 72 Fifth Ave., New York,, NY 10011,
TITLE: "The Press and the Panama Invasion"
AUTHOR: Marc Cooper
COMMENTS: Journalist Jonathan Franklin raised the issue of the
media's willingness to obey the military's dictates of "pool coverage"
while Grahame Russell warned that "faulty, complicit press coverage
of ... injustice contributes directly to human rights violations, that
is to say human suffering."