Category Archives: Journalism

Noriega in Chains: The George H.W. Bush Connection

 
  Who is this shuffling old man returning to Panama today some 22 years after being hauled off to a U.S. prison as a generalissimo in shackles?

       Manuel Antonio Noriega, the 77-year-old former Panama strongman, was deposed by invading U.S. forces dispatched by President George H.W. Bush in 1989. Subsequently Noriega was also convicted in a U.S. court of cocaine dealing and conspiracy; and back home, a Panamanian court charged him in absentia with killing a political opponent.

       The rest of his story is shrouded in political double-dealings,
boilerplate and lies. Long-time bed-fellows figure into the story—among them Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell.

      Don’t expect Noriega to make any new revelations or shift the ground in Panama – much less the hemisphere. After interviewing the general extensively and investigating the U.S. invasion and the problematic politics surrounding the U.S. drug war, I’ve concluded that General Noriega all along was but a minor chess piece in a global game and was thrown off the board when he stopped cooperating with his former U.S. masters—he was a CIA asset for years.

       I covered Panama before and after the U.S. invasion and worked at counting the bodies of Panamanians – mostly civilians – who died that
Christmas season. I also sat through Noreiga’s nine-month, 1991-1992 drug conspiracy trial and watched some two-dozen felons–who never actually met the man—earn their get-out- of- jail cards by implicating the strongman in a conspiracy.

And I was eager to interview the imprisoned Noriega with the notion that he would tell secrets out of school about his former employers at the CIA – including George Herbert Walker Bush.

       Noriega was a flop in global gamesmanship – He didn’t know much about the United States. They were willing to come after him.

       The old general’s return to Panama provides finally a proper coda. Whatever crimes Noriega did or did not commit in Panama should be judged by Panamanians. They will now have that chance. My interest was
rooted in the U.S. dimension. I haven’t met anyone who can explain exactly how Panama represented a national security threat to the United States in 1989 sufficient to order an invasion. Twenty five Americans and hundreds, perhaps more than one thousand, Panamanians were killed.

       My analysis of the Noriega case is partly contained in my
interviews of Noriega in the 1994 book, America’s Prisoner. I was
hired by Random House to interview Noriega after he was convicted. Noriega was given the chance to speak in the book – and I was afforded the opportunity to analyze what he had to say. I wrote a separate introduction and afterward to the book that Noriega was not allowed to review or change.

      In all my dealings with Noriega, he lobbed only one bombshell at George H.W. Bush, the 41st President of the United States. As CIA director, Bush had secretly encouraged a covert operation to simulate a nascent guerrilla movement in Panama. The U.S. intelligence agency trained Panamanian military operatives in explosives and demolition tactics, and then dispatched them back to Panama, where they set off some bombs in the Canal Zone. At the time, Gerald Ford was U.S. president. A young fellow named Dick Cheney was his chief of staff, having replaced his mentor Donald Rumsfeld when Rumsfeld became secretary of defense in November 1975.

        The idea was to convince conservatives in Congress that it was
better to sign the Panama Canal Treaties than to face possible
guerrilla warfare and a Panamanian liberation movement. The little
fake bombing mission may have contributed to passage of the Panama
Canal treaties, signed by Noriega’s mentor, General Omar Torrijos, and President Jimmy Carter in September 1977. Noriega at the time was a colonel in the Panamanian Defense Forces in charge of G2 – intelligence.

        Noriega told me that he met with Bush at the Panamanian embassy
in Washington D.C. one month after Carter had defeated Ford in the 1976
presidential election. Ford’s defeat meant that Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld were on their way out of office.

        Noriega said: “I was struck immediately by the fact that Bush came alone to
the embassy; no driver, if he had one, aides and interpreter were not
there. He carried no papers, not so much as a pen and a pad of paper.
Ahd I thought. No witnesses…  “So,” he said, “have you done a report on the bombings?” What he meant, I am sure, was I hope you haven’t written a real report about what we did.

“Yes, I wrote a report and sent it to General McAuliffe [the head of
the US. Southern Command, based in Panama],” I told him. I understood
this to mean: Don’t worry, we’re not talking.”

         After Noriega told me this in 1993, I wrote a letter to Bush.
I asked the former president if this was true –five questions
detailing the charge of planning the bombings, CIA training for
Noriega’s men, and the subsequent meeting with Noriega. I expected
Bush to deny everything and to disparage the word of Noriega as a liar
and convicted felon. Instead I received a phone call from Bush’s
spokesman who said: “According to his recollection, the answer is ‘no’
to all five questions. But to make sure, he sent your letter to John
Deutsch [then the Director of Central Intelligence].” The spokesman
would go no further than that.

A few days later, Bush’s spokesman called back, reading a statement:
“The CIA has nothing to add to what President Bush already said.”
I asked the spokesman what that meant, since Bush hadn’t said
anything. As many questions as I asked, the spokesman repeated the
same words. “The CIA has nothing to add to what President Bush already
said.”

      I spoke to dozens of people, including CIA, U.S. military and
diplomatic officials on the record. The reporting is worthy of a
separate book, but it can be encapsulated for the moment in the words of
retired General Fred Woerner, who had been head of the U.S. Southern
Command in Panama until mid-1989. He refused an order from the Bush
administration to proceed with an invasion of Panama. He was succeeded
by Gen. Max Thurman. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
Admiral William Crowe, resigned at the same time and he was replaced by Gen. Colin Powell. Thurman and Powell followed orders.

    At the time, Noriega was no longer the CIA asset who had helped
the United States deal with Fidel Castro and had allowed the United
States to stage operations – sometimes illegally – from Panama to
Nicaragua and El Salvador during the Central American wars. Noriega
was defying Bush, and the president, charged with being weak,
was getting angry. People were referring to him as a “wimp.”

This is what Woerner told me when I asked why the
United States had invaded Panama: “The invasion was a response to U.S.
domestic considerations,” he said. “It was the wimp factor.”

Noriega was sentenced to 40 years in a federal prison, reduced to 30 years when a former CIA station chief, U.S. military adviser and a U.S. ambassador to Panama argued before the judge that he should not have been imprisoned in the United States at all. After a while, Noriega started coming up for parole hearings – every time, the United States argued that he posed a threat to the Bush and to the United States.

As he limps back home today, crippled by age and illnesses, the only threat he represents is that the news of the moment might provoke us to re-examine the evidence and question why the United States invaded Panama in the first place.

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Panama, Noriega and the US: The Story Behind the Story.

Manuel Antonio Noriega is about to return to Panama 22 years after he was taken in shackles to the United States. Here’s a reprise of a magazine story I wrote about him. Was Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega really a drug trafficker? Or is it possible he was set up by the U.S. government? Try asking a few dozen people who should know.
FROM NEW TIMES: UNCERTAIN JUSTICE

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Horrid Obsession

The matter at hand is Patrick Buchanan, who is out hawking his newest book, recycled claptrap like all the others. One was left amazed listening to his interview on the Diane Rehm show recently. Among other things, he defended the Reagan Southern Strategy (which he promoted) as not being racist, he repeated his tripe about the destruction of values that began in the 1960s and comparing that age of permissiveness to the Weimar Republic (leaving unsaid, but implying that a wonderful fellow came in after that to clean up Germany–only to be thwarted by a warmongering fellow named Churchill). Yes, really, Churchill, according to Buchanan, was the culprit in World War II. See Christopher Hitchens on Buchanan and World War II.

Unwittingly or not, let us not forget that Buchanan was the recipient of the hanging chad votes in 2000 that helped throw the election (with an assist from Scalia and company) to GW Bush.

Fascinating that he is still allowed to slime his way onto the airwaves and onto the TV screen.

Here is the best take on Buchanan in many a day, written at theRoot.com by Les Payne.

Pat Buchanan: Fearing the Loss of White Power
In his latest book, the right-wing commentator recycles his familiar racial fears
.

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Roger Ailes: The Formidable Wizard Behind the Curtain at Fox News

A profile of Roger Ailes from The Guardian:

“Roger Ailes and the rise of Fox News
Even Rupert Murdoch is afraid of Roger Ailes, the paranoid boss of Fox News. But ‘the Chairman’ is using his power to make Americans more rightwing, more ignorant and ever more terrified.”
click here for more….

“According to recent polls, Fox News viewers are the most misinformed of all news consumers. They are 12 percentage points more likely to believe the stimulus package caused job losses, 17 points more likely to believe Muslims want to establish Sharia law in America, 30 points more likely to say that scientists dispute global warming, and 31 points more likely to doubt President Obama’s citizenship. At the height of the healthcare debate, more than two-thirds of Fox News viewers were convinced Obamacare would lead to a “government takeover”, provide healthcare to illegal immigrants, pay for abortions and let the government decide when to pull the plug on grandma. In fact, a study by the University of Maryland revealed that ignorance of Fox viewers actually increases the longer they watch the network. That’s because Ailes isn’t interested in providing people with information, or even a balanced range of perspectives. Like his political mentor, Richard Nixon, Ailes traffics in the emotions of victimisation.”

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Obama’s Pragmatism and the debt deal — part two

Liberals and progressives have been wringing their hands over the the debt deal–and keep implying that the President of the United States has sent them down the river. Not so. Paul Krugman calls the debt negotiations a surrender and a disaster. I tend to disagree. I would rather compare it somewhat to the Health Care bill. Krugman and others might have come out on Jan. 21, 2009 to declare and demand a one payer cradle to grave health care system, along with money to fund it. (That would have come after his announcement at 12:01 p.m. of the same day that the United States was leaving Afghanistan)

But neither he nor anyone else promoting that would have been elected president. And a liberal-progressive Barack Obama couldn’t have been elected either.

He is a politician, middle of the road all the way. Pragmatism worked in the end. As with health care, the debt deal is a foot in the door. The details will be worked out and fixed as time goes on. Nobody is blocking Medicare. And a formula for raising taxes may follow.

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What is the Choice?

It is difficult enough to govern when you are a president who has inherited a war based on fraud and deception that generated dysfunction and a deficit fueled by that war.

More difficult, if not impossible, when you happen to be a president trying to negotiate with an opponent whose majority believes you are not an American, born in Nigeria, a socialist, a danger to their fabulous ideas.

So as president, a patriot, a balanced thinker, you go pragmatically for the best deal possible.

The details of the debt deal? Looking at the details ain’t American. Neither are a good education for those who need it, critical thinking, or a sense of history. Raise your hand if you think that Tea Party members of Congress read the details. They’re trying to derail the president, no matter what, no matter the state of the nation.

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A Fair Chance to Share the American Dream

A couple of points to make about immigration, following the revelation in the New York Times by my former colleague at the Washington Post, Pulitzer Prize winner Jose Antonio Vargas, that he is an undocumented immigrant.

There are millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States who find themselves in Vargas’ situation – having innocently been sent or brought to the country by their parents and relatives. By no means do immigrants, documented or undocumented, take away jobs or drain money from the U.S. economy. Quite the opposite.

I worked with Senator Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey, in 2008 and 2009 on a book, Growing American Roots, focusing on Latinos, but a story that deals with all immigrants.

Among other things, dispassionate reporting showed:

–“In 2005, immigrant households and businesses paid more than $300 billion in direct taxes to federal, state, and local governments,” according to the Immigration Policy Center, “Projecting into the future, the statistics look like this: Immigrants will have contributed half a trillion dollars to the Social Security system between now and twenty-five years from now and nearly two trillion dollars through 2072.” (this according to the National Immigration Forum)

–You probably didn’t know that undocumented immigrants not only pay federal taxes, but also contribute to the Social Security System, earnings that they will never receive as benefits.

From the book:

“Undocumented immigrants pay sales taxes and many pay property tax as well. They also pay their share of state and federal income taxes, and Medicare and Social Security payments, some through taxpayer ID cards, and many of them under false Social Security numbers from which they are unable ever to collect any benefits. The result is startling. The Social Security Administration has an account that is growing by billions of dollars every year, in which funds are deposited for irregular—often fake—Social Security numbers. Should we accept illegality in our country? Absolutely not. But the reality is what it is. People are paying into the system and receiving no benefits.”

“The picture in individual states is much the same. According to the Immigration Policy Center in Washington, D.C., undocumented immigrants in three states—Iowa, Oregon, and Texas—“pay more in taxes than they use in benefits.” Surveys by the center in those states found hundreds of millions of dollars in state taxes paid by people who will never receive the benefits. And the center cites information from the Texas state comptroller’s office that undocumented people in Texas contribute $17.7 billion to the gross state product.”

As for jobs, no rational researcher defends the false idea that immigrants take away jobs. Based on research, and quoting the book: “It was once said that immigration is taking jobs away from America,” said Jeffrey Passel, the chief statistician and an authoritative source at the Pew Hispanic Center, a Washington-based organization. “This has disappeared from discussion, because it is clearly not true.”

After one attempt to pass the Dream Act failed in Congress—blocked by Republicans—Menendez said this: “The DREAM Act would provide a path to legal residency for high-achieving young adults who were brought to this country as children without proper documentation. These young adults would have had to arrive in the United States before the age of 16, lived here five years, be younger than 35, agree to join the U.S. military or go to college for 2 years, follow the law, and show good character. This legislation would help an estimated 2.1 million people obtain a shot at the American Dream. Without the DREAM Act, these young men and women have no legal way to remain in the United States to finish their education or join the military.”

Perhaps Vargas’ story will highlight the inequity that blocks passage of the Dream Act, not to mention the misinformation and prejudice that blocks a larger solution to the country’s broken immigration laws.

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