U.S. PSYOP IN PANAMA
(OPERATION JUST CAUSE)

Herbert A. Friedman

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History: The United States started construction on the Panama Canal in 1904. Despite a heavy toll inflicted by yellow fever and other tropical diseases, and a cost of more than $360 million, the engineers completed the canal in 1914. Under a 1903 treaty, the United States had a renewable 99-year lease and controlled both the waterway and a large section of the surrounding land, known as the Panama Canal Zone. Panamanians resented this arrangement and demanded the return of the canal to the people. The United States government always watched intensely and jealously guarded entrance to the Panama Canal and its surrounding areas. The canal was the fastest water passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans during wartime and considered crucial to the defense of the hemisphere. There were constant fears that the Panamanian people, the Cubans, and even the Red Chinese would somehow take over the canal, leaving the U.S. Navy unable to operate in both major oceans. As a result, a strong American military presence remained in the Canal Zone, and any threat to the canal led directly to a quick American diplomatic or military response.

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President Jimmy Carter

General Omar Torrijos

The United States negotiated two new treaties with Panama in 1977. U.S. President Jimmy Carter and General Omar Torrijos Herrera signed agreements that gave control of the canal to Panama in 2000. The agreements were ratified by Panama immediately and by the United States the following year. Part of the Canal Zone returned to Panama soon after the treaty's ratification and the entire canal would return to Panama on 31 December 1999. The treaties also guaranteed the permanent neutrality of the Panama Canal and assured continued American passage in wartime regardless of the politics of the Panamanian government in power.

In 1981, Panama's head of state, Omar Torrijos, died in a plane crash. There has been conjecture that Manual Noriega murdered him. In 1983, Noriega became chief of staff to new strongman General Dario Paredes. He later succeeded Paredes and promoted himself to general in that same year. He led Panama from 1983 to 1989. American sources alleged that he had been a paid CIA informant and on the United States Army's payroll from 1955 to 1986. He was also accused of being a double agent who sold American secrets to Cuba. There were strong rumors that Noriega was channeling Columbian cocaine through Panama to the United States. As a result, the United States indicted him on drug-trafficking and racketeering charges in 1988.

What is not commonly known about Noriega is that he was a student and graduate of the U.S. Army Psychological Operations School. Chris Scudder of the 9th PSYOP Battalion based in Ft. Gulick, Panama, in 1970-1971 tells the story:

We held PSYOP, or political warfare, classes in our battalion building for Latin American officers. In one class, I taught the students about how society is made up of various groups, which the citizens belonged to. Many of the groups overlapped, but it was important to identify the groups. And once the groups were identified, we had to identify the leaders, titular and influential, of each group. The purpose was to work on swaying those leaders to our point of view so that the group could be swayed.

In this class, there was a Panamanian major, known by his nickname, “Pineapple Face.” His real name was Manuel Noriega, and he was a staff officer of General Omar Torrijos, the Panamanian President. Major Noriega disagreed with me about groups in society, as in Panama, all people were equal.  There were no groups. I suppose that was the politically correct thing for him to say, since his president was of Indian background.

I left Panama in October 1971, ordered to Fort Bragg and my second tour in Viet Nam. At this time, we were in the middle of rioting of Panamanians against the United States.

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President Manuel Noriega

By the fall of 1989, the Noriega regime was barely clinging to power. Tensions increased when election results were voided and some voters were killed or beaten in the streets.

Doctor Luca M. Venturi, a media relations specialist, told me of his involvement in Panamanian politics at the time:

Concerning PSYOP in Panama, preliminary to Operation Just Cause, an often neglected media relations operation was carried out in favor of legitimate Vice-President elect Guillermo "Billy" Ford prior to the invasion. In the controversial presidential elections of May 1989, the political parties against Noriega banded behind a unified ticket of Guillermo Endara Galimany, along with vice presidential candidates Ricardo Arias-Calderon and Guillermo "Billy" Ford. Noriega's candidate lost by a large margin, too great for Noriega to sway the vote and Noriega canceled the election rather than display the results.

 

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The attack on Guillermo "Billy" Ford
Photo by Ron Haviv

Amid the outcry, Noriega unleashed his Dignity Battalions to suppress demonstrations. In an image caught on video and played out in news sources around the world, they attacked Billy Ford's car. Ford's bodyguards were shot and killed. Covered in blood from the bodyguards, Billy Ford attempted to flee as one member of the Dignity Battalions pummeled him repeatedly with a metal pipe. This image brought worldwide attention to Noriega's regime and highlighted Ford’s role as a martyr of the dictatorship.

An official visit by Vice President-elect Guillermo Ford to Europe was organized, in particular, a personal visit to the Pope. At the time, I was instrumental in writing, editing, translating and issuing the press releases relative to the European tour by Guillermo Ford and his visit to the Vatican.

Noriega's Dignity Battalions (irregular paramilitary units) also made a point of physically beating opposition leaders. An American citizen by the name of Kurt Muse living in Panama actively opposed President Noriega, secretly broadcasting anti-government radio broadcasts from his home. He broadcast on Voz de la Libertad and Radio Constitucionado (both 91.5 MHz). He was caught and arrested. While in prison he wrote a letter to President Bush asking for American intervention. 

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President George Bush

An unsuccessful Panama Defense Force (PDF) coup attempt in October produced bloody reprisals. Alone and trusting only his Dignity Battalions, Noriega started to harass Americans and made life unsafe for American troops, dependents and citizens. Newspapers in the United States wrote daily reports of Soldiers and their dependents being stopped, interrogated or beaten on the streets. According to the authors of Operation Just Cause, Lexington Books, NY, 1991, The U.S. Army Southern Command had logged more than one thousand incidents of harassment by the Panamanian forces since 1998. Among them, the wife of a Marine corporal was wounded when a PDF member fired a shotgun through her window. In another incident, two school buses full of American dependent children were detained by the PDF. Relations with the United States further soured when Noriega annulled Panama's presidential election in May 1989 and declared himself head of state.

American newspapers clamored for military action. President George Bush ordered the Joint Chiefs of Staff to prepare for a Panama invasion in February 1988. Among the missions was defense of the Canal Zone, evacuation of civilians, and the destruction or neutralization of the Panamanian Defense Forces. The operation plan (OPLAN) for offensive operations was OPLAN Blue Spoon. In September 1989, the Joint Chief of Staff upgraded OPLAN Blue Spoon to OPLAN 90-2. This plan was continually updated as the situation in Panama changed. On 15 December 1989, Noriega was given the title of Chief Executive Officer of the government by his legislature. The Noriega-led assembly then foolishly declared that a state of war existed between Panama and the United States of America.

The next day Panamanian soldiers killed United States Marine First Lieutenant Robert Paz. Paz and three other Southern Command officers, traveling in a private automobile off duty in civilian clothes and unarmed, were stopped by a PDF roadblock near the Comandancia (the PDF's central headquarters complex) after getting lost on the way to a downtown restaurant. The same night the PDF detained and assaulted a Navy Lieutenant and his wife. During four hours of interrogation, the naval officer was beaten and repeatedly kicked in the head and groin and threatened with death as loaded pistols were pointed at his head. His wife was slammed against a wall, sexually threatened and required to stand with her arms over her head until she collapsed. These unwarranted acts enraged President Bush and made the United States even more determined to take military action.

On 20 December 1989, a memorandum to the Secretary of Defense was prepared on White House stationery and signed by George Bush. The memorandum stated:

In the course of carrying out the military operation in Panama which I have directed, I hereby direct and authorize the units and members of the Armed Forces of the United States to apprehend General Manuel Noriega and any other persons in Panama currently under indictment in the United States for drug related offenses. I further direct that any persons apprehended pursuant to this directive are to be turned over to law enforcement officials of the United States as soon as possible. I also authorize and direct members of the Armed Forces of the United States to detain and arrest any persons apprehended pursuant to this directive if, in their judgment, such action is necessary.

The campaign to free Panama of Noriega and his dignity battalions was named Operation Just Cause. The invasion of Panama would take place on 20 December 1989 at 0100 local time. The hour was chosen because the SEALs needed the high tides, the airports would be almost empty, and there would be four hours of darkness, which would give a major advantage to the American troops and their night-vision technology. The six major mission tasks were to Protect U.S. lives and key sites and facilities, Capture and deliver Noriega to competent authority, Neutralize PDF forces, Neutralize PDF command and control, Support establishment of a U.S.-recognized government in Panama, and Restructure the PDF.

On 20 December 1989, the 82d Airborne Division conducted their first combat jump since World War II onto Torrijos International Airport. At H-Hour, 1-508th Airborne had the mission of securing Ft. Amador, an installation shared by the U.S. and PDF. PSYOP loudspeaker teams were a key asset. The battalion sealed off the PDF portion of Ft. Amador and ensured that all noncombatants were safe. After daylight, the task force set about systematically securing the area. When initial appeals failed to persuade the PDF to surrender, the commander modified the broadcasts. The holdouts were warned that resistance was hopeless in the face of overwhelming firepower and a series of demonstrations took place, escalating from small arms to 50 caliber machinegun and 105mm howitzer rounds. A scout who took part in the operation told me a wonderful anecdote that claims that after the 105s were fired directly into the PDF buildings at Amador, the Americans asked the PDF survivors why they didn't surrender when the PSYOP loudspeaker kept calling for them to come out and not be harmed. Allegedly, they replied:

After that first 105 round hit, we couldn't hear anything!

A comical lesson learned. Subsequent broadcasts convinced the PDF to give up. The entire process allowed Ft. Amador to be secured with few casualties and minimal damage.

U.S. military units stationed within Panama also attacked. The Americans struck with overwhelming force. It was the largest American combat operation since Vietnam. Twenty-seven sites were attacked simultaneously throughout Panama. The 75th Rangers and Navy SEALS also took part. The F-117 Stealth fighter saw action for the first time. There was some debate about the secret new aircraft because it flew 3000 miles and required five aerial refuelings just to drop two 2000-pound “hammer” bombs. The bombs were dropped in a field near the barracks of an elite Panamanian force. American ground troops who did not know the mission thought they had missed. Actually, there were meant to stun the enemy, blow out their eardrums and leave them unable to fight. Over three hundred U.S.A.F aircraft moved troops, attacked targets or provided other support. Twenty-four thousand U.S. troops were deployed against the sixteen thousand members of the Panama Defense Force. Although the PDF and Dignity Battalions put up a moderate resistance in some areas, the country was quickly overrun. One person who witnessed the invasion tells of Dignity Battalion members discarding their uniforms and running through the streets in shoes and underwear. The invasion was essentially complete by noon of the first day. The number of Panamanians killed in the operation was estimated at 200-300 combatants (soldiers and paramilitaries) and some 300 civilians. The U.S. lost 23 soldiers killed. Hundreds from both nations were wounded. The entire operation was over within a week and the withdrawal of U.S. forces began on 27 December.

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PSYOP Loudspeaker Teams around the Vatican Embassy

President Bush offered a one million dollar reward for the capture of Noriega. On Christmas Eve, the general entered a Toyota sedan flying the papal flag in a Dairy Queen parking lot near San Miguelito and fled to the Vatican nunciature (embassy) where he requested refuge and sanctuary. Noriega wore only running shorts and a T-shirt. He carried two unfired AK-47 rifles. The embassy was unwatched because Noriega was not a Catholic. He was a believer in black magic and often practiced Santeria. Urgent negotiations continued at every level between the Vatican and United States. One of the most famous episodes of the campaign happened during the period that Noriega hid in the Vatican embassy. The United States PSYOP troops surrounded the embassy and played loud music. The newspapers and magazines all believed that this was some kind of subtle sonic torture. They had a field day. The Associated Press said:

These guys are the fingernails on the blackboard…broadcast U.S. propaganda from bullhorns and blast rock music at the Vatican Embassy where Manuel Noriega was taking refuge, hoping to unnerve him.

The Washington Post News Service said:

With U.S. troops at the Vatican embassy continuing to wage psychological warfare against Noriega by blaring rock music over loudspeakers and greeting him with a hearty "Gooood Morning Panama," the general's small circle of supporters shrank further…

Newsday critic Marvin Kitman said:

During the following days, what is surely the most ridiculous psychological operation in U.S. history took place outside the embassy. High-power loudspeakers blasted rock music at the building.

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Loudspeaker Humvee outside the Vatican Embassy

An unsigned article entitled Radio Noriega, or the Many Moods of Manny, added:

Down in Panama, outside the Vatican embassy, the U.S. Southern Command -- armed to the teeth and encircling the whole compound -- is licking its chops. Manuel Noriega is inside. United States forces have heard that he is superstitious, that he wears red underpants to ward off evil demons. And so, to irritate and intimidate him (and to enjoy themselves in the process), the Americans set up their "ghetto blasters" or some Latin American equivalent, and blast the Vatican embassy with some good ol' kickass American rock 'n' roll -- Guns'n'Roses' "Welcome to the Jungle" is the first song to come roaring through the speakers.

What has amazed me over the years is the number of authors and researchers that who have written and asked for the music played during the siege. I receive about two such requests a year. I have no idea why that is so interesting, but must point out that there was no special selection of particularly awful mind-numbing music selected by the psywarriors to quickly drive Noriega into the open. In fact, just regular popular music of the times was played; whatever the troops had in their personal possession or whatever was requested or played by the local radio stations.

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Setting up speakers outside the Embassy

The military radio station has stated that prior to the 26th they had played various requests from the troops; the Marines asked for “Welcome to the Jungle,” the canine handlers requested Billy Idol’s “Flesh for Fantasy,” and the Special Forces wanted the Door’s “Strange Days.” Other calls were for patriotic songs like Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” and hard rock songs like “We’re Not Gonna Take It” by the Twisted Sister.

On the 25th the station played Christmas music.

On the 27th with Noriega now located the station received a call from an individual identifying himself as a PSYOP trooper from Ft. Bragg. It is not clear if that PSYOP team member requested specific songs or simply informed the station that their music was being blared over loudspeakers outside the Papal building. The end result was that for the next day or two the station played a lot of rock and roll. The requested play list is at least 95 songs long and contains such favorites as; “Born to run,” “Bring down the hammer,” “Dancing in the Streets,” “Hang ‘Em High,” “I Fought the Law and the Law Won,” “Judgment Day,” “Nowhere to Run,” “Run Like Hell,” “The Party’s Over,” “They’re Coming to Take Me Away,” “Wanted Dead or Alive” and “Your Time is Gonna Come.”

By the 29th the station had ceased playing requests and returned to playing the “Top Forty” From Billboard’s “Top 100.”

A report written at the time of the Noriega surrender stated:

SCN (Southern Command Network) Radio, which had been broadcasting for the Army Broadcasting Service since 1941, increased its FM schedule at the start of the invasion on December 20, 1989. It was primarily on the air to support troop morale by taking requests and playing Armed Forces Radio, CNN, and ABC programming, but on December 27 after Noriega took refuge in the Vatican Embassy, PSYOPS began blaring it through mobile loudspeakers outside of the embassy compound. Noriega was known to love opera and hated rock music with a passion, so U.S. soldiers began making requesting songs that had a “musical message” for (him)... either by the words or the song title. Songs broadcast included such titles as "I Fought the Law and the Law Won," "If I Had a Rocket Launcher," "You're Messin' with a SOB," "Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down," and "Nowhere to Run."

A soldier who was with SCN during the invasion summarized the station's goals. "Our objectives... (Were to provide) a free flow of information to prevent misunderstanding and to safeguard the lives of our audience members. Keeping our viewers and listeners supplied with up-to-date information on dangerous locations, riots, demonstrations and other such events was paramount to keeping them out of harm's way and preventing an atmosphere of panic and retaliation.”

The Operation Just Cause After-action report adds:

When Noriega found his way into the Papal Nunciature, the song requests were almost totally aimed in his direction. Christmas Day, only Christmas music was played, but people still called in asking for musical requests with a message. The following day, the “requests” were played and the phones were constantly ringing with some very imaginative requests…Realizing the network was not really serving its audience well, it went back to a mixed music format and remained so. As a result of the attention SCN received over the music programming, the station received requests for interviews from about 45 radio and television stations, magazines and newspapers. During each of these interviews DJs repeatedly stressed that PSYOP is not a part of the AFRTS charter.

So, although it is interesting to read all these comments about special music played to drive Noriega out into the open, we know that the loud music had nothing to do with harassing or chasing Noriega out of the Embassy. The noise was simply to allow delicate negotiations to continue inside without being overheard by the press, waiting outside by the hundreds with their parabolic microphones and dishes aimed at the embassy windows. In fact, General Marc Cisneros (commander of the U.S. Army South) and the highest-ranking Latino in the Army played a major role in the negotiations and was the man who talked General Manuel Noriega out of the embassy. To read more about this episode, click here.

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A portion of General Noriega's Get away Money
(Department of Defense Photograph)

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Noriega’s Passports, Credit Cards and Cash
(Department of Defense Photograph)

Noriega surrendered to U.S. authorities on 3 January 1990. He was transported to Miami, Florida, where he was tried in 1992 and convicted of drug trafficking, money laundering, and eight counts of racketeering. He received a 40-year prison sentence and is presently in a federal prison in Miami. His sentence was reduced to 30 years in 1999.

Some Problems

The operations in Panama went very smoothly and showed that the lessons learned after the disastrous operation in Grenada 16 years earlier had been taken to heart. There were some minor glitches, but they were more in the competitive nature of the military services than actual errors.

Colonel John T. Carney Jr. talks about these problems in No Room for Error: The Covert Operations of America’s Special Tactics Units from Iran to Afghanistan, Ballantine, N.Y., 2002: He points out that the 82nd Airborne Division, hungry for a combat jump, refused to listen to proposals that they simply land and have their troops walk off the aircraft. The target Air field was in friendly hands. On top of the unnecessary jump, the planes’ formation commander refused suggestions that the aircraft fly over the airport in single file due to the terrain (about 1 mile wide good ground, then all swamp on either side), and instead kept in a wide combat formation, which spread troops far and wide and meant that about 30% of the vehicles, artillery and ammunition ended up in deep mud and impenetrable swamp grass.

The Air Force flew its F-117 stealth aircraft 2600 miles to drop two-thousand pound bombs near Panamanian infantry barracks to disorganize the troops stationed within. That operation seems to have worked because there was only slight resistance from the disoriented soldiers. However, there were some that thought it was the Air Force just looking for headlines and asked “Why wake them up 15 minutes before our attack at 0100? It is possible there would have been fewer casualties if the Panamanians had been surprised in their beds.

It is also interesting to note that Investigation later showed that the Panamanians knew the invasion was imminent because American TV had broadcast that an armada of aircraft was taking off from Pope Air Force Base.  One of the Raleigh, North Carolina radio stations apparently reported the large number of planes leaving Ft. Bragg for Panama. There is also a story that a U.S. State Department employee called his best friend in Panama City, over the Panamanian phone lines, to tell him to lay low because the invasion was scheduled for that night.

UNITED STATES PSYOP IN PANAMA

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PSYOP Soldiers with captured Panama flag

Operations Just Cause Lessons Learned - Soldiers and Leadership, 90-9, Volume 1, October 1990, says:

The 1st Battalion of the 4th PSYOP Group provided loudspeaker teams to maneuver battalions during D-Day operations, Its mission was to assist maneuver units in convincing the PDF elements to surrender by announcing the conditions of surrender after a show of force by the maneuver unit. Its efforts to convince the PDF to surrender saved American and Panamanian lives. Additionally, PSYOP elements were critical during stability operations by assisting in refugee control, disseminating information, and participating in programs such as money for weapons.

Operations Just Cause Lessons Learned - Operations, 90-9, Volume 2, October 1990, adds:

PSYOP were an integral part of JUST CAUSE. The loudspeaker teams deployed with conventional units proved effective in reducing resistance and controlling the local populace. Integration of major themes below joint task force level was slow at first, but picked up momentum as programs like “money for weapons” began impacting directly on tactical units.

Securing Ft. Amador, an installation shared by the U.S. and Panamian Defense Forces was difficult. American dependents could not be evacuated in advance of the attack. PSYOP loudspeaker teams, from the 1st Battalion, 4th PSYOP Group, were a key asset. When initial appeals failed to persuade the PDF to surrender, the commander modified the broadcasts. The holdouts were warned that resistance was hopeless in the face of overwhelming firepower and a series of demonstrations took place, escalating from small arms to 105mm howitzer rounds. Subsequent broadcasts convinced the PDF to give up.

LESSONS LEARNED:

Use PSYOP loudspeaker teams to encourage enemy to surrender before assaulting and to control flow of refugees by broadcasting the directions to the collection points.

Ensure the speakers of the loudspeaker teams can be heard by the enemy.

Commanders should personally prepare messages used by PSYOP loudspeaker teams to encourage enemy to surrender. Aspects of local culture must be considered.

Plan to use pre-printed leaflets to augment efforts of loudspeaker teams in controlling flow of refugees.

Ensure all soldiers understand the PSYOP theme so their conduct will complement the theme .

In fact, when the 75th Rangers jumped into Panama on the first night, eight loudspeaker teams accompanied them. When the 82nd Airborne Division jumped shortly afterwards, 12 more teams accompanied them.

Stanley Sandler mentions the operation in an article entitled "Army Psywarriors – A History of U.S. Army Psychological Operations", published in Special Warfare, Vol. 5, No. 2, 1992. He says:

During Operation Just Cause in December 1989, Army PSYOP troops jumped into Panama with most initial combat forces. Using Spanish-speaking troops and taped Spanish-language messages, they broadcast appeals to Panamanian forces. The taped messages soon had to be discarded, however, since they lacked Panamanian accents and idiomatic expressions.

Ethnic Panamanian U.S. soldiers filled the gap; alone in the midst of a threatening riot as a particularly brutal Noriega-regime officer was apprehended. A resourceful Panamanian-American trooper of the 4th Psychological Operations Group snapped a Panamanian salsa music tape into his loudspeaker and soon had the crowd distracted and the prisoner in safe custody.

Loudspeaker PSYOP troops, who accompanied most combat units into the field, also made the point of not demanding that Panamanian soldiers ‘surrender or die.’ Instead, they informed the enemy that he had fought bravely and could now cease resistance with dignity.

On the other hand, the pre-recorded loudspeaker tapes were quite threatening. The tactical loudspeaker teams were issued bilingual booklets entitled Loudspeaker Message Handbook prepared by the 1st PSYOP Battalion and prerecorded tapes. Some of the prerecorded messages are:

Message 1. Phase 1. 

Attention, attention, attention. Everyone clear the building. Lay down your weapons. Come out one at a time with your hands on your head and you won't get hurt. The building is surrounded.

Message 1. Phase 2.

Attention, attention, attention. Everyone in the building. You have 5 minutes to lay down your weapons and come out with your hands on your head. We intend to destroy the entire building and kill all of you in it unless you do as you are told. You can't escape. The building is surrounded. Don't die when you don't have to. Your five minutes has started.

Malcolm McConnell adds in Just Cause, St. Marten’s Paperbacks, 1991, “Then the American troops, many assisted by Psychological Operations teams, would offer the PDF the opportunity to surrender. If the enemy did not respond, unit commanders had the authority to unleash ‘firepower demonstrations,’ escalating up to the use of howitzers, if necessary. If the enemy still resisted, the American forces would assault and clear their objectives…”

Sandler goes into detail in his book Cease Resistance: It's Good for You: A History of the U.S. Army Combat Psychological Operations, 2nd edition, 1989. Some of his comments are:

Virtually every battalion of the 4th Psychological Operations Group was able to deploy personnel in and out of the country well before hostilities. These troops familiarized themselves with the Panamanian terrain, people and military.

One of the earliest U.S. PSYOP actions was the take-over of TV-2, Panama's most popular TV stations, which had been inactivated and then reactivated by Special Forces troops. Immediately following TV-2's forced inactivation, prepackaged materials were broadcast over its frequency by Volant Solo C-130 aircraft of the 193rd Special Operations Group of the Pennsylvania National Guard, serving to calm a civilian population seething with fears and rumors.

Loudspeaker messages stressed the legitimacy of the U.S. action, gave civilians news and information and worked to neutralize anti-American propaganda, arguing that the ‘Nord Americanos’ had no quarrel with the people of Panama, only with Noriega and his corrupt and violent underlings.

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Loudspeaker Humvees

Major Robert W. Caspers, Executive Officer of the 8th Psychological Operations Battalion was interviewed about his part in the campaign by Major Robert P. Cook of the 326th Military History Detachment. He said that his battalion was given the mission by 4th Psychological Operations Group to be the tasking contingency planning support for the PSYOP group to the 18th Airborne Corps. He also commented that his battalion ended up deploying three loudspeaker-equipped Humvees that were actually airdropped into Panama during the operation.

Panama was besieged by American radio. The CIA was already broadcasting into Panama from Costa Rica, using their Radio Impacto. The U.S. Army broadcast on Radio Liberacion on medium wave from the U.S. Panama Canal base.  The Southern Command Network increased its FM schedule at the start of the invasion.Elements of the 4th PSYOP broadcast "The Voice of Liberty" from a mobile transmitter from the opening of the campaign and remained on duty 24 hours a day. They claimed that 70% of the Panamanian people listened to the station for the latest unbiased news.

There were many leaflets and posters produced during the short intervention and later consolidation phase of Operation Just Cause. The U.S. Army captured and occupied the Panamanian Federal Printing Plant and used its presses to print bulk items.

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There were at least three safe conduct passes prepared by American PSYOP troops during Operation Just Cause. They are all in English on one side and Spanish on the other. One large 8 ½ x 5 ½ inch pass is all text, “Safe Conduct Pass Instructions. This safe conduct pass is for use by the dignity battalions and codepadi (Author’s note: Institutional Committees to Defend the Country and Dignity members). The bearer of this pass, upon presenting it to any U.S. Military member or public Panamanian force, will be guaranteed protection, medical attention, food, and shelter. (Signed) Major General Marc A. Cisneros, Commanding General, U.S. Army South. Safe Conduct Pass Instructions.” This same pass also was printed in a smaller version, 4 ¼ x 2 ¾ inches. The message is identical.

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A similar pass is 7 5/8 x 2 ¾ inches in size. The message is almost the same, with just a few words changed. “Safe Conduct pass. This pass is for use by the PDF, Dignity Battalion, and codepadi members. The bearer of this pass, upon presenting it to any U.S. Military member, will be guaranteed safe passage to U.S. facilities that will provide medical attention, food, and shelter. (Signed) Major General Marc A. Cisneros, Commanding General, U.S. Army South. Safe Conduct Pass.” Since this third leaflet does not mention Panamanian forces and seems to offer protection to members of the old regime who might need to be safeguarded against the Panamanian people, it is probably an early version used during the fighting phase of the campaign. Notice that the word “surrender” is never mentioned in any of the three safe conduct passes. The Cisneros safe conduct pass was printed on cheap newsprint paper. The 1st PSYOP Battalion quickly printed 300,000 of them. US helicopter crews could carry 30,000 of them on a mission due to their small size. They were dropped on both specified locations and targets of opportunity.  Goldstein notes that the pass was signed by Cisneros instead of Commander-in-Chief South General Thurman or Commander Joint Task Force General Stiner. He says it is because General Cisneros had established a good reputation among the Panamanian population and the PDF, and therefore was expected to have greater credibility as a known entity.

Some leaflets featured the theme of reward for weapons. Operations Just Cause Lessons Learned - Intelligence, Logistics and Equipment, 90-9, Volume 3, October 1990 says, “On 27 December, a cash-for-weapons program was implemented that paid Panamanian citizens for the turn-in of weapons or for reporting cache locations. Ultimately, the civilian population learned that if they piecemealed the turn-in of weapons from cache sites, they could make more money. Reporting of cashes decreased until the program and rate of payment was amended. The final count was approximately 56,000 captured weapons.

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One leaflet shows a woman with child pointing out the location of hidden weapons to an American soldier. The text is

It is your duty. What We Will Pay.” Some of the items depicted in silhouette with prices are, "$25.00 for Information on Munitions. $25.00 for Grenades. $50.00 for RPG Grenades. $100.00 for Pistols. $125.00 for Rifles. $150.00 for Automatic Rifles. $150.00 for Mines. A maximum of $5000 will be paid for the above weapons. Cooperate with us today.

The back is all text.

Maximum payment for warehousing of weapons - $5000. PLACES FOR DELIVERY. Police Department near the back of Albrook fountain. National Gymnasium (front of Ancon Inn). Arms will be accepted only at these places daily from 7am to 5pm. DELIVERY PROCEDURES.

1. Remove the loader and ammunition from the weapon.

2. Attach a white cloth to the weapon.

3. Approach with weapon held high by its barrel.

4. Follow the instructions given by the authorities. Cooperate with your Government and help the American armed forces. United we will have law, order and public security.

In a published U.S. Army after-action report, Lieutenant Colonel Dennis Walko (Commander, 1st PSYOP Battalion) says:

The weapons buy back went very well. One Panamanian civilian actually turned in an armored vehicle. He was paid the top amount for weapon: $150, and seemed pleased enough. No one asked him how he had such an outsized piece of military equipment.

The Operation Just Cause money for guns program was originated by Department of the Army Civilian H. J. Walsh. He drafted the policy and lobbied for the authority and funding to pay for the weapons. He recalls discussing the reward payment for the APC with Colonel Mike Snell, the commander of the 193rd Infantry Brigade. Walsh recalls that when he was asked how much the armored vehicle was worth he said "offer him $2500.00." COL Snell, a tough bargainer decided that the personnel carrier was worth $150 and gave the individual a "take it or leave it" offer. The Panamanian took it. Walsh adds:

One of the reasons the program was such a success was that it worked in concert with the conversion of the Panama Defense Force to a National Police. It targeted the weapons in the hands of potential insurgents and not the former military. We had captured or identified the PDF, classified them and either put them in a new uniform or kept them in confinement.

Walsh also recalls that the U. S. paid for many artifacts looted from museums in order to preserve them and return them to the people of Panama. He believes that lesson should have been learned and followed after the American invasion of Iraq and the looting of millions of dollars of valuable antiquities.

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Another leaflet is in the form of a Christmas card. Text on the front and back is “Much happiness” and “For all the children of Panama, a Merry Christmas and a prosperous new year. From the American armed forces. 1990.” The inside shows an American soldier with a bag of toys handing a soccer ball to a young Panamanian boy while a girl stands by awaiting her gift. The text is “And Jesus answered and said to them, Have faith in God. Mark 11:22” and “I sought the Lord, and he heard me and delivered me from all my fears. Psalms 34.4.” The latter passage was probably selected as an allusion to the U.S. invasion answering the prayers of the people of Panama for liberation from the despot Noriega. Sandler says about this leaflet:

Perhaps less successful was a 4th Psychological Operations Group Christmas card depicting a cigarette-holding U.S. soldier giving gifts to children which some observers felt was condescending to Panamanians and wondered about the cigarette.

That would seem to be American political correctness at its worse. A soldier gives Christmas gifts to a young child and some critic sees only his cigarette. This leaflet is unique in that is one of the very few that is actually signed by the artist. He has penned “G. Thomas ‘89” just behind the young girl. 30,000 of the blue Christmas cards were distributed, mostly by hand and helicopter.

A second Christmas card was produced in a smaller run of just 10,000 pieces. This depicted two hands clasping (with the insignia of Panama and the United States on the sleeve) and a background of a modern city. The text is:

Union and reconstruction. We sincerely desire a prosperous 1990 for you. Panama, heart of the world, bridge of the universe.

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Another leaflet is a consolidation piece meant to reinforce the new government of Panama. It shows an individual being sworn in by an official on the front with the text:

December 20, 1989.

THE LEGITIMATE GOVERNMENT HAS STATED:

Yes - to the reestablishment of Democracy.

Yes - to the re-incorporation of the Panamanian Soldiers into the Democratic process.

Yes - to the important paper of the public forces in the future of Panama.

The back is all text:

PANAMANIAN SOLDIER. The People have accomplished with their vote – Democracy. With your support - Peace and tranquility. Do not support the criminals. Do not fight any longer for lies. Yes - Support the restoration of Law and Order. Yes - re-establish the Democratic procesa.

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3 October 1989

There are several of these yellow consolidation propaganda leaflets. This leaflet was drawn by Tim Wallace and depicts Noriega controlling his puppets in the government and military. The text is:

3 October 1989

Panama’s brave soldiers said:

No to manipulation of the FFDD

No to abuse of power

Yes to the rescue of democracy

Yes to the support of the popular will

Note: The FFDD mentioned above stands for the armed forces of Panama, collectively known as Panamanian Defense Forces or Fuerzas de Defensa de Panama. The number of troops Noriega could muster in case of emergency numbered up to 15,000, excluding the 2,000 to 3,000 members of the Dignity Battalions. Had this force been deployed strategically, they could have inflicted a heavy casualty on the invasion force. However during Operation Just Cause there was no central control in the PDF and each unit was on its own.

On 3 October 1989, Moises Giroldi, a member of Noriega's inner circle led a nonviolent coup against Noriega. He asked that the United States block two roads so that loyal followers of Noriega could not rescue him. Noriega was a prisoner for a few hours but was somehow able to call for help from his special unit, Battalion 2000. This battalion used air transportation to circumvent the U.S. roadblocks and joined other Noriega loyalists in crushing the rebellion. Giroldi was severely tortured and killed as were several other coup leaders.

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Developmental Art

Here is one of Tim Wallace’s early drawings. You can see that the leaflet above was taken directly from this sketch. Tim said about his developmental art:

I was always drawing and practicing caricatures and brainstorming ideas while on these missions. Sometimes when one of the officers was not quite sure of an image I would have them look through my drawings. This is a rough draft of my “Noriega puppets” image.

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7 May 1989

This Tim Wallace leaflet depicts a fat ballot box stuffed with the genuine votes for Endara and a thin box with the votes for Duque, a pro-Noriega candidate. The text is:

7 May 1989

The people have said

No to Noriega

No to the criminal element

Yes to the government of Endara

Yes to the right to peace and tranquility

Guillermo David Endara Galimany (12 May 1936 to 28 September 2009) was President of Panama from 1989 to 1994. Endara became a leading opponent of the Manuel Noriega military dictatorship, heading the opposition coalition in the 1989 presidential election. Though his coalition was judged by international observers as having defeated pro-Noriega candidate Carlos Duque, the results were annulled by the government, and Endara and his running mates were attacked in the streets by the paramilitary Dignity Battalions. The assaults received widespread coverage in international media, helping to build support within the U.S. for military action against Noriega. Seven months later, the United States invaded Panama, and swore in Endara as the new president on the first night of the invasion on a U.S. military base.

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Law...

Another patriotic consolidation leaflet is in the form of a folded card and depicts the flag of Panama in full color on the front. Text on the back of the folded leaflet is:

Support the Democracy you fought for...Respect the Law! Report Criminal acts to Telephone: 87-6453 or 87-5965.

The inside is all text:

On our knees to thank God, on our feet to serve the nation

LAW. By the people. Of the people. For the people. Guaranteed by the Constitution. Taxed equally and humanely.

There were a series of posters with the title in Spanish, "Wanted." These depicted former Panamanian government and military leaders such as Luis Cordoba, former Chief of Intelligence, Major Carlos Saldana and Captain Asuncion Gaitan. Some of the fugitives that had been captured were depicted with the words "capturado" over their photographs.

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This is the Way to Hand Over Your Weapons

Other posters told the Panamanians how to turn in their weapons. One with the title "This is the way to hand over your weapons" pictured a soldier holding his rifle upside down with a white flag tied to the barrel. The posters mentioned the times and locations where the weapons could be turned in to the American forces. The text is:

This is the way to hand over your weapons
Hold the weapon like this
Be sure you don’t touch the trigger
Tie a white handkerchief

   Arms                                        Location
Munitions                                    Day
Explosives                                  Hour

Information                                         

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Working Day by Day…

Another poster depicted happy Panamanian children playing in a peaceful setting. The text is:

Working day by day to protect our future

The new strength of the people of Panama

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The 4th PSYOP Group also published a Spanish-language newspaper entitled "Perspectivas," and another named "Nueva Republica." The PSYOP troops printed 400,000 editions of the latter daily. The newspaper became so popular that when the Americans stopped publishing, a commercial Panamanian newspaper appeared with the same name.

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Another leaflet is informational and tells the Panamanians where to report PDF or Dignity Battalion excesses on the front, and where to report U.S. military excesses or confiscations on the back. Text on the front is:

In order to report activities of members of the old defense forces or Dignity Battalions call the telephone numbers: 87-3613, 87-1613, 87-4246, or 87-4965.

The back of the leaflet tells the Panamanians that they are protected under international law and that anyone whose property has been taken by United States forces for military use during Operation Just Cause should call 87-4305 between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.

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One document printed to build pride in the new Panama is an identification card for the Panamanian "Black Berets." A beret is depicted on one side with a red, yellow and purple flash and the text:

Black Berets. This card is personal and nontransferable.

The other side depicts the flash in full color and the text:

Black Berets, Identification card

The card has a space for personal information, a photograph, and signatures at the bottom.

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Another card to be used by government troops is a weapons permit. The text is:

Ministry of Government and Justice, Public Force of Panama, Permission to carry arms

Once again; there is a space for personal information, a photo and a signature.

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A third card says simply "This is your badge" and shows a police badge with the words "Panama National Police." The text on the back is:

This is your badge. It was just a piece of lifeless metal before you received it. Now it belongs to you. It is symbol of the nation, of law, order, justice and freedom. It represents the delegated authority given you by the Constitution of the Republic. It represents the confidence of the Panamanian people. The badge lives. It is a brave, noble, a prudent defender, and strong. It hears the cries and knows fear and adversity. It represents impartiality, honesty, and fidelity. Its possession transforms to you from a citizen to a Police official, guardian of the security and the safety of others. Carry it with Dignity. Use it with pride. Defend its principles. Make yourself an example of the values that it represents. Gather it to you because its reflection is of hope, peace and security. Respect your badge and others will respect it.

In Psychological Operations, Air University Press, Maxwell AFB, AL, 1996, Colonel Frank L. Goldstein discusses the amount of PSYOP product used against Panama. He says:

By 8 January, The PSYOP task force had produced and disseminated over one million leaflets and handbills, 50,000 posters, 550,000 newspapers, and 125,000 units of miscellaneous other printed material. Volant Solo had conducted TV broadcasts for the first several days, the PSYOP AM radio station had been operating 24 hours a day, and countless messages had been aired on commercial radio and television stations and published in commercial newspapers. Loudspeaker teams continued to support tactical units by broadcasting advisories, interacting with the population, and providing timely PSYOP advice to US commanders.

It is a doubtful that such a small and quick invasion was ever covered by so many members of the press. At the height of the American operation there were no less than 915 reporters in the various news pools. The U.S. Southern Command published a daily news release. The release of 14 January 1990 stated that 76,553 weapons had been captured as well as 39 armored vehicles, 36 aircraft and seven boats. A total of $798,100 had been paid to Panamanians for 8,769 weapons turned in.

This operation showed that American regular and Special Forces could meld together to create a lethal and fast-moving aggressive power that could pinpoint enemy targets of opportunity and quickly overrun them. The lessons learned were put to good use once again less than two years later in Kuwait. PSYOP played a great part in the campaign. LTC Dennis Walko says it best, discussing the stiff resistance encountered on the first night in a town just west of Panama City he says,

That night (the 20th) we dropped approximately 20,000 safe conduct passes. The following morning preceded by loudspeaker broadcasts and surrender appeals, the Marines went in and the entire PDF Dignity Battalion organization surrendered without firing a shot, hanging on to those little surrender appeals that had been dropped the previous night.

ALLIED NEWSPAPER CARTOON PROPAGANDA

Sergeant (E5) Tim Wallace was a 1st PSYOP Battalion illustrator during the Panama invasion. Because he had a background as an editorial cartoonist he was asked to prepare a series of anti-Noriega cartoons during Operation Just Cause. He believed they were to be used in the newspaper La Prensa. However, when he was called before the Battalion Commander, he was told that the cartoons would be used as “black propaganda.” This is propaganda that is not clearly identified and could be from Panamanian anti-Noriega forces. Tim told me:

The cartoons were signed “Lobo” and not Wallace because my name was too “Gringo” sounding. I told them it would look suspicious to have them unsigned so they agreed to let me use the translation of my middle name, "Randolph," which means “wolf-shield” or “dark-wolf,” so Lobo ended up being my pen name for this work. I threw the two birds in just because it gave me the option of more anti-Noriega insults. The funny thing was that when they were pre-tested in the refugee camps the Panamanians really liked the two birds.

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G.I. Bill Cartoon

With this in mind I decided to keep the birds going after the Noriega cartoons and Operation Just Cause was over. I later used them in my cartoon strip, “G.I. Bill.” I had them stowaway in Bill’s rucksack and they became a fixture in the strip for the next two years and were very popular with the troops. They even won a couple of army journalism awards for their antics.

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Patriots

In this cartoon a caricatured thug with a bag of war booty over his shoulder carries his AK-47 rifle, drags the Panamanian flag and says:

I am a patriot

There are two creatures in the background that look a lot like Toucans. Tim told me that when they were testing the cartoons they found that the Panamanian people really liked the two birds and thought they were funny. So, Tim decided to leave them in his drawings. He named them “Libel” and “Slander,” as a tribute to their unique origin.

The birds say:

Who is that?

The Dignity Battalion.

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Pensioned Dictator

The second cartoon shows a resting Noriega drinking a beer and leaning against a tombstone labeled:

Democratic heroes

The two Toucans say:

What does he want?

To be a pensioned dictator.

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Church?

 

The third cartoon depicts Noriega as the Devil hiding behind a Christian Cross. Tim was giving the old dictator a subtle dig about hiding out in the Vatican Embassy. A sudden fondness for Christianity. The birds say:

Is he going to Church?

Only on Christmas Day.

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How Lovely

This very insulting cartoon depicts Noriega as a prostitute leaning up against a lamppost and smoking a cigar, apples in his bra and stolen Panamanian loot falling out of his pocketbook. This leaflet was prepared because a rumor had circulated around Panama that in order to escape, the dictator had dressed as a woman. The birds say:

How lovely!

It is a borrowed dress.

It is worth noting that this rumor of Noriega in a dress could be true or could be a “black” operation by American forces. Such rumors, which the British call “Sibs,” have been used in the past to vilify enemy leaders and make them look cowardly and foolish. For instance Confederate States President Jefferson Davis was said to have been captured while wearing his wife’s dress, shawl and robe. Mexican President Santa Anna, “the Napoleon of the West," was captured wearing the uniform of a private and German SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler was captured carrying the papers of a discharged sergeant. At one point during the search for Saddam Hussein an American officer suggested printing doctored photos of him in women’s clothes to force him to come into the open and fight. So, although the rumor of Noriega in woman’s clothes could be true, it could just as easily be an operation by American intelligence.

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All for Noriega

The fifth newspaper cartoon depicts four panels of Noriega with bags of money. He waves his machete and becomes more and more tempted by the booty. Eventually, he takes it all, his eyes covered with dollar signs. The text is:

All for the Nation

All for the…

All for…

All

The toucans add:

All for what?

All the money!

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Pineapple Face

Other cartoons covered a myriad of themes. One of Tim’s favorites depicted Panamanian troops hanging out in the jungle covered in cobwebs waiting for Noriega who had told his troops that is the United States attacked, they were to regroup and wait for him and he would lead them against the invading Yankees. The text is rather insulting to Noriega and actually talks about “pineapple season” using the Panamanian slang for the dictator, “Pineapple Face.”

The Toucans wonder about the season:

What are they doing?

Wasting time waiting for the pineapple season

The two web covered “Men of the Hills” wonder about Noriega’s whereabouts:

When is he coming?

He told us we would find him in the mountains.

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Liberty and Democracy…

Sergeant Tim Wallace also produced several posters and leaflets. This poster depicts two hands representing the United States and Panama shaking hands. The flags of both nations are present as is a white dove of peace. We should point out that clasped hands are a very common image on American leaflets. For instance, during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, leaflet AFD-22b used the same theme. The text is:

Welcome to Panama

Liberty and Democracy at Last

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Tim Wallace at Work

This photograph from the Fort Bragg post newspaper Paraglide shows artist Tim Wallace from Detachment A, 1st PSYOP Battalion at work drawing the poster “Liberty and Democracy” at Amadore Naval Station in Panama. Tim said about this project:

The poster is a good example of "Too Many Cooks..." I think because of the high visibility of the mission everybody wanted to add something to this poster. My usual suggestion to not fill up the poster with words or extra images was not heeded. In fact, there was so much text that I even had to superimpose text on top of text!

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Panama – A Country Invaded…

We should point out that the Panamanians were also producing propaganda to tell their side of the story. As war grew closer in 1989, the Noriega government produced a 47-page Spanish-language booklet entitled PANAMA – Un pais invadido por el Ejercito – USA, ("PANAMA - A country Invaded by the Army of the United States of America") to appeal to other Latin and South American countries for support. The booklet’s subtitle is Recuento de la Agresion de EE.UU. Contra Panama, (“A Recounting of the United States Aggression against Panama").  The booklet was heavily illustrated and contained chapters on various murdered Panamanians, violations of the Torrijos-Carter Treaty, and claims of U.S. provocations and criminal acts.

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Panamanian Defense Force (PDF) prepared booklets

The Panamanian Defense Force Media Office also prepared a number of booklets in English meant for American readers. One is entitled “This Commander Neither Gives Up or Gives In!” This 20-page booklet features many black and white photos of Noriega, troops and rallies. Some chapters are: “Strengthening Democracy;” “Nationalistic and Popular Doctrine;” “Peace – Our Flag and Peace” and “Freedom and Complete Sovereignty.” A second PDF booklet is 29-pages and entitled from a Noriega quote: “THE SLANDER always has been used against those who have patriotic sentiment.” This booklet claims that all the anti-Noriega sentiment around the world is nothing more than slander from anti-Panamanian forces who (for instance) do not want to see the Panama Canal returned to Panama. Listen to the praise of the military for their leader:

Mr. President. The admiration you enjoy among the Panamanian people is great. Your will to be and to do gives you prestige, and it places you in history as the man who knew how to confront organized solution. Therefore, we in the Panamanian military respect you, more than as president, as a great man who honors and gives prestige to his name.

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Post-Panamanian Invasion Postcard Commemorating the Overthrow of Noriega

A July 2009 newspaper report stated that although Noriega’s sentence was completed in 2007 he was still held in an American jail. France wanted to extradite him on a charge of money laundering and Panama wanted to try him for murder. According to the Geneva Convention, a prisoner-of-war like Noriega must be permitted to return to his own country, but the United States believes that the return of El Jefe might imperil the government of Panama and the security of the Panama Canal. His eventual fate might be determined by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In April 2010, Noriega was extradited to France after serving more than 20 years in a U.S. jail. Noriega was convicted in France in 1999 in absentia for allegedly using $3,000,000 in proceeds from the drug trade to buy luxury apartments in Paris, and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Noriega's lawyer in France, Yves Leberquier, said he would challenge French jurisdiction on the grounds of his client's immunity from prosecution as a former head of state and because the statute of limitations had expired.

As the 20th anniversary of the Panama invasion neared, The Bayonet, newspaper of Ft. Benning (home of the U.S. Army Infantry School and often called “The Benning School for Boys” by graduates) commemorated the operation with a story telling of past and coming events:

Fort Benning will host a 20th anniversary commemoration of Operation Just Cause, the invasion of Panama, on 17 December 2009.

Beginning 20 December 1989, the U.S. military conducted a "truly joint, surgical strike" when capturing the Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, said Dave Stieghan, Infantry and Fort Benning historian.

The invasion, ordered by President George H.W. Bush, was for regime change, the historian said. Noriega hijacked a national election and trafficked drugs from South and Central America to Main Street, and the president cited four reasons for the invasion — to protect American citizens living in Panama, defend democracy and human rights in Panama, combat the drug trafficking and protect the Panama Canal treaties, which transferred the canal to Panamanian control in 2000.

Operation Just Cause was well planned. It was the first operation after the Goldwater-Nichols Act to get all the services working together and the first time the military used the special operations forces — Rangers, SEALS and Delta Force — as a single instrument.

Command Sergeant Major Doug Greenway was a platoon sergeant with 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, who had just returned to Fort Lewis, Wash., from a three-week training exercise, which, unknown to them, was a rehearsal for the invasion.

“Crossing over the beaches into Rio Hata, we sounded off with the Ranger Creed and we were out the doors just after midnight — filling the skies with paratrooper silk at 500 feet. We had plenty ammo and an MRE.”

Forces from the 5th Infantry (Mechanized ) Division, 7th Infantry (Light) Division, 82nd Infantry (Airborne), 193rd Infantry Brigade, 75th Ranger Regiment, 5th and 7th Special Forces Group, worked together in a joint effort with other US Army, US Marine, US Navy, and US Air Force units to capture Noriega and halt his dictatorial regime.

Fort Benning is celebrating the anniversary of Operation Just Cause with a parachute jump 17 December 2009…Anyone who jumped then, and is still on Airborne status is invited to participate in the commemorative jump….

My favorite part of this story is the Rangers jumping into the dark loaded with ammo and one lone MRE package. I guess the Army figured they would not have time to eat much.

The author encourages interested readers who may have additional information or personal experiences with Panama and Operation Just Cause to write to him at sgmbert@hotmail.com.

Copyright: July 1, 2002