We are searching data for your request:
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.
On December 20, 1989, after a U.S. troops into the Central American country in an effort to oust the dictator. In an address to the nation, Bush explains his decision to call for military action.
A NASA document actually started the Moon landing conspiracy
Posted On April 29, 2020 15:50:49
Kieran L. asks: Who started the conspiracy theory about the moon landing being fake?
Since the early 1970s conspiracy theorists have created ever more elaborate stories about how NASA faked the moon landings, much to the annoyance of the literal hundreds of thousands of people who worked in some capacity to make these missions a reality, and even more so to the men who were brave enough to sit in front of a massive controlled explosion, take a little jaunt through the soul crushing void of space in an extremely complex ship built by the lowest bidder, then get into another spacecraft whose ascent engine had never been test fired before they lit the candle, and all with the goal of exiting said ship with only a special suit between them and oblivion. And don’t even get the astronauts started on the paltry government salary they earned in doing all that and the hilarious lengths they had to go to to provide some semblance of a life insurance policy for their families should the worst happen during the missions. So who first got the idea that the moon landings were faked?
While it’s highly likely there were at least a few individuals here and there who doubted man could accomplish such a thing a little over a half century after the end of period in which humans were still hitching up covered wagons, the first to really get the moon landing hoax story going popularly was a writer named Bill Kaysing. How did he do it? Kaysing self-published a book in 1976 called We Never Went to the Moon: America’s Thirty Billion Dollar Swindle.
Released a few years after the Apollo 17 mission in 1972, Kaysing’s book popularly introduced some of the most well known talking points of moon landing deniers, such as that the astronauts should have been killed when they passed through the Van Allen radiation belts, noting the lack of stars in photographs, the missing blast crater below the lunar modules, etc. Beyond these, he also had some more, let’s say, “unusual” and occasionally offensive assertions which even the most ardent moon landing denier would probably rather distance themselves from.
Not exactly a best-seller, Kaysing’s book nonetheless laid the ground work for some of what would come after, with the idea further gaining steam in part thanks to the 1978 film Capricorn 1, which shows NASA faking a Mars landing and then going to any lengths to keep it a secret. As for the film, director Peter Hyams states he first got the idea for such a movie when musing over the Apollo 11 mission and thinking, “There was one event of really enormous importance that had almost no witnesses. And the only verification we have . . . came from a TV camera.”
Not an accurate statement in the slightest on the latter point, it nonetheless got the wheels turning and he ultimately developed a script based on this notion.
As to how Kaysing before him came to the conclusion that NASA faked the moon landings, the story, at least as Kaysing tells it, is that in the late 1950s he managed to view the results of a highly secretive internal study conducted by NASA on the feasibility of man successfully landing on the moon that concluded, in his own words: “That the chance of success was something like .0017 percent. In other words, it was hopeless.”
Kaysing doesn’t explain how NASA came up with such a precise figure given all the unknown variables at the time, nor why he put the qualifier “something like” followed by such an extremely exact number. He also did not name the report itself. And, in fact, as far as we can tell, NASA never conducted such an all encompassing study on the feasibility of a successful moon landing in the 1950s. Whether they did or not, we did find in our research looking for that report that NASA conducted a feasibility study on the proposed designs for several manned rockets immediately prior to Apollo program to decide which contractor to use. This, of course, has nothing to do with Kaysing, but we figured we’d mention it as we like to deal in facts and reading Kaysing’s various works has us feeling like we need to be cleansed a little by saying things that are actually true about NASA in this period.
Astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong in NASA’s training mockup of the Moon and lander module.
In any event, Kaysing would later assert that he determined from this report that there’s no way NASA could have improved these 0.0017% odds in the time between the results of this supposed study and the moon landings about a decade later.
Now, if Kaysing was just some random guy shouting in the wind, it’s unlikely anyone would have listened to him. Every conspiracy theory origin story needs at least some shred of credibility from the person starting it to get the fire going. For Kaysing’s assertions about the moon landings, this comes in the form of the fact that for a brief period he worked for Rocketdyne, a company that made rockets for the Apollo program. Not an engineer or having any similar technical expertise whatsoever, Kaysing’s background was primarily in writing, earning an English degree from the University of Redlands, after which he naturally got a job making furniture.
As for the writing gig he landed with Rocketdyne, his job was initially as a technical writer starting in 1956 and he eventually worked his way up to head of technical publications. He finally quit in 1963, deciding he’d had enough of working for the man.
After quitting, to quote him, “the rat race”, in 1963 Kaysing traveled the country in a trailer with his family, earning his living writing books on a variety of topics from motorcycles to farming.
This brings us to 1969 when he, like most everyone else in the world with access to a TV watched the moon landing. While watching, Kaysing recalled the supposed NASA study he’d seen all those years ago, as well as that engineers he’d worked with at the time in the late 1950s claimed that while the technology existed to get the astronauts to the moon, getting them back was not yet possible. He later stated he further thought,
Despite often describing himself as “the fastest pen in the west”, it would take Kaysing several years to write the book that introduced one of the most enduring conspiracy theories to the world.
As for why NASA would bother with the charade, he claimed NASA worked in tandem with the Defence Intelligence Agency to fake the moon landings to one up those pesky Russians. While certainly good for the country if they could get away with it, the benefit to NASA itself was, of course, funding. Said Kaysing, “They — both NASA and Rocketdyne — wanted the money to keep pouring in.” As to how he knew this, he goes on “I’ve worked in aerospace long enough to know that’s their goal.”
Model of Soviet Lunokhod automatic moon rover.
So how did NASA do it? He claimed that the footage of the moon landing was actually filmed on a soundstage. When later asked where this soundstage was located, Kaysing confidently stated that it was located in Area 51. As he doesn’t seem to have ever given clear evidence as to how he knew this, we can only assume because it’s not a proper space related conspiracy theory if Area 51 isn’t mentioned.
Kaysing also claimed that the F-1 engines used were too unreliable so NASA instead put several B-1 rockets inside each of the F-1 engines. Of course, in truth these wouldn’t have been powerful enough to get the Saturn V into orbit even if its tanks were mostly empty. (And given the frost and ice clearly visible covering certain relevant parts of the Saturn V here, it’s apparent the tanks could not have been mostly empty). There’s also the little problem that the clusters of B-1s he described couldn’t have fit in the F-1 engine bells and you can see footage of the F-1 engines working as advertised, with no clusters of engines anywhere in sight. Nevertheless, despite these problems with his story, he did purport that the Saturn V was launched to space as shown (though at other times has claimed that in fact as soon as the rocket was out of sight it was simply ditched in the ocean and never made it to space). Stick with us here people, he changed his story a lot over the years.
Whatever the case, in all initial cases, he claims the astronauts were not aboard.
(And if you’re now wondering how the U.S. fooled the Soviets and other nations tracking the rockets during these missions, he claims a way to fake signals was devised, allowing for tracking stations on Earth to think the craft was headed for the moon and, critically, successfully fooling the Soviets who were indeed closely tracking the missions to the moon and back.)
So what did Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins do during the mission if they weren’t zipping around in space? In the first edition of his book, Kaysing claims that they flew to Las Vegas where they mostly hung out at strip clubs when they weren’t in their rooms on the 24th floor of the Sands Hotel.
We can’t make this stuff up, but apparently Kaysing can.
Kaysing goes on that at one point one of the trio got into a fistfight with someone in broad daylight over a stripper. Sadly Kaysing doesn’t reveal which of the men did this, nor how he knew about it, so we’re forced to assume it was Buzz Aldrin who is the only member of the three we definitely know actually has gotten in a fist fight.
The Apollo 11 lunar landing mission crew, pictured from left to right, Neil A. Armstrong, commander Michael Collins, command module pilot and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., lunar module pilot.
In this case, in 2002, a 72 year old Buzz Aldrin punched Bart Sibrel who is a “we never landed on the moon” conspiracy theorist, “documentary” maker, and cab driver. Sibrel invited Aldrin to a hotel with Sibrel telling him he was making a children’s TV show on space. Once Aldrin arrived at the hotel, Sibrel pulled out a Bible and tried to get Aldrin to put his hand on it and swear that he had walked on the moon. Needless to say, Aldrin was pretty irritated at this point. Things got worse when Sibrel called Aldrin a “liar” and a “coward”, at which point Aldrin punched him.
As for his defense, Sibrel states, “When someone has gotten away with a crime, in my opinion, they deserve to be ambushed. I’m a journalist trying to get at the truth.” Unwilling to sway on what that truth is, however, Sibrel states, “I do know the moon landings were faked. I’d bet my life on it.” Not all is lost, however, because he states, “I know personally that Trump knows the moon landings are fake and he’s biding his time to reveal it at the end of this term, or at the end of his second term if he’s re-elected.” So, rest easy everyone, the truth will come out soon enough apparently.
In any event, going back to Kaysing’s book, he states that shortly before the astronauts were supposed to begin broadcasting from the moon, all three men arrived on a soundstage deep within the confines of Area 51 and ate cheese sandwiches. He also states that along with cheese sandwiches, NASA provided the men with buxom showgirls while at Area 51. Presumably this was the only way to pry the astronauts away from the strip clubs.
After eating the no doubt delicious sandwiches, Aldrin and Armstrong put on some space suits and pretended to walk across a fake moon set while reading out some, to quote Kaysing, “well-rehearsed lines” in a performance he called “not great” but “good enough”.
A description we personally feel is a little unfair considering it has apparently fooled seemingly every scientist on Earth then to now, including ones working for the nation directly competing with the US to land on the moon who would have relished any opportunity to even allege the whole thing was faked in a credible way, let alone prove it and embarrass the U.S. utterly in front of the whole world. But, unfortunately, as you might imagine, the Soviets at the time were monitoring the whole thing quite closely with their newfangled technology and so never got the opportunity to disprove the landings.
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin poses for a photograph beside the deployed United States flag during an Apollo 11 Extravehicular Activity on the lunar surface.
Amazingly Kaysing also claimed in his book that the fake moon landing footage was filmed live and that there was only “a seven second delay” between Armstrong and Aldrin’s performance and the broadcast the world was watching. Thus, had even a fly buzzed across the set, NASA would have only seconds to notice and cut the feed, lest such a mistake or inconsistency be noticed in the footage people would be watching for the rest of human history.
As for the splash down and recovery, he claims the astronauts were eventually put on a military cargo plane (a Lockheed C-5 Galaxy) and simply dropped from it in the capsule. As for how he knew this, he did provide a source for once, claiming that an airline pilot he talked to had seen the Apollo 15 module drop from a cargo plane. Who this pilot was, what airline he worked for, if he offered any evidence to support his claim, such as a flight log showing him piloting a plane in the area during the time of the splash down of Apollo 15, or even when he talked to said pilot, however, he fails to mention.
As for the moon rocks brought back, these were apparently meteorites found in Antarctica as well as some that were cleverly made in a NASA geology lab.
As to how NASA was able to keep the lid on things, despite nearly a half a million people working on the Apollo Program in some capacity, not just for NASA but countless independent organizations, he claims NASA simply only let those who needed to know the whole thing was a hoax know.
So following this reasoning that means all these scientists, engineers, etc. working on all the components and various facets of the mission were genuinely trying to make the moon landing happen, including knowing the requirements to make it happen and testing everything they made until it met those requirements… Meaning what was built and planned should have been capable of doing what the mission required…
That said, Kaysing admits a handful of people here and there would have had to know the whole thing was a sham, and thus NASA simply paid off those who could be paid off, promoted those who preferred that reward, threatened those who still wouldn’t go along, and murdered those who still resisted, which we’ll get into shortly.
The ridiculousness of many of these claims and how easily they crumple under the slightest bit of scrutiny is likely why in the 2002 re-release of his book Kaysing changed his story in various ways, including claiming that the engines on the Saturn V actually did work and that Collins, Aldrin, and Armstrong did go to space after all, instead of going to hang out with strippers in Vegas. He then states that all three men orbited the planet while pre-recorded, not live, footage was shown on Earth.
The swing arms move away and a plume of flame signals the liftoff of the Apollo 11 Saturn V space vehicle.
Despite, to put it mildly, straining credibility on pretty much everything he said from start to finish and him providing absurdly specific details, generally without bothering to provide any evidence whatsoever backing up these claims and changing those specific details frequently over time, Kaysing’s book and subsequent work nonetheless helped spawn the still thriving moon landing hoax conspiracy theory.
As for Kaysing, he didn’t stop there. He continued to sporadically come up with new allegations against NASA, including that the agency murdered the astronauts and teacher aboard the Challenger explosion. Why would they do this when the whole Christa McAuliffe thing was supposed to be a publicity stunt to get the public more interested in space travel, science, and what NASA was doing? According to Kaysing, “Christa McAuliffe, the only civilian and only woman aboard, refused to go along with the lie that you couldn’t see stars in space. So they blew her up, along with six other people, to keep that lie under wraps…”
Speaking of things that Kaysing said that are ridiculously easy to debunk with even a modicum of effort, we feel obligated to point out that Christa McAuliffe was not the only woman on board. NASA astronaut Judith Resnik was also killed in that tragedy.
Not stopping there, Kaysing also claimed the deaths of the Apollo 1 astronauts were intentional as one or more of the astronauts aboard was about to blow the whistle on the upcoming hoax plan. We feel obligated to point out here that, as previously mentioned, he also used this fire as evidence of NASA lacking expertise to get a man to the moon… Meaning according to Kaysing this fire was somehow both intentional to murder a few astronauts and also accidental owing to NASA’s incompetence.
Moving swiftly on, NASA officials also apparently had others killed, including safety inspector at North American Aviation Thomas Baron who wrote a report on NASA safety protocol violations after that tragic Apollo 1 fire.
It’s at this point, we should probably note that in the 1990s Kaysing decided to sue Jim Lovell. You see, in 1996 Lovell publicly stated “The guy is wacky. His position makes me feel angry. We spent a lot of time getting ready to go to the moon. We spent a lot of money, we took great risks, and it’s something everybody in this country should be proud of.”
Lovell also wrote to Kaysing asking him to “Tear up your manuscript and pursue a project that has some meaning. Leave a legacy you can be proud of, not some trash whose readers will doubt your sanity.”
Unwilling to stand for his good name being publicly besmirched, Kaysing naturally sued Lovell for defamation, though the case was eventually dismissed and nothing ever came of it.
Kaysing continued to assert that the moon landings were a hoax right up until his death in 2005, in between writing books on cookery, motorcycle safety, farming, taxes, survival, how to subsist on very little money, and travel guides, as well as making occasional appearances on such shows as Oprah expounding on his conspiracy theory work.
A 1963 conceptual model of the Apollo Lunar Excursion Module.
On the side he also promoted micro-housing as a solution for homeless people and ran a cat sanctuary called “FLOCK”, standing for “For the Love of Cats and Kittens”. So, yes, Kaysing was a man whose passions included micro housing, cats, survival, travel, living off almost nothing, and rapidly coming up with conspiracy theories. If only he’d been born later or the interwebs invented sooner, this man could have been an internet superstar.
Whatever the case, Kaysing’s death understandably garnered a mixed reaction from the scientific community, with few finding the ability to muster much sympathy for a man who accused NASA of murdering people.
Gone but not forgotten, Kaysing’s ideas have actually gained in popularity in recent years, particularly among younger generations according to various polls, such as one done by space consultant Mary Dittmar in 2005 showing that 25% of people 18-25 doubted man had ever walked on the moon.
This is all despite the fact that it’s never been easier to definitively debunk Kaysing’s various assertions. Not just via reading the countless explanations by scientists definitively addressing point by point every idea ever put forth by moon landing conspiracy theorists, there’s also the fact that there are literally pictures taken in the last decade showing clear evidence of some of the equipment sitting on the moon, including for the Apollo 11, 14, 15, 16, and 17 landing sites. Even in some cases showing the tracks left by the astronauts and the shadows from the flags planted themselves.
Naturally, moon landing deniers simply claim these photos too were faked, although why China, India, and Japan should cater to NASA on this one when they independently took pictures of their own verifying the moon landings is anybody’s guess.
We’ll have much, much more on all this in an upcoming article on How Do We Know Man Really Walked on the Moon?
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
If you liked this article, you might also enjoy:
More on We are the Mighty
The US military was deployed to the tiny country and comprised of units from the US Army, US Air Force, The US Navy, and The US Marines. The Panamanian Defense Forces had only 16,000 officers. The operation involved 27,684 US troops and more than 300 aircraft, which included the C-130 Hercules tactical which was equipped with Adverse Weather Aerial Delivery System (AWADS), AC-130 Spectre gunship, C-141 Starlifter, OA-37B dragonfly observation and attack aircraft, C-5 Galaxy strategic transport, AH-64 Apache attack helicopter, and other specialized military aircraft. Air logistics was given by the 22nd Air Force and air assistance from the 60th, 62nd, and 63rd military airlift wings. The Panama incursion was the first combat for the AH-64 and the F-117.
IN PANAMA, AN ILLEGAL AND UNWARRANTED INVASION
The Bush administration`s invasion of Panama on Wednesday morning was illegal, unwarranted and cynical.
Despite the applause from Democrats and Republicans alike, some basic facts need to be remembered.
First, the United States has a Constitution, and that Constitution gives Congress the sole power ''to declare war'' and ''make rules concerning captures on land and water.'' Congress did not declare war against Panama-most members weren`t even informed until after the invasion had begun.
As a justification for the invasion, Bush cited Gen. Manual Noriega`s declaration that ''a state of war'' exists between Panama and the United States. But Bush himself declined to ask Congress to declare war he just went ahead and invaded on his own. This is not how our constitutional system was designed to work.
Second, Bush said another reason for the invasion-and it was an invasion, despite the euphemisms floating around Washington-was the ''imminent danger to 35,000 American citizens'' in Panama. This was hardly demonstrated by the facts.
A U.S. Marine was killed over the weekend by Panamanian forces, but the official U.S. version of the incident is dubious. The Marine, the
administration said, was unarmed and somehow got lost near Panamanian military headquarters. The Panamanians said the Marine, with three other American officers, were armed and had opened fire.
In any event, that particular incident does not demonstrate that 35,000 Americans are in ''imminent danger.'' But it gave the Bush administration a pretext for an invasion that had been planned for at least three months, as CIA Director William Webster acknowledged in a conversation with Rep. Henry Hyde.
Third, Bush claimed he wanted to ''protect theintegrity of the Panama Canal treaty'' when, in fact, he wanted to subvert it.
Under the treaty, Panama is to appoint the commissioner of the canal, which has previously been a Wasington appointment. Bush clearly did not want Noriega to be able to install someone hostile to the United States, so he circumvented the problem by getting rid of Noriega entirely. You can bet the new president of Panama will appoint a commissioner more to Washington`s liking.
Fourth, hypocrisy rules the Bush administration. While it condemns Noriega`s dictatorship, it cozies up to the dictators in China, who killed thousands of students in June. Why the double standard?
Noriega is no saint. But there is no lack of unsavory governments in the world. Does the United States have a right to invade them all? Who conferred that right on our government?
The obsession with Noriega is particularly ironic, since he carried Washington`s water for 30 years. He was paid by the CIA-during the time George Bush was its director-to finger leftists in Central America. One administration after another winked at his excesses. But when Noriega was no longer needed, it became politically expedient for the U.S. government to overthrow him.
For Bush, as for Reagan before him, Noriega represented an easy target, a foreign devil to oppose forcefully and thus score domestic political points. Bush`s political need for a foreign policy triumph has been especially acute, as critics have branded him timid. The invasion was his answer, a handy way to flex his muscles.
While this is Bush`s blunder, it is also a blunder by the Democrats. They allowed the Bush administration to dilute the ban against assassinating foreign leaders, they banged the drums for intervention, they permitted Bush to bypass constitutional channels and they supported him after the fact. Within hours of the invasion, Sen. Christopher Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut, was on television pledging Democratc support for the President.
Democrats and Republicans share the blame for this illegal invasion, which has needlessly cost the lives of American soldiers and Panamanian civilians. And it has exacted a greater toll, for it has struck another blow against democratic, constitutional government in the United States.
A Look Back at the Lasting Impact of George H. W. Bush’s Invasion of Panama
President George H. W. Bush passed away in November at the age of 94. While his time as president was a short 4-year term in the early 1990s, his foreign policy legacy maintained its relevance for years afterward. This is especially true when looking at the 1989 US invasion of Panama. While immediately inconsequential beyond the borders of the small Central American country, the invasion marked the beginning of a new direction in American foreign policy.
During the Cold War, the United States developed many relationships of convenience with authoritarian regimes and dictatorships throughout the developing world. The US supported the brutally repressive Pinochet regime in Chile for as long as it could and propped up many others of his ilk to grow the amount of friendly anti-communist regimes. But with the Soviet Union crumbling by 1989, that threat which had once dominated American security concerns dissipated. As a result, many of these regimes which the United States had tolerated for years became challenges for the new single global leader to contend with.
The invasion of Panama in 1989 provides an excellent example of this transformation that occurred under President Bush. The American relationship with the Panamanian regime during the Cold War was not its most consequential, but nonetheless Panama would mark a change in American foreign policy that persisted for years. General Noriega, The Leader of Panama at the time who was once a CIA payee, became a new target of American aggression after the sharp turn in American attitude toward many of its former autocratic allies. He was a major drug trafficker and a repressive leader, making him an easy target for a US executive without a legitimate opponent for the first time since before the Second World War. In December 1989, Bush sent about 26,000 troops to conduct what was essentially an arrest and extraction of Noriega, who was brought back to the United States and imprisoned.General Manuel Noriega being escorted to the United States by the DEA.
However, the invasion also resulted in the death of about 3,000 Panamanians and caused lasting damage to the small Latin American country. In December, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights concluded that the invasion failed to adequately prevent civilian harm, and placed responsibility on the United States for violating rights to life, integrity, and security of the many injured and deceased in the invasion.
While Panama itself never had any remarkable impacts on American interests or security, the Invasion of Panama is significant because it was the first major American foreign policy move after the fall of the Berlin Wall, which had occurred just weeks prior. The invasion represented a turn away from a foreign policy emphasizing national security in relation to Soviet threats which had dominated the Cold War. Bush’s invasion of Panama marked the start of a pattern of American intervention characterized by failed democratization attempts and American exceptionalism.
The invasion in Panama ushered in a new era of foreign policy which would endure through the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Bush claimed that the Panamanian invasion had been in the name of promoting democracy and removing a regime which was involved in the drug trade. In the ensuing years, Panama would not be the only country to experience pressure from the United States to democratize. According to Bush, the US was continuing the wave of democratization that had already begun sweeping Eastern Europe. Noriega, or any other autocrat, would be simply pushed off the path if they stood in its way (even if they had previously been backed by the United States). This would be how the United States justified military action.
A scene from early in the invasion.
After Panama, and somewhat because of Panama, spreading the ideal of democracy became a fundamental commitment of the Bush administration and the administrations that followed. The use of force made the ordeal quick, efficient, and precise and the positive lessons learned in Panama about the use of force were still lingering in 2003 when the American foreign policy executive decided to invade Iraq. Back in 1989, the US was able to step into Panama and very efficiently complete its objectives without the help or the support of the international community. So in 2003, using the same approach that had been set at precedent by Bush Sr. in Panama, George W. Bush invaded Iraq. In Iraq, somewhat like in Panama, the export democracy was far from a resounding success. After ousting Noriega and establishing the democratically elected government of Guillermo Endara, drug trafficking and corruption problems were no better than before the invasion. Similarly, after the 2003 invasion in Iraq, where the United States removed the murderous regime of Saddam Hussein, the US set up a perfunctory replacement democracy. In Iraq, democracy failed more miserably than in Panama, since the absence of Saddam Hussein’s ruthless stability led to deepening sectarian divisions and made room for ISIS to grow. In these cases, American moralistic intervention in the name of democratization, which began post-Cold War in Panama, failed to produce the intended changes.
Looking back, while moralism as a justification for military engagement after the Cold War began as an observable trend in Panama, ironically the promotion of democracy as the motivator is very difficult to apply to the Invasion of Panama. As the invasion set forth, the sheer force with which the United States imposed its will makes it clear that promoting the establishment of a stable democratic regime in the interest of Panamanians could have been at best a secondary goal. The US military’s indiscriminate bombing of civilians and the 442 explosions set off in the first 12 hours can attest to the lack of concern accorded to the Panamanians who Bush claimed to be liberating. And this is seconded by the fact that Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense at the time, emphasized only a couple of months before the invasion that the United States was not there to remake the Panamanian government and that any sort of action resembling an invasion would come with outrage from the international community – so an invasion would be a course of action best avoided. Lastly, the US administration had been aware of Noriega’s involvement in drug trafficking and corruption well before the Panamanian leader became a target, so it certainly was not the revelation of this information which spurred the invasion. Given these circumstances, it seems hard to imagine that Bush’s claims about the invasion being in the interest of democratic transition could be wholly true.
Instead, it appears that the American Invasion of Panama was an opportunity to reaffirm the US’ status as the single superpower. Panama offered a display of military efficiency and strategic superiority, and little to do with democratization even though the event itself may have shaped the following years of democracy promotion in Latin America and the Middle East.
The United States had maintained numerous military bases and a substantial garrison throughout the Canal Zone to protect the American-owned Panama Canal and to maintain American control of this strategically important area. On September 7, 1977, U.S. President Jimmy Carter and the de facto leader of Panama, General Omar Torrijos, signed Torrijos–Carter Treaties, which set in motion the process of handing over the Panama Canal to Panamanian control by 2000. Although the canal was destined for Panamanian administration, the military bases remained and one condition of the transfer was that the canal would remain open for American shipping. The U.S. had long-standing relations with General Noriega, who served as a U.S. intelligence asset and paid informant of the Central Intelligence Agency from 1967, including the period when Bush was head of the CIA (1976–77). 
Noriega had sided with the U.S. rather than the USSR in Central America, notably in sabotaging the forces of the Sandinista government in Nicaragua, and the revolutionaries of the FMLN group in El Salvador. Noriega received upwards of $100,000 per year from the 1960s until the 1980s, when his salary was increased to $200,000 per year.  Although he worked with the Drug Enforcement Administration to restrict illegal drug shipments, he was known to simultaneously accept significant financial support from drug dealers,  because he facilitated the laundering of drug money, and through Noriega, they received protection from DEA investigations due to his special relationship with the CIA. 
In the mid-1980s, relations between Noriega and the United States began to deteriorate. In 1986, U.S. President Ronald Reagan opened negotiations with General Noriega, requesting that the Panamanian leader step down after he was publicly exposed in The New York Times by Seymour Hersh, and was later implicated in the Iran-Contra Scandal.  Reagan pressured him with several drug-related indictments in U.S. courts (see United States v. Noriega) however, since extradition laws between Panama and the U.S. were weak, Noriega deemed this threat not credible and did not submit to Reagan's demands.  In 1988, Elliot Abrams and others in the Pentagon began pushing for a U.S. invasion, but Reagan refused, due to Bush's ties to Noriega through his previous positions in the CIA and the Task Force on Drugs, and their potentially negative impact on Bush's presidential campaign.  Later negotiations involved dropping the drug-trafficking indictments. In March 1988, Noriega's forces resisted an attempted coup against the government of Panama. As relations continued to deteriorate, Noriega appeared to shift his Cold War allegiance towards the Soviet bloc, soliciting and receiving military aid from Cuba, Nicaragua, and Libya.  American military planners began preparing contingency plans to invade Panama.
In May 1989, during the Panamanian national elections, an alliance of parties opposed to the Noriega dictatorship counted results from the country's election precincts, before they were sent to the district centers. Their tally showed their candidate, Guillermo Endara, defeating Carlos Duque, candidate of a pro-Noriega coalition, by nearly 3–1. Endara was physically assaulted by Noriega supporters the next day in his motorcade.  Noriega declared the election null and maintained power by force, making him unpopular among Panamanians. Noriega's government insisted that it had won the presidential election and that irregularities had been on the part of U.S.-backed candidates from opposition parties.  Bush called on Noriega to honor the will of the Panamanian people.  The United States reinforced its Canal Zone garrison, and increased the tempo of training and other activities intended to put pressure on Noriega. 
In October 1989, Noriega foiled a second coup attempt by members of the Panamanian Defense Forces (PDF), led by Major Moisés Giroldi.  Pressure mounted on Bush.  Bush declared that the U.S. would not negotiate with a drug trafficker and denied knowledge of Noriega's involvement with the drug trade prior to his February 1988 indictment, although Bush had met with Noriega while Director of the CIA and had been the Chair of the Task Force on Drugs while Vice President.  On December 15, the Panamanian general assembly passed a resolution declaring that a state of war existed between Panama and the United States.   
The next day, four U.S. military personnel were stopped at a roadblock around 9:00 p.m. outside PDF headquarters in the El Chorrillo neighborhood of Panama City. Marine Captain Richard E. Hadded, Navy Lieutenant Michael J. Wilson, Army Captain Barry L. Rainwater, and Marine First Lieutenant Robert Paz had left the Fort Clayton military base and were on their way to have dinner at the Marriott Hotel in downtown Panama City. The U.S. Department of Defense reported that the servicemen had been unarmed, were in a private vehicle, and attempted to flee only after their vehicle was surrounded by an angry crowd of civilians and PDF troops. The PDF asserted later that the Americans were armed and on a reconnaissance mission. The PDF opened fire and Lieutenant Paz was fatally wounded by a round that entered the rear of the vehicle and struck him in the back. Captain Hadded, the driver of the vehicle, was also wounded in the foot. Paz was rushed to Gorgas Army Hospital but died of his wounds. He received the Purple Heart posthumously.  According to U.S. military sources, a U.S. Naval officer, SEAL Lieutenant Adam Curtis, and his wife, Bonnie, witnessed the incident and were detained by Panamanian Defense Force soldiers.  While in police custody, they were assaulted by the PDF. Adam Curtis spent two weeks in hospital recovering from the beating. PDF soldiers sexually threatened his wife.  The next day, President Bush ordered the execution of the Panama invasion plan the military set H-Hour as 0100 on December 20. 
Several neighboring governments secretly tried to negotiate a peaceful outcome and Noriega's willing resignation. Presidents Oscar Arias and Daniel Oduber of Costa Rica, Carlos Andrés Pérez of Venezuela, Alfonso López Michelsen of Colombia and Spanish Prime Minister Felipe González all on different occasions met Noriega in secret attempting to convince him to leave power and self-exile himself in Spain, to no avail.  
The official U.S. justification for the invasion was articulated by President George H. W. Bush on the morning of December 20, 1989, a few hours after the start of the operation. Bush cited Panama's declaration of a state of war with the United States and attacks on American troops as justification for the invasion. 
Bush further identified four objectives of the invasion:
- Safeguarding the lives of U.S. citizens in Panama. In his statement, Bush stated that Noriega had declared that a state of war existed between the U.S. and Panama and that he threatened the lives of the approximately 35,000 U.S. citizens living there. There had been numerous clashes between U.S. and Panamanian forces one U.S. Marine had been killed a few days earlier.
- Defending democracy and human rights in Panama.
- Combating drug trafficking. Panama had become a center for drug money laundering and a transit point for drug trafficking to the U.S. and Europe.
- Protecting the integrity of the Torrijos–Carter Treaties. Members of Congress and others in the U.S. political establishment claimed that Noriega threatened the neutrality of the Panama Canal and that the U.S. had the right under the treaties to intervene militarily to protect the canal. 
U.S. military forces were instructed to begin maneuvers and activities within the restrictions of the Torrijos-Carter Treaties, such as ignoring PDF roadblocks and conducting short-notice "Category Three" military exercises on security-sensitive targets, with the express goal of provoking PDF soldiers. U.S. SOUTHCOM kept a list of abuses against U.S. servicemen and civilians by the PDF while the orders to incite PDF soldiers were in place.  As for the Panamanian legislature's declaration of a state of war between the U.S. and Panama, Noriega insists  that this statement referred to a state of war directed by the U.S. against Panama, in the form of what he claimed were harsh economic sanctions and constant, provocative military maneuvers (Operations Purple Storm and Sand Flea)  that were prohibited by the Torrijos-Carter Treaties. The U.S. had turned a blind eye to Noriega's involvement in drug trafficking since the 1970s. Noriega was then singled out for direct involvement in these drug trafficking operations due to the widespread public knowledge of his involvement in money laundering, drug activities, political murder, and human rights abuses. 
Bush's four reasons for the invasion provided sufficient justification to establish bipartisan Congressional approval and support for the invasion. However, the secrecy before initiation, the speed and success of the invasion itself, and U.S. public support for it (80% public approval)  did not allow Democrats to object to Bush's decision to use military force.  One contemporary study suggests that Bush decided to invade for domestic political reasons, citing scarce strategic reasoning for the U.S. to invade and immediately withdraw without establishing the structure to enforce the interests that Bush used to justify the invasion. 
Elements of US Naval Special Warfare, including NSWU-8, Seal Team Four and Special Boat Unit 26.
The U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard participated in Operation Just Cause.  Ground forces consisted of :
- combat elements of the XVIII Airborne Corps,
- the 82nd Airborne Division,
- the 7th Infantry Division (Light),
- the 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne),
- the 75th Ranger Regiment, from the 507th and 602nd Tactical Air Control Wings and the 24th Composite Wing
- Combat Controllers from the 1721st Combat Control Squadron
- a Joint Special Operations Task Force,
- elements of the 5th Infantry Division (replacing 1/61st in September 1989),
Air logistic support was provided by the 22nd Air Force with air assets from the 60th, 62nd, and 63rd military airlift wings.
The military incursion into Panama began on December 20, 1989, at 1:00 a.m. local time. The operation involved 27,684 U.S. troops and over 300 aircraft, including C-130 Hercules tactical transports flown by the 317th Tactical Airlift Wing (which was equipped with the Adverse Weather Aerial Delivery System or AWADS) and 314th Tactical Airlift Wing, AC-130 Spectre gunships, OA-37B Dragonfly observation and attack aircraft, C-141 Starlifter and C-5 Galaxy strategic transports, F-117A Nighthawk stealth aircraft flown by the 37th Tactical Fighter Wing, and AH-64 Apache attack helicopters. The invasion of Panama was the first combat deployment for the AH-64, the HMMWV, and the F-117A. Panamanian radar units were jammed by two EF-111As of the 390th ECS, 366th TFW.  These aircraft were deployed against the 16,000 members of the PDF. 
The operation began with an assault of strategic installations, such as the civilian Punta Paitilla Airport in Panama City and a PDF garrison and airfield at Rio Hato, where Noriega also maintained a residence. U.S. Navy SEALs destroyed Noriega's private jet and a Panamanian gunboat. A Panamanian ambush killed four SEALs and wounded nine. Other military command centers throughout the country were also attacked. The attack on the central headquarters of the PDF (referred to as La Comandancia) touched off several fires, one of which destroyed most of the adjoining and heavily populated El Chorrillo neighborhood in downtown Panama City. During the firefight at the Comandancia, the PDF downed two special operations helicopters and forced one MH-6 Little Bird to crash-land in the Panama Canal.  The opening round of attacks in Panama City also included a special operations raid on the Carcel Modelo prison (known as Operation Acid Gambit) to free Kurt Muse, a U.S. citizen convicted of espionage by Noriega.
Fort Amador was secured by elements of the 3rd Battalion (Airborne), 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 5th Infantry Division [Scouts] and 59th Engineer Company (sappers) in a nighttime air assault which secured the fort in the early hours of December 20. Fort Amador was a key position because of its relationship to the large oil farms adjacent to the canal, the Bridge of the Americas over the canal, and the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal. Key command and control elements of the PDF were stationed there. C Company 1st Battalion (Airborne) 508th PIR was assigned the task of securing La Comandancia. Furthermore, Fort Amador had a large U.S. housing district that needed to be secured to prevent the PDF from taking U.S. citizens as hostages. This position also protected the left flank of the attack on La Comandancia and the securing of the El Chorrillos neighborhood, guarded by Dignity Battalions, Noriega supporters that the U.S. forces sometimes referred to as "Dingbats". Military police units from Ft. Bragg, North Carolina deployed via strategic airlift into Howard Air Force Base the next morning and secured key government buildings in the downtown area of Panama City. MPs seized PDF weapons, vehicles and supplies during house-to-house searches in the following days, and conducted urban combat operations against snipers and Dignity Battalion holdouts for the following week. [ citation needed ]
A few hours after the invasion began, Guillermo Endara was sworn in at Fort Clayton.  According to The Los Angeles Times, Endara was the "presumed winner" in the presidential election which had been scheduled earlier that year. 
A platoon from the 1138th Military Police Company, Missouri Army National Guard, which was on a routine two-week rotation to Panama was called upon to set up a detainee camp on Empire Range to handle the mass of civilian and military detainees. This unit was the first National Guard unit called into active service since the Vietnam War. 
Noriega's capture Edit
Operation Nifty Package was an operation launched by Navy SEALs to prevent Noriega's escape. They sank Noriega's boat and destroyed his jet, at a cost of four killed and nine wounded. Military operations continued for several weeks, mainly against military units of the Panamanian army. Noriega remained at large for several days, but realizing he had few options in the face of a massive manhunt and a $1 million reward for his capture, he obtained refuge in the Vatican diplomatic mission in Panama City. The U.S. military's psychological pressure on him and diplomatic pressure on the Vatican mission, however, was relentless, as was the playing of loud rock-and-roll music day and night in a densely populated area.  The report of the Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff claimed that the music was used principally to prevent parabolic microphones from being used to eavesdrop on negotiations, and not as a psychological weapon based around Noriega's supposed loathing of rock music.  Noriega finally surrendered to the U.S. military on January 3, 1990. He was immediately put on an MC-130E Combat Talon I aircraft and flown to the U.S.
According to official Pentagon figures, 516 Panamanians were killed during the invasion however, an internal U.S. Army memo estimated the number at 1,000. 
The UN estimated 500 deaths  whereas Americas Watch found that around 300 civilians died. President Guillermo Endara said that "less than 600 Panamanians" died during the entire invasion. Former Attorney General Ramsey Clark estimated 3,000 civilian deaths. Figures estimating thousands of civilian casualties were widely rejected in Panama. The Roman Catholic Church estimated that 673 Panamanians were killed in total. Physicians for Human Rights, said it had received "reliable reports of more than 100 civilian deaths" that were not included in the U.S. military estimate but also that there was no evidence of several thousand civilian deaths. 
US military casualties in the invasion were 23 killed  and 325 wounded. In June 1990, the US military announced that of its casualties, 2 dead and 19 wounded were victims of friendly fire.  The number of Panamanian military dead was initially estimated at 314, but the United States Southern Command, then based on Quarry Heights in Panama, later estimated the number of Panamanian military dead at 205.
Civilian fatalities included two American school teachers working in Panama for the Department of Defense Schools. They were Kandi Helin and Ray Dragseth. Rick Paul, the adult son of another teacher, was also killed by friendly fire as he ran an American road block. Also killed was a Spanish freelance press photographer on assignment for El Pais, Juan Antonio Rodriguez Moreno. Rodriguez was killed outside of the Marriott Hotel in Panama City early on December 21. In June 1990, his family filed a claim for wrongful death against the United States Government.  When the Rodriguez claim was rejected by the U.S. government, in 1992 the Spanish government sent a Note Verbale extending diplomatic protection to Rodriguez and demanding compensation on behalf of his family.   However, the U.S. government again rejected the claim, disputing both its liability for warzone deaths in general and whether Rodriguez had been killed by U.S. rather than Panamanian gunfire. 
Human Rights Watch's 1991 report on Panama in the post-invasion aftermath stated that even with some uncertainties about the scale of civilian casualties, the figures are "still troublesome" because
[Panama's civilian deaths] reveal that the "surgical operation" by American forces inflicted a toll in civilian lives that was at least four-and-a-half times higher than military casualties in the enemy, and twelve or thirteen times higher than the casualties suffered by U.S. troops. By themselves, these ratios suggest that the rule of proportionality and the duty to minimize harm to civilians, where doing so would not compromise a legitimate military objective, were not faithfully observed by the invading U.S. forces. For us, the controversy over the number of civilian casualties should not obscure the important debate on the manner in which those people died. 
Women's roles in the invasion of Panama Edit
Operation Just Cause involved unprecedented use of U.S. military women during an invasion. Approximately 600 of the 26,000 U.S. forces involved in the invasion were women. Women did not serve in direct combat roles or combat arms units, but they did serve as military police, truck drivers, helicopter pilots, and in other logistical roles.  Captain Linda L. Bray, commander of the 988th Military Police Company of Fort Benning, Georgia, led her troops in a three-hour firefight against Panamanian Defense Forces who refused to surrender a dog kennel which (it was later discovered) they were using to store weapons. Bray was said to be the first woman to lead U.S. troops in battle and her role in the firefight was widely reported and led to controversy in the media and in Congress over women's roles in the U.S. military. Bray requested and received a discharge in 1991.  1LT Lisa Kutschera and Warrant Officer Debra Mann piloted UH-60 ("Blackhawk") helicopters ferrying infantry troops. Their helicopters came under fire during the invasion, and like their male counterparts, both women were awarded Air Medals for their roles during the invasion. 
Origin of the name "Operation Just Cause" Edit
Operation plans directed against Panama evolved from plans designed to defend the Panama Canal. They became more aggressive as the situation between the two nations deteriorated. The Prayer Book series of plans included rehearsals for a possible clash (Operation Purple Storm) and missions to secure U.S. sites (Operation Bushmaster).
Eventually, these plans became Operation Blue Spoon which was then, in order to sustain the perceived legitimacy of the invasion throughout the operation, renamed by The Pentagon to Operation Just Cause.  General Colin Powell said that he liked the name because "even our severest critics would have to utter 'Just Cause' while denouncing us."  Critics, however, renamed it Operation "Just 'Cuz", arguing that it had been undertaken "just [be]cause Bush felt like it."  
The post-invasion civil-military operation designed to stabilize the situation, support the U.S.-installed government, and restore basic services was originally planned as "Operation Blind Logic", but was renamed "Operation Promote Liberty" by the Pentagon on the eve of the invasion. 
The original operation, in which U.S. troops were deployed to Panama in early 1989, was called "Operation Nimrod Dancer". 
The US government invoked self-defense as a legal justification for its invasion of Panama.  Several scholars and observers have opined that the invasion was illegal under international law. The justifications for the invasion which were given by the U.S. were, according to these sources, factually baseless, and moreover, even if they had been true they would have provided inadequate support for the invasion under international law.  Article 2 of the United Nations Charter, a cornerstone of international law, prohibits the use of force by member states to settle disputes except in self-defense or when authorized by the United Nations Security Council. Articles 18 and 20 of the Charter of the Organization of American States, written in part in reaction to the history of US military interventions in Central America, also explicitly prohibit the use of force by member states: "[n]o state or group of states has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatever, in the internal affairs of any other state." (Charter of the Organization of American States (OAS), Article 18.) Article 20 of the OAS Charter states that "the territory of a states is inviolable it may not be the object, even temporarily, of military occupation or of other measures of force taken by another state, directly or indirectly, on any grounds whatever."  The US has ratified the UN Charter and the OAS Charter and therefore they are among the highest law of the land in the US under the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution. Other international law experts who have examined the legal justification of the US invasion have concluded that it was a "gross violation" of international law. 
The United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution which strongly deplored the 1989 U.S. armed invasion of Panama. The resolution determined that the U.S. invasion was a "flagrant violation of international law."  A similar resolution which was proposed by the United Nations Security Council was supported by the majority of its member nations but vetoed by the US, France and the UK. 
Independent experts and observers have concluded that the US invasion of Panama also exceeded the authority of the president of the United States under the US Constitution because Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution grants the power to declare war solely to the Congress, not to the president.   According to observers, the US invasion also violated the War Powers Resolution,  a federal law designed to limit presidential action without Congressional authorization, because the president failed to consult with Congress regarding the invasion of Panama prior to the invasion.   
The invasion of Panama provoked international outrage. Some countries charged that the U.S. had committed an act of aggression by invading Panama and was trying to conceal a new manifestation of its interventionist policy of force in Latin America. On December 29, the General Assembly of the United Nations voted 75–20, with 40 abstentions, to condemn the invasion as a flagrant violation of international law. 
On December 22, the Organization of American States passed a resolution deploring the invasion and calling for withdrawal of U.S. troops, as well as a resolution condemning the violation of the diplomatic status of the Nicaraguan Embassy in Panama by U.S. Special Forces who had entered the building.  At the UN Security Council, after discussing the issue over several days, seven nations initiated a draft resolution demanding the immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Panama  was vetoed on December 23 by three of the permanent members of the Security Council,  France, United Kingdom, and the United States, which cited its right of self-defense of 35,000 Americans present on the Panama Canal. 
Peru recalled its ambassador from the U.S. in protest of the invasion.
Nicolae Ceaușescu - President of the Socialist Republic of Romania - criticised the American invasion of Panama as "brutal aggression". 
Some claim that the Panamanian people overwhelmingly supported the invasion.  According to a CBS poll, 92% of Panamanian adults supported the U.S. incursion, and 76% wished that U.S. forces had invaded in October during the coup.  The poll was conducted in 158 randomly selected areas of the country covering about 75 percent of Panama's adult population. CBS News said the margin of sampling error was plus or minus four percentage points.  Human Rights Watch described the reaction of the civilian population to the invasion as "generally sympathetic".  According to Robert Pastor, a former U.S. national security advisor, 74% of Americans polled approved of the action. 
Eighteen years after the invasion, Panama's National Assembly unanimously declared December 20, 2007 to be a day of national mourning. The resolution was vetoed by President Martin Torrijos.   On December 19, 2019 the Panamanian government declared December 20 to be a National Day of Mourning (Dia de duelo nacional) to be marked by lowering the national flag to half staff. 
The Washington Post disclosed several rulings of the Office of Legal Counsel, issued shortly before the invasion, regarding the U.S. armed forces being charged with making an arrest abroad. One ruling interpreted an executive order which prohibits the assassination of foreign leaders as suggesting that accidental killings would be acceptable foreign policy. Another ruling concluded that the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which prohibits the armed forces from making arrests without Congressional authorization, is effective only within the boundaries of the U.S., such that the military could be used as a police force abroad—for example, in Panama, to enforce a federal court warrant against Noriega. 
Guillermo Endara, in hiding, was sworn in as president by a judge on the night preceding the invasion. In later years, he staged a hunger strike, calling attention to the poverty and homelessness left in the wake of both the Noriega years and the destruction caused by the U.S. invasion.
On July 19, 1990, a group of 60 companies with operations in Panama filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government in Federal District Court in New York City alleging that the U.S. action against Panama was "done in a tortuous, careless and negligent manner with disregard for the property of innocent Panamanian residents". Most of the businesses had insurance, but the insurers either went bankrupt or refused to pay, claiming that acts of war were not covered. 
About 20,000 people lost their homes and became refugees as a result of urban warfare. About 2,700 families that were displaced by the Chorrillo fire were each given $6,500 by the U.S. to build a new house or apartment in selected areas in or near the city. However, numerous problems were reported with the new constructions just two years after the invasion. 
The government of Guillermo Endara designated the first anniversary of the U.S. invasion a "national day of reflection". Hundreds of Panamanians marked the day with a "black march" through the streets of Panama City to denounce the U.S. invasion and Endara's economic policies. Protesters echoed claims that 3,000 people were killed as a result of U.S. military action. Since Noriega's ousting, Panama has had four presidential elections, with candidates from opposing parties succeeding each other in the Palacio de las Garzas. Panama's press, however, is still subject to numerous restrictions.  On February 10, 1990, the Endara government abolished Panama's military and reformed the security apparatus by creating the Panamanian Public Forces. In 1994, a constitutional amendment permanently abolished the military of Panama. Concurrent with a severe recession in Latin America throughout the 1990s, Panama's GDP recovered by 1993, but very high unemployment remained a serious problem.
Noriega was brought to the U.S. to stand trial. He was subsequently convicted on eight counts of drug trafficking, racketeering, and money laundering and sentenced to 40 years in prison. His sentence was later reduced to 30 years. 
On December 20, 2015, Vice President Isabel De Saint Malo de Alvarado announced Panama's intention to form a special independent commission with the aim to publish a report to mark the 26th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Panama. The commission's goal would be to identify victims so that reparations could be paid to their families, as well as to establish public monuments and school curriculums to honor history and reclaim Panama's collective memory. Victims' families have claimed that past investigations into the invasion had been funded by Washington and therefore were biased. [ citation needed ]
Information in this section 
- U.S. Senate passes resolution urging Panama to re-establish a civilian government. Panama protests alleged U.S. violations of the Torrijos–Carter Treaties.
- U.S. Senate resolution cuts military and economic aid to Panama. Panamanians adopt resolution restricting U.S. military presence.
- Noriega indicted on drug-related charges. U.S. forces begin planning contingency operations in Panama (OPLAN Blue Spoon).
- March 15: First of four deployments of U.S. forces begins providing additional security to U.S. installations.
- March 16: PDF officers attempt a coup against Noriega.
- April 5: Additional U.S. forces deployed to provide security.
- April 9: Joint Task Force Panama activated.
- May 7: Civilian elections are held in Panama opposition alliance tally shows their candidate, Guillermo Endara, beating Noriega's candidate, Carlos Duque, by a 3 to 1 margin. The election is declared invalid two days later by Noriega.
- May 11: President Bush orders 1,900 additional combat troops to Panama (Operation Nimrod Dancer). 
- May 22: Convoys conducted to assert U.S. freedom of movement. Additional transport units travel from bases in the territorial U.S. to bases in Panama, and back, for this express purpose.
June–September 1989 (Operation Nimrod Dancer)
- U.S. begins conducting joint training and freedom of movement exercises (Operation Sand Flea and Operation Purple Storm  ). Additional transport units continue repeatedly traveling from bases in the territorial U.S. to bases in Panama, and back, for this express purpose.
October 1989 (Operation Nimrod Dancer)
- December 15: Noriega refers to himself as leader of Panama and declares that the U.S. is in a state of war with Panama.
- December 16: U.S. Marine lieutenant shot and killed by PDF. Navy lieutenant and wife detained and assaulted by PDF.
- December 17: NCA directs execution of Operation Just Cause.
- December 18: Army lieutenant shoots PDF sergeant. Joint Task Force South (JTFSO) advance party deploys. JCS designates D-Day/H-Hour as 20 December/1:00 a.m.
- December 19: U.S. forces alerted, marshalled, and launched.
- U.S. invasion of Panama begins. The operation was conducted as a campaign with limited military objectives. JTFSO objectives in PLAN 90-2 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. Major operations detailed elsewhere continued through December 24.
- JCS directs execution of Operation Promote Liberty.
September 1994 (D-Day + approximately 4.5 years)
All 27 objectives related to the Panamanian Defense Force were completed on D-Day, December 20, 1989. As initial forces moved to new objectives, follow-on forces from the 7th Infantry Division (L) moved into the western areas of Panama and into Panama City.
The Rape of Panama
As a result of the U.S. invasion, over 2000 Panamanians have been killed, thousands wounded and tens of thousands made homeless. In Panama, a small Central American country of 2.3 million people, the slaughter per capita was far greater than in the recent bloodbath in Romania.
“I’ve been frustrated that he’s been in power so long, extraordinarily frustrated,” George Bush whined in mid-December, referring to Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega. To assuage his ruffled feelings, Bush turned the fire-power of 27,000 U.S. soldiers on the people of Panama. Tanks rolled through the streets shooting at anything that moved, while planes and helicopter gunships bombed and strafed working-class neighborhoods.
The numbers of dead and maimed are based on information released by Panamanian trade unionists and others. It is impossible to give exact figures we can say with complete confidence, however, that official U.S. reports of only a few hundred dead are absurd lies. Even the U.S. military admits it made no attempt to identify or count the dead on the streets before hauling them off. Truckloads of bodies were dumped into mass graves like so much garbage.
The liberal Democratic politicians used to depict the president as a wimp. A popular cartoonist always portrayed him as invisible. Bush had indeed perfected the art of opportunism in his long climb upward in Washington politics. CIA chieftain, Republican party chairman, ambassador to China, vice president, slavishly echoing the likes of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, he would do or say anything to be popular with his political masters. But now, to virtually all the Democrats as well as the Republicans, Bush is not only highly visible but the champion of democracy in Panama. The media proclaim him as the man who showed the world who is boss.
In 1501 the Spaniard Rodrigo de Bastidas, in the company of Juan de la Cosa and Vasco Núñez de Balboa, was the first European to explore the Atlantic coast of the Isthmus of Panama. In
…a growing rift with the Panamanian dictator General Manuel Noriega. For decades Noriega had collaborated with U.S. intelligence agencies, serving as an informant on events in Cuba and a supporter of the Contras in Central America. It came to light, however, that in addition to grabbing all power in Panama…
When the United States invaded Panama in 1989, the Soviet Union protested on the American-owned television company Cable News Network, which was watched by most foreign ministries and world leaders.
troops to seize control of Panama and arrest its de facto ruler, Gen. Manuel Noriega, who faced drug-trafficking and racketeering charges in the United States.
…failed, the United States invaded Panama. He sought and was given refuge in the Vatican nunciature (embassy) in Panama City, where he remained for 10 days while a U.S. Army psychological warfare team blasted rock music at the building. Noriega finally surrendered to the United States on January 3, 1990,…
The Chocó Indians of the tropical forests of Darién region and nearby Colombia survived the Spanish intrusion because they had nothing of value to the Europeans and were bypassed. In turn, the Chocó were not especially warlike and avoided the dangers of contact.
…between the United States and Panama granting exclusive canal rights to the United States across the Isthmus of Panama in exchange for financial reimbursement and guarantees of protection to the newly established republic. The United States had offered similar terms to Colombia, which then controlled Panama, in the Hay–Herrán Treaty…
…the canal passed to the Panama Canal Commission, a joint agency of the United States and the Republic of Panama, and complete control passed to Panama at noon on December 31, 1999. Administration of the canal is the responsibility of the Panama Canal Authority (Spanish: Autoridad del Canal de Panamá…
In Panama the river and mule trail across the isthmus was the principal economic resource for the commercial and bureaucratic elite that developed there. As the link between Europe and the rich mines of Peru, Panama was of strategic importance and received considerable military protection against…
…canal across the isthmus but Panama was Colombian territory, and the Colombia Senate refused ratification of a treaty with the United States. After a revolt, a treaty was signed with independent Panama that granted the United States exclusive use, occupation, and control of the Canal Zone in perpetuity.
… between the United States and Panama that gave the latter control over the Panama Canal at the end of 1999 and guaranteed the neutrality of that waterway thereafter. In 1978 Carter brought together Egyptian Pres. Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin at the presidential retreat in Camp David,…
…meeting the demands of the Panamanian leader, General Omar Torrijos Herrera, for a transfer of sovereignty over the Panama Canal. The U.S. Senate ratified the treaty (which called for a staged transfer, to be completed in 1999) by a bare majority, but most Americans opposed transfer of the canal. Conservatives…
…1977 the United States and Panama signed two treaties giving control of the Panama Canal to Panama in the year 2000 and providing for the neutrality of the waterway.
…followed by the loss of Panama. The Colombian Congress refused an offer from the United States to build a canal across the isthmus, and in 1903 the Panamanians revolted against the government in Bogotá. They negotiated a treaty with the United States that created a Canal Zone 10 miles (16…
…Tierra Firme (the area of Panama and present northwestern Colombia) in the years 1509–13. The results were appreciable, but the Panamanian occupation was thrown somewhat in the shadow for a time by the spectacular conquest of central Mexico in 1519–21.
…ordered a military invasion of Panama in order to topple that country’s leader, Gen. Manuel Noriega, who—though at one time of service to the U.S. government—had become notorious for his brutality and his involvement in the drug trade. The invasion, which lasted four days, resulted in hundreds of deaths, mostly…
Costa Rica’s boundary with Panama (originally with Colombia, before Panamanian independence) was also in dispute. Arbitration awards by France and the United States in 1900 and 1914, respectively, had been generally favourable to Costa Rica but were rejected by Panama. In 1921 Costa Rica attempted forcible occupation of this…
How the Iraq Wars began with the Invasion of Panama
As we end another year of endless war in Washington, it might be the perfect time to reflect on the War That Started All Wars — or at least the war that started all of Washington&rsquos post-Cold War wars: the invasion of Panama.
Twenty-five years ago this month, early on the morning of December 20, 1989, President George H.W. Bush launched Operation Just Cause, sending tens of thousands of troops and hundreds of aircraft into Panama to execute a warrant of arrest against its leader, Manuel Noriega, on charges of drug trafficking. Those troops quickly secured all important strategic installations, including the main airport in Panama City, various military bases, and ports. Noriega went into hiding before surrendering on January 3rd and was then officially extradited to the United States to stand trial. Soon after, most of the U.S. invaders withdrew from the country.
In and out. Fast and simple. An entrance plan and an exit strategy all wrapped in one. And it worked, making Operation Just Cause one of the most successful military actions in U.S. history. At least in tactical terms.
There were casualties. More than 20 U.S. soldiers were killed and 300-500 Panamanian combatants died as well. Disagreement exists over how many civilians perished. Washington claimed that few died. In the &ldquolow hundreds,&rdquo the Pentagon&rsquos Southern Command said. But others charged that U.S. officials didn&rsquot bother to count the dead in El Chorrillo, a poor Panama City barrio that U.S. planes indiscriminately bombed because it was thought to be a bastion of support for Noriega. Grassroots human-rights organizations claimed thousands of civilians were killed and tens of thousands displaced.
As Human Rights Watch wrote, even conservative estimates of civilian fatalities suggested &ldquothat the rule of proportionality and the duty to minimize harm to civilians&hellip were not faithfully observed by the invading U.S. forces.&rdquo That may have been putting it mildly when it came to the indiscriminant bombing of a civilian population, but the point at least was made. Civilians were given no notice. The Cobra and Apache helicopters that came over the ridge didn&rsquot bother to announce their pending arrival by blasting Wagner&rsquos “Ride of the Valkyries” (as in Apocalypse Now). The University of Panama&rsquos seismograph marked 442 major explosions in the first 12 hours of the invasion, about one major bomb blast every two minutes. Fires engulfed the mostly wooden homes, destroying about 4,000 residences. Some residents began to call El Chorrillo &ldquoGuernica&rdquo or &ldquolittle Hiroshima.&rdquo Shortly after hostilities ended, bulldozers excavated mass graves and shoveled in the bodies. &ldquoBuried like dogs,&rdquo said the mother of one of the civilian dead.
Sandwiched between the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, and the commencement of the first Gulf War on January 17, 1991, Operation Just Cause might seem a curio from a nearly forgotten era, its anniversary hardly worth a mention. So many earth-shattering events have happened since. But the invasion of Panama should be remembered in a big way. After all, it helps explain many of those events. In fact, you can&rsquot begin to fully grasp the slippery slope of American militarism in the post-9/11 era — how unilateral, preemptory &ldquoregime change&rdquo became an acceptable foreign policy option, how &ldquodemocracy promotion&rdquo became a staple of defense strategy, and how war became a branded public spectacle — without understanding Panama.
Our Man in Panama
Operation Just Cause was carried out unilaterally, sanctioned neither by the United Nations nor the Organization of American States (OAS). In addition, the invasion was the first post-Cold War military operation justified in the name of democracy — &ldquomilitant democracy,&rdquo as George Will approvingly called what the Pentagon would unilaterally install in Panama.
The campaign to capture Noriega, however, didn&rsquot start with such grand ambitions. For years, as Saddam Hussein had been Washington&rsquos man in Iraq, so Noriega was a CIA asset and Washington ally in Panama. He was a key player in the shadowy network of anti-communists, tyrants, and drug runners that made up what would become Iran-Contra. That, in case you&rsquove forgotten, was a conspiracy involving President Ronald Reagan&rsquos National Security Council to sell high-tech missiles to the Ayatollahs in Iran and then divert their payments to support anti-communist rebels in Nicaragua in order to destabilize the Sandinista government there. Noriega&rsquos usefulness to Washington came to an end in 1986, after journalist Seymour Hersh published an investigation in the New York Times linking him to drug trafficking. It turned out that the Panamanian autocrat had been working both sides. He was &ldquoour man,&rdquo but apparently was also passing on intelligence about us to Cuba.
Still, when George H.W. Bush was inaugurated president in January 1989, Panama was not high on his foreign policy agenda. Referring to the process by which Noriega, in less than a year, would become America&rsquos most wanted autocrat, Bush&rsquos National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft said: &ldquoI can&rsquot really describe the course of events that led us this way… Noriega, was he running drugs and stuff? Sure, but so were a lot of other people. Was he thumbing his nose at the United States? Yeah, yeah.&rdquo
The Keystone Kops…
Domestic politics provided the tipping point to military action. For most of 1989, Bush administration officials had been half-heartedly calling for a coup against Noriega. Still, they were caught completely caught off guard when, in October, just such a coup started unfolding. The White House was, at that moment, remarkably in the dark. It had no clear intel about what was actually happening. ”All of us agreed at that point that we simply had very little to go on,” Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney later reported. &ldquoThere was a lot of confusion at the time because there was a lot of confusion in Panama.”
&ldquoWe were sort of the Keystone Kops,&rdquo was the way Scowcroft remembered it, not knowing what to do or whom to support. When Noriega regained the upper hand, Bush came under intense criticism in Congress and the media. This, in turn, spurred him to act. Scowcroft recalls the momentum that led to the invasion: &ldquoMaybe we were looking for an opportunity to show that we were not as messed up as the Congress kept saying we were, or as timid as a number of people said.&rdquo The administration had to find a way to respond, as Scowcroft put it, to the &ldquowhole wimp factor.&rdquo
Momentum built for action, and so did the pressure to find a suitable justification for action after the fact. Shortly after the failed coup, Cheney claimed on PBS&rsquos Newshour that the only objectives the U.S. had in Panama were to &ldquosafeguard American lives&rdquo and &ldquoprotect American interests&rdquo by defending that crucial passageway from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans, the Panama Canal. &ldquoWe are not there,&rdquo he emphasized, &ldquoto remake the Panamanian government.&rdquo He also noted that the White House had no plans to act unilaterally against the wishes of the Organization of American States to extract Noriega from the country. The &ldquohue and cry and the outrage that we would hear from one end of the hemisphere to the other,&rdquo he said, &ldquo&hellipraises serious doubts about the course of that action.&rdquo
That was mid-October. What a difference two months would make. By December 20th, the campaign against Noriega had gone from accidental — Keystone Kops bumbling in the dark — to transformative: the Bush administration would end up remaking the Panamanian government and, in the process, international law.
…Start a Wild Fire
Cheney wasn&rsquot wrong about the &ldquohue and cry.&rdquo Every single country other than the United States in the Organization of American States voted against the invasion of Panama, but by then it couldn&rsquot have mattered less. Bush acted anyway.
What changed everything was the fall of the Berlin Wall just over a month before the invasion. Paradoxically, as the Soviet Union&rsquos influence in its backyard (eastern Europe) unraveled, it left Washington with more room to maneuver in its backyard (Latin America). The collapse of Soviet-style Communism also gave the White House an opportunity to go on the ideological and moral offense. And at that moment, the invasion of Panama happened to stand at the head of the line.
As with most military actions, the invaders had a number of justifications to offer, but at that moment the goal of installing a &ldquodemocratic&rdquo regime in power suddenly flipped to the top of the list. In adopting that rationale for making war, Washington was in effect radically revising the terms of international diplomacy. At the heart of its argument was the idea that democracy (as defined by the Bush administration) trumped the principle of national sovereignty.
Latin American nations immediately recognized the threat. After all, according to historian John Coatsworth, the U.S. overthrew 41 governments in Latin America between 1898 and 1994, and many of those regime changes were ostensibly carried out, as Woodrow Wilson once put it in reference to Mexico, to teach Latin Americans &ldquoto elect good men.&rdquo Their resistance only gave Bush&rsquos ambassador to the OAS, Luigi Einaudi, a chance to up the ethical ante. He quickly and explicitly tied the assault on Panama to the wave of democracy movements then sweeping Eastern Europe. &ldquoToday we are… living in historic times,&rdquo he lectured his fellow OAS delegates, two days after the invasion, &ldquoa time when a great principle is spreading across the world like wildfire. That principle, as we all know, is the revolutionary idea that people, not governments, are sovereign.&rdquo
Einaudi&rsquos remarks hit on all the points that would become so familiar early in the next century in George W. Bush&rsquos &ldquoFreedom Agenda&rdquo: the idea that democracy, as defined by Washington, was a universal value that &ldquohistory&rdquo represented a movement toward the fulfillment of that value and that any nation or person who stood in the path of such fulfillment would be swept away.
With the fall of the Berlin Wall, Einaudi said, democracy had acquired the &ldquoforce of historical necessity.&rdquo It went without saying that the United States, within a year the official victor in the Cold War and the &ldquosole superpower&rdquo left on Planet Earth, would be the executor of that necessity. Bush&rsquos ambassador reminded his fellow delegates that the &ldquogreat democratic tide which is now sweeping the globe&rdquo had actually started in Latin America, with human rights movements working to end abuses by military juntas and dictators. The fact that Latin American&rsquos freedom fighters had largely been fighting against U.S.-backed anti-communist rightwing death-squad states was lost on the ambassador.
In the case of Panama, &ldquodemocracy&rdquo quickly worked its way up the shortlist of casus belli.
In his December 20th address to the nation announcing the invasion, President Bush gave &ldquodemocracy&rdquo as his second reason for going to war, just behind safeguarding American lives but ahead of combatting drug trafficking or protecting the Panama Canal. By the next day, at a press conference, democracy had leapt to the top of the list and so the president began his opening remarks this way: &ldquoOur efforts to support the democratic processes in Panama and to ensure continued safety of American citizens is now moving into its second day.&rdquo
George Will, the conservative pundit, was quick to realize the significance of this new post-Cold War rationale for military action. In a syndicated column headlined, &ldquoDrugs and Canal Are Secondary: Restoring Democracy Was Reason Enough to Act,&rdquo he praised the invasion for &ldquostressing&hellip the restoration of democracy,&rdquo adding that, by doing so, &ldquothe president put himself squarely in a tradition with a distinguished pedigree. It holds that America&rsquos fundamental national interest is to be America, and the nation&rsquos identity (its sense of its self, its peculiar purposefulness) is inseparable from a commitment to the spread — not the aggressive universalization, but the civilized advancement — of the proposition to which we, unique among nations, are, as the greatest American said, dedicated.&rdquo
That was fast. From Keystone Kops to Thomas Paine in just two months, as the White House seized the moment to radically revise the terms by which the U.S. engaged the world. In so doing, it overthrew not just Manuel Noriega but what, for half a century, had been the bedrock foundation of the liberal multilateral order: the ideal of national sovereignty.
Darkness Unto Light
The way the invasion was reported represented a qualitative leap in scale, intensity, and visibility when compared to past military actions. Think of the illegal bombing of Cambodia ordered by Richard Nixon and his National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger in 1969 and conducted for more than five years in complete secrecy, or of the time lag between actual fighting in South Vietnam and the moment, often a day later, when it was reported.
In contrast, the war in Panama was covered with a you-are-there immediacy, a remarkable burst of shock-and-awe journalism (before the phrase &ldquoshock and awe&rdquo was even invented) meant to capture and keep the public&rsquos attention. Operation Just Cause was &ldquoone of the shortest armed conflicts in American military history,&rdquo writes Brigadier General John Brown, a historian at the United States Army Center of Military History. It was also &ldquoextraordinarily complex, involving the deployment of thousands of personnel and equipment from distant military installations and striking almost two-dozen objectives within a 24-hour period of time&hellip Just Cause represented a bold new era in American military force projection: speed, mass, and precision, coupled with immediate public visibility.&rdquo
Well, a certain kind of visibility at least. The devastation of El Chorrillo was, of course, ignored by the U.S. media.
In this sense, the invasion of Panama was the forgotten warm-up for the first Gulf War, which took place a little over a year later. That assault was specifically designed for all the world to see. &ldquoSmart bombs&rdquo lit up the sky over Baghdad as the TV cameras rolled. Featured were new night-vision equipment, real-time satellite communications, and cable TV (as well as former U.S. commanders ready to narrate the war in the style of football announcers, right down to instant replays). All of this allowed for public consumption of a techno-display of apparent omnipotence that, at least for a short time, helped consolidate mass approval and was meant as both a lesson and a warning for the rest of the world. &ldquoBy God,&rdquo Bush said in triumph, &ldquowe&rsquove kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all.&rdquo
It was a heady form of triumphalism that would teach those in Washington exactly the wrong lessons about war and the world.
Justice Is Our Brand
In the mythology of American militarism that has taken hold since George W. Bush&rsquos disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, his father, George H.W. Bush, is often held up as a paragon of prudence — especially when compared to the later reckless lunacy of Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. After all, their agenda held that it was the messianic duty of the United States to rid the world not just of &ldquoevil-doers&rdquo but &ldquoevil&rdquo itself. In contrast, Bush Senior, we are told, recognized the limits of American power. He was a realist and his circumscribed Gulf War was a &ldquowar of necessity&rdquo where his son&rsquos 2003 invasion of Iraq was a catastrophic &ldquowar of choice.&rdquo But it was H.W. who first rolled out a &ldquofreedom agenda&rdquo to legitimize the illegal invasion of Panama.
Likewise, the moderation of George W. Bush&rsquos Secretary of Defense, Colin Powell, has often been contrasted favorably with the rashness of the neocons in the post-9/11 years. As the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1989, however, Powell was hot for getting Noriega. In discussions leading up to the invasion, he advocated forcefully for military action, believing it offered an opportunity to try out what would later become known as &ldquothe Powell Doctrine.&rdquo Meant to ensure that there would never again be another Vietnam or any kind of American military defeat, that doctrine was to rely on a set of test questions for any potential operation involving ground troops that would limit military operations to defined objectives. Among them were: Is the action in response to a direct threat to national security? Do we have a clear goal? Is there an exit strategy?
It was Powell who first let the new style of American war go to his head and pushed for a more exalted name to brand the war with, one that undermined the very idea of those &ldquolimits&rdquo he was theoretically trying to establish. Following Pentagon practice, the operational plan to capture Noriega was to go by the meaningless name of &ldquoBlue Spoon.&rdquo That, Powell wrote in My American Journey, was &ldquohardly a rousing call to arms&hellip [So] we kicked around a number of ideas and finally settled on… Just Cause. Along with the inspirational ring, I liked something else about it. Even our severest critics would have to utter &lsquoJust Cause&rsquo while denouncing us.&rdquo
Since the pursuit of justice is infinite, it&rsquos hard to see what your exit strategy is once you claim it as your &ldquocause.&rdquo Remember, George W. Bush&rsquos original name for his Global War on Terror was to be the less-than-modest Operation Infinite Justice.
Powell says he hesitated on the eve of the invasion, wondering if it really was the best course of action, but let out a &ldquowhoop and a holler&rdquo when he learned that Noriega had been found. A new Panamanian president had already been sworn in at Fort Clayton, a U.S. military base in the Canal Zone, hours before the invasion began.
Here&rsquos the lesson Powell took from Panama: the invasion, he wrote, confirmed all his &ldquoconvictions over the preceding twenty years, since the days of doubt over Vietnam. Have a clear political objective and stick to it. Use all the force necessary, and do not apologize for going in big if that is what it takes… As I write these words, almost six years after Just Cause, Mr. Noriega, convicted on the drug charges contained in the indictments, sits in an American prison cell. Panama has a new security force, and the country is still a democracy.&rdquo
That assessment was made in 1995. From a later vantage point, history&rsquos judgment is not so sanguine. As George H.W. Bush&rsquos ambassador to the United Nations, Thomas Pickering said about Operation Just Cause: &ldquoHaving used force in Panama… there was a propensity in Washington to think that force could provide a result more rapidly, more effectively, more surgically than diplomacy.&rdquo The easy capture of Noriega meant “the notion that the international community had to be engaged… was ignored.”
“Iraq in 2003 was all of that shortsightedness in spades,&rdquo Pickering said. &ldquoWe were going to do it all ourselves.” And we did.
The road to Baghdad, in other words, ran through Panama City. It was George H.W. Bush&rsquos invasion of that small, poor country 25 years ago that inaugurated the age of preemptive unilateralism, using &ldquodemocracy&rdquo and &ldquofreedom&rdquo as both justifications for war and a branding opportunity. Later, after 9/11, when George W. insisted that the ideal of national sovereignty was a thing of the past, when he said nothing — certainly not the opinion of the international community — could stand in the way of the &ldquogreat mission&rdquo of the United States to &ldquoextend the benefits of freedom across the globe,&rdquo all he was doing was throwing more fuel on the &ldquowildfire&rdquo sparked by his father. A wildfire some in Panama likened to a &ldquolittle Hiroshima.&rdquo
Greg Grandin, a TomDispatch regular, is the author of a number of books including, most recently, The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World, which was a finalist for the Samuel Johnson Prize, was anointed by Fresh Air&rsquos Maureen Corrigan as the best book of the year, and was also on the &ldquobest of&rdquo lists of the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, and the Financial Times. He blogs for the Nation magazine and teaches at New York University.
Copyright 2014 Greg Grandin
[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Wow! What a crew you are! So many of you responded to my once-a-year email to TD subscribers asking for… what else in the holiday season? Money. You&rsquore champs and your contributions really do ensure that this website will be sticking around for the grim surprises, expectable Washington-style wars, and even the hopeful moments of 2015. I thank you all. Those of you who meant to give but were swept away by seasonal distractions, rest assured that there&rsquos always still time. Just visit our donation page where, for $100 (or more), signed, personalized copies of my new book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single Superpower World, and various other books are available. And again, many thanks to you all! It&rsquos genuinely great to feel supported when you work as hard as we do. Tom]
Operation Just Cause: Panama
President George Bush authorized the invasion of Panama by U.S. forces shortly after midnight on 20 December 1989 in an effort to capture General Manuel Antonio Noriega, the Panamanian dictator, and bring him back to the U.S. to face drug-smuggling charges. Among a vast number of other missions to be conducted throughout Panama on the morning of the invasion, OPLAN 90-2 directed “Task Force Red,” the 75th Ranger Regiment, to conduct an airborne assault on the Omar Torrijos International Airport and Tocumen Military Airfield complex with the 1st Ranger Battalion and C Company of the 3rd Ranger Battalion…designated as Task Force Red-Tango…simultaneously with a jump by the remainder of the regiment against the Rio Hato base camp…designated as Task Force Red-Romeo. The ready brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division, over 2,000 paratroopers strong, was to jump forty-five minutes after the Rangers’ seizure of Torrijos/Tocumen Airport.
At 0100 on 20 December, after a seven-hour flight, the airborne assault on Torrijos-Tocumen Airport commenced with preparatory suppressive fires. Three minutes later at 0103, according to plan, 732 Rangers of the 1st Ranger Battalion task force exited seven C-141 Starlifters and four C-130 Hercules transports 500 feet AGL over the objective. The 1st Ranger Battalion’s targets were Objective Tiger…the Fuerza Aérea Panamena (FAP)…Panamanian Air Force barracks to the north that were assigned to A Company, Objective Pig…the barracks of the 2nd Infantry Company in the center of the airfield…and the Tocumen control tower that were assigned to C Company, and Objective Bear…the main airport terminal south of center that was assigned to the attached C Company, 3rd Ranger Battalion. In addition, B Company was assigned the mission of securing the perimeter of Condor, preparing the runway for follow-on air landings, and, on order, securing Objective Hawk…the Ceremi Recreation Center in the La Siesta Military Resort Hotel that was a potential hideaway for Noriega or his Dignity Battalions.
The seizure of Tocumen was nearly a flawless operation. With the southern security established, A Company quickly overwhelmed a handful of FAP personnel who elected to fight and secured the FAP barracks and their nearby aircraft. Part of C Company’s objective, the 2nd Rifle Company’s barracks had been leveled and completely destroyed by a Spectre gunship. The Ranger company quickly secured the barracks area. The second phase of their mission, the securing of the control tower, met stiffer resistance. By 0210, twenty-five minutes later than planned, the 1st Ranger Battalion’s objectives on the Tocumen military airfield were cleared and secured.
South of the 1st Ranger Battalion, C Company, 3rd Ranger Battalion, was involved in considerably more action securing a fire station, an airline baggage area, and establishing an over-watch position prior to an assault into the terminal.
With the fire station secured, 3rd Platoon of C Company continued on to the main terminal. Shots rang out from the northern rotunda, shattering glass, as the platoon moved across the tarmac. The Rangers scattered under the hail of gunfire. Sergeant Reeves, Specialist Eubanks, and Private First Class William Kelly located some maintenance stairs and entered the terminal.
Inside, the three Rangers observed two PDF soldiers…who must have fired the shots…run into a women’s restroom. The PDF soldiers had started the fight and the Rangers decided they were going to finish it in what would become one of the strangest five-minutes’ worth of close-quarters combat experiences in the annals of Ranger history.
Electing to finish the enemy off with one move, Reeves pulled the pin on a grenade and kicked the restroom door in, only to find a second closed door just inside. With only seconds to spare, he tossed the grenade into the middle of the concourse as he and his men jumped for cover. The detonation blew out what remained of the windows and created a huge hole in the floor.
Gathering themselves, the three-man Ranger assault team led by Reeves proceeded to charge through the two doors, through which only one man could fit at a time. Surprisingly, all was quiet when Reeves burst through the second door into the darkened room. Seeing nothing to his right, Reeves was just starting to look towards the stalls on his left when he caught movement out of the periphery of his eye. One of the PDF soldiers was standing on the toilet of the stall closest to the door.
Before Reeves could fire or react, he was struck by three rounds from the enemy’s AK-47, fired only three feet away. With two hits to the shoulder, one through the collarbone, and powder burns covering his face, Reeves was knocked to the floor. As he lay on the floor seriously wounded, Reeves was pounced on by the second of the PDF soldiers. Believing he was about to die, Reeves closed his eyes only to be startled and relieved when the enemy soldier and his compatriot quickly disappeared to the rear of the bathroom. Fighting mad and unable to use his right arm to grip his M-16 rifle, the sergeant attempted to grip a grenade with his left but he was unable to move his arm enough to get at the grenades in his hip pocket.
Having heard the shots, Eubanks and Kelly crawled on their hands and knees into the dark facility to grab their wounded squad leader. Bullets ricocheted off the walls and floor as one of the PDF jumped out in the open to fire at the Rangers. Three shots bounced off Kelly’s Kevlar helmet as they pulled Reeves to safety.
Outside of the restroom, the two Rangers sat the wounded Ranger up against the wall as Eubanks attended to the sergeant’s wounds the best he could. Caring little about his wounds and wanting the two PDF soldiers dead, Reeves assisted the two with the development of another plan of attack.
Their plan of action was to start with the toss of another grenade into the room. Opening the second door that had stymied Reeves the first time, the two unwounded Rangers tossed a grenade into the left side of the restroom. Mirrors were shattered and glass flew everywhere with the detonation, but the two enemy soldiers had moved to the far side of the restroom, seeking shelter by the stall partitions located there.
Eubanks and Kelly realized that grenades were not the solution. They needed another plan and quickly realized that only a personal, face-to-face confrontation would accomplish the mission. Eubanks quietly entered first with Kelly covering the opposite side of the wall. Creeping along the wall as quietly and concealed as possible, Eubanks soon spotted the two PDF soldiers towards the rear of the room.
Raising his weapon and placing one of the enemy in the sights of his Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW), the Ranger pulled the trigger only to have the weapon malfunction as it failed to chamber a 5.56-mm round. To add insult to injury, the machine-gun’s barrel fell off as a result of the locking lever having become unsecured. Compromised by the noise, Eubanks had three rounds fired at him from a pistol. The bullets whistled by his head, high and left as he scrambled from the room.
Back out in the concourse, Eubanks grabbed and loaded Reeves’ M-203 grenade launcher and secured a second hand grenade. Tossing the hand grenade into the room with the intent to stun the enemy, Eubanks and Kelly rushed through the door and opened fire with their weapons. When they ceased-fire, the two Americans incredulously heard the PDF cursing the Rangers and the United States in Spanish.
Understanding and able to speak a little Spanish, Eubanks told the two PDF soldiers to lay down their arms and surrender. With each offer to surrender, one of the enemy soldiers would poke his head around the far corner and yell at Eubanks, “Fuck off!” The third such humorous effort to retort found one of the PDF poking his head out a little too far, for Eubanks was able to fire a single round through the taunter’s neck. The wounded Panamanian dropped his weapon and crumbled to his knees. Eubanks screamed at him to lie face down but the babbling and dazed PDF soldier was not listening. M-203 in hand, Eubanks grabbed the wounded soldier by the back of his shirt and pushed him to the floor.
Neither Eubanks nor Kelly saw the second PDF soldier behind a stall door. Lunging for Eubanks’ weapon, the second enemy soldier struggled for the grenade launcher as the wounded soldier on the floor rolled over and attempted to pull a pistol from his waistband. Eubanks and Kelly were able to kick the wounded soldier out a window where he bounced off a ledge onto the tarmac twenty-five feet below.
Having somehow survived the plunge, the PDF soldier’s luck finally had run out, for he had fallen in front of a Ranger M-60 machine-gun position. Refusing to halt as ordered, he was finally killed with a burst of 7.62-mm rounds.
Inside the bathroom, however, the struggle still ensued. Able to get both hands on Eubanks’ weapon, the remaining, though wounded, enemy soldier attempted to wrestle the weapon away from the Ranger rather than shoot him with it. Enraged, Eubanks pushed the Panamanian against a urinal and began to kick him repeatedly, screaming for Kelly to shoot the man. Kelly’s shot to the arm was immediately followed by two more to the head that finally brought the action within the airport restroom to a close.
As the Rangers began to sweep through terminal’s ground floor the first of the 376 passengers from a Brazilian airline that arrived just prior to the airborne assault began to emerge from their hiding places around the terminal. Following a brief standoff with five PDF soldier’s holding some civilian hostages, the terminal was secured by 0500. By dawn, all of the Ranger objectives on Tocumen and Torrijos had been cleared and secured.
Dawn of the 20th found one major objective yet to be achieved. The PDF headquarters at La Comandancia in Panama City had yet to be taken. The task fell to C Company of the 3rd Ranger Battalion. Following preparatory fires and supporting building clearing assaults that commenced at 1500, the Rangers swept through La Comandancia and secured it by 1700.
The 2nd Ranger Battalion had linked up with the 3rd Ranger Battalion…minus C Company that had already departed early that morning to support the 1st Ranger Battalion…at Lawson Army Airfield, Georgia, on 18 December. Both battalions constituted Task Force Red-Romeo, whose objective was Rio Hato, home base to the 6th and 7th PDF Rifle Companies…considered the best fighting units in the PDF…and located approximately sixty miles southwest of Panama City on the coast of the Gulf of Panama.
Designated “Area of Operations Eagle,” or AO Eagle, Rio Hato was divided into two different operational regions for each attacking Ranger battalion. The southern portion was assigned to the 2nd Ranger Battalion and included the 6th and 7th Company compounds…Objectives Cat and Lion. The two companies of the 3rd Ranger Battalion were to secure the northern sector of Eagle to include the NCO academy, the camp headquarters, the airfield operations complex, the motor pools, the communications center…Objectives Dog and Steel, and the ammunition supply point at the far northern end of the runway. Additionally, the battalion was to clear the runway for air landing operations to follow and cut the Pan American Highway that ran through the area.
The attack on Rio Hato commenced simultaneously with the assault on Torrijos- Tocumen with brief preliminary fires. Three minutes after the opening fires, the green light of the lead C-130 came on and the first of 837 Rangers exited the blackened aircraft at 500 feet AGL. The antiaircraft fires were heavy and, for the moment, unsuppressed as close air support had to cease-fire and withdraw while the paratroopers were in the air. Eleven of the thirteen pax transports were hit as they over flew the objective.
On the ground, the Rangers found themselves in a 360-degree firefight against an alert and dispersed PDF who, while not well organized, were all over the place, firing at the Rangers as they discarded their chutes. Despite the enemy fires, the Rangers fanned out to secure their objectives. Seven minutes ahead of schedule, one hour and fifty-three minutes into the operation, the airfield was reported secure.
At 1000 on 25 December, the 3rd Ranger Battalion air-assaulted into the town of David to secure the Malek Airfield. Within the hour, the attack on the small airfield was completed and the facility seized.
Task Force Red-Romeo’s final mission occurred on 28 December when the two companies of 3rd Ranger Battalion assaulted Camp Machete, a penal colony on Coiba Island. The Rangers arrived to secure all the prisoners who had broken free from their locked cells. Hostile guards were rounded up and flown off the island. The next day, the Rangers were relieved by elements of the 7th Infantry Division.