In times of universal deceit, telling
the truth is a revolutionary act.
         - George Orwell


Napoleon once observed that "history" is a set of lies agreed upon. In an era of ubiquitous fake news and information warfare, this has never been more true. The very concept of objective truth in history is fading out of our world. Pure propaganda and outright lies are passing into our history textbooks as unquestioned truth, condemning future generations to false views about historical reality. But the task of sifting through the lies and propaganda is overwhelming, limited by the ambition and time constraints of most observors. Only those who have dedicated their lives to sorting reality from falsehood are qualified to rewrite "consensus" history as a duty to humanity. The contributors to this site endeavor to do just that.

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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

R.I.P. Manuel Noriega - Dead at 83

      Last night (Monday, May 29th) saw the passing of Manuel Noriega - one of the most notable dictators of the twentieth century.  Leader of Panama during the 1980's, Noriega was a "useful idiot" for US machinations in the region, including continuing control of the Panama Canal.  His sudden demise in 1989 came at the behest of President George Bush (#41), who invaded his country and abducted him in a raid.
      Facing trial in Panama, Noriega was essentially given a life sentence, and shuffled from The US to Panama and France to serve out numerous prison sentences related to drug running and human rights abuses.  He spent the last several years in various prison hospitals due to a brain tumor and brain hemorrhaging, and died in this same state of indignation on Monday after a 28 year legal and carceral nightmare.

While his drug running and money laundering is well known, what is little known or talked about is Noriega's work for the CIA.  Although the relationship did not become contractual until 1967, Noriega worked with the CIA from the late 1950s until the 1980s.  He was a key player in Operation Watchtower, which saw the creation and expansion of the Medellin drug cartel in Colombia and the mass importation of cocaine into the United States via Mena, Arkansas.  This was overseen by Bush, Bill Clinton, and Oliver North.  In 1988, on the orders of Vice President Bush, then running for president, grand juries in Tampa and Miami indicted him on U.S. federal drug charges.  His usefulness was over, and he needed to be silenced.

        A famous photograph of George Bush and Manuel Noriega sitting together and discussing drug running

The 1988 Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics and International Operations distorted the truth to make the burgeoning conspiracy more palatable by concluding: "The saga of Panama's General Manuel Antonio Noriega represents one of the most serious foreign policy failures for the United States. Throughout the 1970s and the 1980s, Noriega was able to manipulate U.S. policy toward his country, while skillfully accumulating near-absolute power in Panama. It is clear that each U.S. government agency which had a relationship with Noriega turned a blind eye to his corruption and drug dealing, even as he was emerging as a key player on behalf of the Medellín Cartel (a member of which was notorious Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar)." Noriega was allowed to establish "the hemisphere's first 'narcokleptocracy'".  One of the large financial institutions that he was able to use to launder money was the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI).

In the 1988 U.S. presidential election, Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis highlighted this history in a campaign commercial attacking his opponent, Vice President (and former CIA Director) George H. W. Bush, for his close relationship with "Panamanian drug lord Noriega", but stopped short of suggesting Bush was the real mastermind of the drug running (which he was).
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The following information is lifted directly from Wikipedia:

The Panamanian elections of May 1989 were surrounded by controversy. A PRD-led coalition nominated Carlos Duque, publisher of the country's oldest newspaper, La Estrella de Panamá. Most of the other political parties banded behind a unified ticket of Guillermo Endara, a member of Arias' Authentic Panameñista Party, along with vice-presidential candidates Ricardo Arias Calderón (no relation to Arnulfo Arias) and Guillermo Ford.

According to Guillermo Sanchez, the opposition alliance knew that Noriega planned to rig the count, but had no way of proving it. They found a way through a loophole in Panamanian election law. The alliance, with the support of the Roman Catholic Church, set up a count based directly on results at the country's 4,000 election precincts before the results were sent to district centers. Noriega's lackeys swapped fake tally sheets for the real ones and took those to the district centers, but by this time the opposition's more accurate count was already out. It showed Endara winning in a landslide even more massive than in 1984, beating Duque by a 3-to-1 margin. Noriega had every intention of declaring Duque the winner regardless of the actual results. However, Duque knew he had been badly defeated and refused to go along.

Rather than publish the results, Noriega voided the election, claiming "foreign (i.e., American) interference" had tainted the results. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, there as an observer, denounced Noriega, saying the election had been "stolen", as did Bishop Marcos G. McGrath.

The next day, Endara, Arias Calderón, and Ford rolled through the old part of the capital in a triumphant motorcade, only to be intercepted by a detachment of Noriega's paramilitary Dignity Battalions. Arias Calderón was protected by a couple of troops, but Endara and Ford were badly beaten. Images of Ford running to safety with his guayabera shirt covered in blood were broadcast around the world. When the 1984–89 presidential term expired, Noriega named a longtime associate, Francisco Rodríguez, as acting president. The United States, however, recognized Endara as the new president.

United States Invasion of Panama

The U.S. imposed economic sanctions and, in the months that followed, a tense standoff occurred between the U.S. military forces (stationed in the canal area) and Noriega's troops. On December 15, 1989, the PRD-dominated legislature spoke of "a state of war" between the United States and Panama. It also declared Noriega "chief executive officer" of the government, formalizing a state of affairs that had existed for six years. Noriega subsequently claimed that this statement referred to U.S. actions against Panama, and did not represent a declaration of hostilities by Panama. The U.S. forces conducted regular "freedom of movement" maneuvers and operations, such as Operation Sand Flea and Operation Purple Storm. Serving in part as military drills, but also as psychological warfare designed to harass the future enemy, the U.S. military contended that the exercises were justified by the Panama Canal Treaty of 1977 (the Torrijos-Carter Treaties), which guaranteed U.S. forces freedom of movement in the country in defense of the canal. Panama considered the exercises a violation of the treaties, and Noriega called them acts of war.

On the other hand, Noriega's forces are said to have engaged in routine harassment of U.S. troops and civilians. Three incidents in particular occurred very near the time of the invasion, and were mentioned by U.S. President George H. W. Bush as a reason for invasion. In a December 16 incident, four U.S. personnel were stopped at a roadblock outside PDF headquarters in the El Chorrillo neighborhood of Panama City. The United States Department of Defense said that the servicemen were unarmed and in a private vehicle and that they attempted to flee the scene only after their vehicle was surrounded by a crowd of civilians and PDF troops. Second Lieutenant Robert Paz of the United States Marine Corps was shot and killed in the incident. The Los Angeles Times claimed that sources stated Paz was a member of the Hard Chargers, a group not sanctioned by the military whose goal was to agitate members of the PDF. The PDF claimed that the Americans were armed and on a reconnaissance mission. Major General Marc A. Cisneros, deputy commander of the Southern Command at the time of the invasion, said in a recent interview, "The story you've got from somebody that these guys were a vigilante group trying to provoke an incident—that is absolutely false". According to an official U.S. military report, a U.S. naval officer and his wife who were witnesses to the incident were assaulted by Panamanian Defense Force soldiers while in police custody. A week before the U.S. invasion, a cable from an American diplomat to Washington described Noriega as a "master of survival" and, according to The New York Times, the diplomat did not have an inkling of the coming invasion one week later.

The U.S. invasion of Panama was launched on December 20, 1989. Losses on the U.S. side were 23 troops and 3 civilian casualties, while Panamanian losses were 150 troops and 500 civilian casualties. 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. 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. However, activist Barbara Trent disputed this finding, claiming in a 1992 Academy Award winning documentary The Panama Deception that the Panamanian surveys were completed in wealthy, English-speaking neighborhoods in Panama City, among Panamanians most likely to support U.S. actions.

Noriega's Capture - Operation Nifty Package

January 3, 1990, Gen. Manuel Noriega is escorted onto a U.S. Air Force aircraft by agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

On the fifth day of the invasion, Noriega and four others took sanctuary in the Apostolic Nunciature, the Holy See's embassy in Panama. Having threatened to flee to the countryside and lead guerrilla warfare if not given refuge, he instead turned over the majority of his weapons, and requested sanctuary from Monsignor Laboa. He spent his time in a "stark" room with no air conditioning or television, reading the Bible for the duration of his stay.

Prevented by treaty from invading the embassy of the Holy See, U.S. soldiers erected a perimeter around the Nunciature. Psychological warfare was used in an attempt to dislodge him, including blaring rock music, and turning a nearby field into a helicopter landing zone. After ten days of Operation Nifty Package, Noriega surrendered on January 3, 1990. He was detained as a prisoner of war, and later taken to the United States.

Criminal prosecution in the United States

In April 1992 a trial was held in Miami, Florida, at the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida in which Noriega was tried and convicted on eight counts of drug trafficking, racketeering, and money laundering.

At his trial, Noriega intended to defend himself by presenting his alleged crimes within the framework of his work for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. The government objected to any disclosure of the purposes for which the United States had paid Noriega because this information was classified and its disclosure went against the interests of the United States. In pre-trial proceedings, the government offered to stipulate that Noriega had received approximately $220,000 from the United States Army and the Central Intelligence Agency. Noriega insisted that "the actual figure approached $10,000,000, and that he should be allowed to disclose the tasks he had performed for the United States". The district court held that the "information about the content of the discrete operations in which Noriega had engaged in exchange for the alleged payments was irrelevant to his defense". It ruled that the introduction of evidence about Noriega's role in the CIA would "confuse the jury".

After the trial, Noriega appealed this exclusionary ruling by the judge to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. The Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the government, despite disagreeing with the lower court. It said: "Our review leads us to conclude that information regarding the purposes for which the United States previously paid Noriega potentially had some probative value ... Thus, the district court may have overstated the case when it declared evidence of the purposes for which the United States allegedly paid Noriega wholly irrelevant to his defense". However, the Court of Appeals refused to set aside the verdict because it felt that "the potential probative value of this material, however, was relatively marginal".

On September 16, 1992, Noriega was sentenced to 40 years in prison, later reduced to 30 years.

Incarceration

Noriega was incarcerated in the Federal Correctional Institution, Miami, in Dade County, Florida. Before receiving his permanent prison assignment, Noriega was placed in the Federal Detention Center, Miami, facility. Noriega resided in the Federal Correctional Institution, Miami, in an unincorporated area of Miami-Dade County, Florida, and had the Federal Bureau of Prisons ID number 38699-079.

Under Article 85 of the Third Geneva Convention, Noriega was considered a prisoner of war, despite his conviction for acts committed prior to his capture by the "detaining power" (the United States). This status meant that in Florida he had his own prison cell, furnished with electronics and exercise equipment. His cell had been nicknamed "the presidential suite".

It was reported that Noriega had been visited by evangelical Christians, who claimed that he had become a born-again Christian. On May 15 and 16, 1990, while Noriega still awaited trial, Clift Brannon, a former attorney turned preacher, and a Spanish interpreter, Rudy Hernandez, were allowed to visit Noriega for a total of six hours at the Metropolitan Correctional Center of Dade County, Florida. Following the visit, Noriega wrote Brannon a letter stating:

On completing the spiritual sessions that you as a messenger of the Word of God brought to my heart, even to my area of confinement as Prisoner of War of the United States, I feel the necessity of adding something more to what I was able to say to you as we parted. The evening sessions of May 15 and 16 with you and Rudy Hernandez along with the Christian explanation and guidance were for me the first day of a dream, a revelation. I can tell you with great strength and inspiration that receiving our Lord Jesus Christ as Savior guided by you, was an emotional event. The hours flew by without my being aware. I could have desired that they continue forever, but there was no time nor space. Thank you for your time. Thank you for your human warmth, for your constant and permanent spiritual strength brought to bear on my mind and soul. – With great affection, Manuel A. Noriega.

Noriega's prison sentence was reduced from 30 years to 17 years for good behavior. After serving 17 years in detention and imprisonment, his sentence ended on September 9, 2007.

Criminal prosecution in France, Extradition

Until 2011, Noriega was housed in La Santé Prison (center) in Paris. The French government requested Noriega's extradition after he was convicted of money laundering in 1999. The French claimed that Noriega had laundered $3 million in drug proceeds by purchasing luxury apartments in Paris. Noriega was convicted in absentia, but French law requires a new trial after the subject of an 'in absentia; sentence is apprehended. He faced up to 10 years in French prison if convicted.

In August 2007, a U.S. federal judge approved a request from the French government to extradite Noriega from the United States to France after his release. Noriega has also received a long jail term in absentia in Panama for murder and human rights abuses. Noriega appealed his extradition to France because he claimed that country would not honor his legal status as a prisoner of war. In 1999, the Panamanian government sought the extradition of Noriega to face murder charges in Panama because he had been found guilty in absentia in 1995 and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

On February 20, 2010, Noriega's lawyers filed a petition with the Supreme Court of the United States to block his extradition to France, after the court refused to hear his appeal the previous month. Noriega's attorneys had hoped the dissenting opinion in that ruling, written by Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, would convince the full court to take up his case, but on March 22, 2010, the Supreme Court refused to hear the petition. Two days after the refusal, the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida in Miami lifted the stay that was blocking Noriega's extradition. Later that month, after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed the surrender warrant, Noriega's attorney stated that he would travel to France and try to arrange a deal with the French government.

On April 26, 2010, Noriega was extradited to France. Noriega's lawyers claimed the La Santé Prison, at which he was held, was unfit for a man of his age and rank; the French government refused to grant him prisoner of war status, as he had in the United States.

Conviction

On July 7, 2010, Noriega was convicted by the 11th chamber of the Tribunal Correctionnel de Paris and sentenced to seven years in jail. The prosecutor in the case had sought a ten-year prison term. In addition, €2.3 million (approximately US$3.6 million) that had long been frozen in Noriega's French bank accounts was ordered to be seized.

Return to Panama

Panama asked France to extradite Noriega so he could face trial for human rights violations there. The French government had previously stated that extradition would not happen before the case in France had run its course. However, on September 23, 2011 a French court ordered a conditional release for Noriega to be extradited to Panama on October 1, 2011. He was extradited on December 11 and incarcerated at El Renacer prison to serve time for crimes committed during his rule. On February 5, 2012, Noriega was moved from the El Renacer prison to the Hospital Santo Tomas because of high blood pressure and a brain hemorrhage. He remained in the hospital for four days before being returned to prison. In January 2017 he was released from prison and placed under house arrest to prepare for surgery that would remove a benign tumor that was first discovered in 2011. During the surgery in March 2017, he suffered a brain hemorrhage which left him in critical condition in the intensive care unit of Santo Tomas hospital in Panama City.  He died on May 29th, 2017.  R.I.P. Manuel Noriega.

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