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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Where is Omar Torrijos When We Need Him?

  When the United States was still deeply involved in the Vietnam debacle, Europe was in flames and Che Guevara was just one year in the ground in Bolivia, Gen. Omar Torrijos seized power in 1968 in Panama. Back then, the canal was still U.S. owned and operated and there was a major American presence in the Canal Zone. Torrijos is most commonly remembered for the treaty he and President Jimmy Carter signed in 1977 to return the canal and the canal zone to Panamanian control, effective the last day of 1999. Torrijos's military and intelligence chief was a homely little tough guy named Manuel Noriega, and it was his job to keep dissent down and maintain good relations with the CIA and the DoD in Washington.
   Noriega is a very good example of just how far friends of the United States can fell when they fall out of favor. After Torrijos died in a 1981 plane crash, the cause of which is still unknown but widely suspected, Noriega eventually assumed power. He had none of the charisma of his former boss but maintained strongman rule until he was overthrown following the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989. Although he was an agent of the U.S. government, his predilection for violence and his close ties to drug traffickers, including the Medellin Cartel in Colombia, were too much of an embarrassment to Washington.
   After serving 20 years in a federal prison in Florida, Noriega has now been extradited to France, where he is to be tried on separate drug-related charges there. He will likely die in prison. His case raises an interesting question: If our legal system says that the accused cannot be tried twice for the same crimes, why is it that someone can be tried multiple times for the same crimes simply by sending them to another country?
  The case raises an additional question: What kinds of  "friends" does the United States have today around the world?


Mary Helen said...

Very interesting commentary. Might there be any FOI documents to shed light on Torrijos' helicopter crash?

John Enders said...

MH: Claims of U.S. assassination plots are a dime a dozen, of course, but do see this exchange between author John Perkins and Amy Goodman:

John Enders said...
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Carl said...

Does Noriega face essentially the same charges, John, or are they simply related charges? The media are reporting that France will try Noriega for money laundering (of drug cartel funds). I'm not arguing against the prohibition of "double jeopardy," but the principle does not invariably apply to related but distinct crimes. In the US, when Southern state courts have acquitted white men of murdering blacks, the Federal Government has sometimes prosecuted the men for civil rights violations. Is that right or wrong?