Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Operation Just Cause
|Operation Just Cause|
Tension between the U.S. government and the Noriega government.
Protect U.S. lives, key sites and facilities.
Capture of Manuel Noriega.
|U.S. military||Panama's local militia and citizens|
|Joint Task Force South (JTFSO)||Panamanian Defense Force|
|24,000 troops||16,000 troops|
|Estimates range from 202 to 3000. DoD estimates 314 KIA. Chomsky claims 600 graves have been exhumed. This number is close to the median of published estimates of fatalities for the invasion compiled by one observer of 20th century conflicts. |
Operation Just Cause was the U.S. military invasion of Panama that deposed Manuel Noriega in December 1989, during the administration of U.S. President George H. W. Bush. The name "Just Cause" has been used primarily by the United States military for planning and historical purposes and by other U.S. entities such as the State Department. Panamanians usually refer to it simply as "The Invasion" (La Invasión). It has been reported that the invasion was derisively referred to as "Operation Just Because" by skeptics inside the Pentagon .
Just Cause occurred on December 20, 1989, at 0100 local time. Following over a year of diplomatic tension between the United States and Panama and several months of U.S. troop buildup in military bases within the former Panama Canal Zone, 24,000 U.S. troops and over 300 aircraft — including the first combat use of the F-117A stealth aircraft — were deployed against the 16,000 members of the Panama Defense Force. The command and control structure of the Panamanian Defense Force was quickly destroyed; senior officers were killed or captured and, in some instances, officers abandoned their command. The attack touched off several fires one of which destroyed much of the El Chorillo neighborhood, adjacent to the headquarters of the Panamanian Defense Forces, located in downtown Panama City.
Military operations continued for several days, during which they targeted decentralized resistance by isolated PDF units, attempted to restore law and order, and searched for Noriega. Noriega turned up in the Vatican Diplomatic Mission and eventually surrendered.
By January, combat forces had begun to withdraw and reconstruction of the Panamanian government began under the moniker Operation Promote Liberty . The Americans lost 23 soldiers killed in action (KIA) and 324 wounded (WIA). The U.S. Southern Command , at that time based in Panama, estimated at 50 the number of Panamanian military casualties, lower than its original estimate of 314. There has been considerable controversy over the number of Panamanian civilian casualties resulting from the invasion. The Southern Command estimated that number at two hundred. A U.S.-based independent Commission of Inquiry, headed by former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, estimated at more than 3,000 the number of Panamanian civilian casualties. Americas Watch , a human rights group, estimated that number at three hundred.
Origin of the name
In recent years, the naming of U.S. military operations has been the source of some controversy, both internationally and domestically (see Operation Enduring Freedom). At the time operations to depose Noriega were being planned, U.S. military operations were given randomly-generated names. Just Cause was planned under the name Blue Spoon, and the invasion itself incorporated elements of the Operation Nifty Package and Operation Acid Gambit plans. The name Blue Spoon was later changed to Just Cause for aesthetic and public relations reasons.
Reasons for the invasion
On the morning of December 20, a few hours after the start of the operation, President George H. W. Bush made a short statement listing four reasons for the invasion:
- Safeguarding the lives of U.S. citizens in Panama. In his statement, Bush claimed that Noriega had declared that a state of war existed between the United States and Panama and that he also threatened the lives of the approximately 35,000 Americans living there. There had been numerous clashes between U.S. and Panamanian forces; one American had been killed a few days earlier and several incidents of harassment of Americans had taken place.
- Defending democracy and human rights in Panama. Earlier that year Noriega had nullified presidential elections that had been won by candidates from opposition parties. In addition, a report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights concluded that numerous human rights violations ocurred in Panama during Noriega's government [Report on the situation of human rights in Panama. November 9, 1989].
- Combating drug trafficking. Panama had become a center for drug money laundering and a transit point for drug trafficking to the United States and Europe. Noriega had been singled out for direct involvement in these drug trafficking operations.
- 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 United States had the right under the treaties to intervene militarily to protect the canal.
In regard to one of the reasons set forth by the United States to justify the invasion, namely the declaration of a state of war between the United States and Panama, Noriega insists that his statement referred to a state of war directed by the U.S. against Panama, in the form of harsh economic sanctions and constant, provocative military manuevers that were prohibited by the Torrijos-Carter Treaties. Moreover, relations between American and Panamanian civilians had traditionally been cordial, and this state of affairs had not changed significantly prior to the invasion, a fact which had been widely reported in the international press.
In the December 16 incident that led to the killing of an American soldier, four U.S. soldiers were stopped at a roadblock outside PDF headquarters in the El Chorillo neighborhood of Panama City. The United States Department of Defense claimed 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. The PDF claimed the Americans were armed and on a reconnaissance mission (Facts on File reference below). It was also reported by the Los Angeles Times (see reference below) that "according to American military and civilian sources" the soldier killed was a member of the "Hard Chargers", a group whose goal was to incite agitation in order to gain a response that would justify military retaliation (see also ).
After the invasion, governments throughout Latin America — including the government of Chile under Augusto Pinochet, which was generally supportive of United States policies — issued statements condemning the invasion and calling for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops. One of the reasons Bush gave for the invasion, the reestablishment of democracy in Panama, was widely viewed with suspicion, since the United States was perceived throughout Latin America as one of the primary destabilizers of other democratically elected governments in the region. In the recent past, the United States had shown little concern for well-publicized human rights violations in other Latin American countries with right-wing governments such as Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and El Salvador and was also believed to have supported insurgencies in several countries. Moreover Noriega was considered to be a former puppet of the United States who had cooperated with American efforts to destabilize the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua. It is generally believed that during that time the United States did little to curtail his involvement in drug trafficking.
The various reasons supplied by the United States to justify the invasion were regarded as a thin veneer to disguise other intentions, such as the reestablishment of military bases in Panama or even the overturning the Torrijos-Carter treaties themselves. These fears had some credibility, since it was widely known there was considerable opposition within the United States Congress to handing the canal over to Panama by the year 2000 as required by the treaties.
It was also widely believed that the United States wanted to retain its influence in the administration of the canal. According to the timetable stipulated by the Torrijos-Carter treaties, the United States was scheduled to hand over the administration of the canal to Panama on January 1, 1990. The Panamanian government under Noriega had said it intended to appoint Tomás Altamirano Duque, widely known as a Noriega loyalist to the top administrator post. This choice was unacceptable to the United States, which had expressed fears he would excessively politicize canal operations.
The Guillermo Endara puppet regime designated the second anniversary of the U.S. invasion a "national day of reflection". Agence France-Presse reported that hundreds of Panamanians marked the day with a "black march" through the streets of this capital to denounce the U.S. invasion and Endara's economic policies. It also echoed claims that U.S. troops had killed 3,000 people, and buried many corpses in mass graves or had thrown them into the sea, though these claims are not disputed in Panama. One notorious after-effect of the invasion was nearly two weeks of widespread looting and lawlessness, a contingency which the United States military apparently had not anticipated. This looting inflicted catastrophic losses on many Panamanian businesses, some of which took several years to recover. Some businesses attempted unsuccessfully to sue the United States government in American courts. Residents that lost property in the Chorillo fire were later compensated by the United States, according to American officials.
After Noriega's ouster, Panama has had three presidential elections, with candidates from opposing parties succeeding each other in the Palacio de las Garzas. Panama also has an unforgiving, if not rowdy press. On 10 February 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. While Panama's GDP recovered by 1993, very high unemployment remained a serious problem. This could be attributed to numerous other causes unrelated to its political environment post-Noriega, including the debt crisis of Mexico in 1994–1995, severe recession in Latin America throughout the 1990s, and the Asian financial crisis.
American units involved in the operation
- 5th Infantry Division (Mechanized)
- 7th Infantry Division (Light)
- 75th Ranger Regiment
- 82nd Airborne Division
- 193rd Infantry Brigade
- Delta Force
- Marine Corps Light Armored Infantry (LAI) Company
- Military Police
- Navy SEALs
- Night Stalkers
- Special Forces (Green Berets)
- XVIII Airborne Corps
- Operation Blade Jewel – initiative to exercise U.S. freedom of movement rights by reinforcing the forward deployed U.S. forces.
- Operation Nimrod Sustain – continued augmentation with rotating units.
- Operation Purple Storm
- Operation Prayer Book
- Operation Sand Flea
- 1989 Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Panama by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights describes human rights violations by the Noriega regime before Operation Just Cause
- "The Panama Deception" - Academy Award-winning documentary (1993)
- How Television Sold the Panama Invasion – Extra!, January 1990; a publication of the media watch group, FAIR.
- Panama: Background of U.S. Invasion of 1989 – historical timeline
- Operation Just Cause – an excerpt from Deterring Democracy, by Noam Chomsky.
- Tactical map of Operation Just Cause
- Facts On File World News Digest, December 22, 1989, U.S. Forces Invade Panama, Seize Wide Control; Noriega Eludes Capture. FACTS.com .
- Los Angeles Times, December 22, 1990, Some Blame Rogue Band of Marines for Picking Fight, Spurring Panama Invasion, Kenneth Freed.
- New York Times, December 21, 1989, A Transcript of President Bush's Address on the Decision to Use Force.
- New York Times, December 21, 1989,For a Panamanian, Hope and Tragedy, Roberto Eisenmann. (Opinion piece)
- New York Times, December 21, 1989, U.S.Denounced by Nations Touchy About Intervention, James Brooke.
- Hagemeister, Stacy & Solon, Jenny. Operation Just Cause: Lessons Learned – Volume I, II & III (Bulletin No. 90-9). Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: Center for Army Lessons Learned – US Army Combined Arms Command. October, 1990.
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