Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Inventories of Captured Panama/Noriega Documents

I am posting today several inventories of the documents seized during Operation Just Cause.

As was widely reported, Sunday evening Gen. Manuel Noriega returned to Panama from France after more than 20 years in foreign prisons.  I previously noted in an op-ed that thousands of boxes of documents seized by U.S. forces in Panama during Operation Just Cause in 1989 are surprisingly still in the custody of U.S. Army South and I argued that, for purposes of historical and human rights research as well as for possible use in future legal proceedings related to Noriega in Panama, the U.S. should finally begin returning those documents to Panama. The inventories below provide additional details about the nature of those documents.

As background, the Operation Just Cause document exploitation effort was extensive and involved an interagency team led by the DIA.

The volume of documents and media seized in Panama was variously measured. An early DIA report from Jan. 1990 on the document exploitation effort noted that "the collected material is expected to approach 50 tons." The military's  "Operation Just Cause Lessons Learned" stated, however, that within "the first week" of the operation "it was estimated that over 120 tons of documents had been captured."  News reports usually referred to 15,000 boxes worth of seized documents.

As the DIA notes above, the documents contained quite a bit of variety, everything from "personal correspondence" to "arms inventories" to "stolen U.S. documents."  The inventories below provide additional detail.

Seized Document Inventories 

The first three are inventories - here, here, and here - of documents and other material seized in Noriega's residences and offices.  These include everything from Noriega's credit cards to membership cards to the Smithsonian to "U.S. Aircraft Charts" to "approximately $5 million cash."

The next inventory is a 50-page list of boxes of documents and media seized elsewhere.  The inventory is dated May 1991 and is entitled "Captured Document Facility" and references Charlie company, 746th Military Intelligence Batallion, 470th Military Intelligence Brigade, which continues to support U.S. Army South at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. The descriptions of the boxes are very brief. You'll notice in the bottom right corner of the first page of the inventory it says "Exhibit A."  The corresponding "Exhibit B" was a classified report that gave much more extensive detail about the contents of these boxes.

The "Secret Inventory"

Not to be confused with the classified "Exhibit B" just mentioned, there was also what became known as the "secret inventory."

The "Secret Inventory" - written across the top is "Found this list wadded up as garbage"

In the lead up to Noriega's trial an investigator sent to Panama by a co-defendant found a partial inventory of documents "crumpled in a box among materials open for inspection by defense attorneys" which led to allegations that the U.S. had violated court orders in the case (see, for example, "U.S. Accused of Withholding Secret Papers on Noriega").  Here is the "secret inventory" in full.