U.S. troops in Panama have been subjected to abductions and beatings, but U.S. military officials reportedly are reluctant to respond to avoid confrontation with Gen. Manuel A. Noriega, a military newspaper said Sunday.
The Army Times, an independent weekly, said U.S. military personnel in Panama have been involved in hundreds of incidents with Panamanian troops over the last year, ranging from detentions without charge and beatings to treaty violations and intrusions on U.S. installations.
Quoting current and former officials, the newspaper said that “despite an escalating pattern of harassment against U.S. military personnel and their families, high-ranking military officials have sought to downplay the extent of the incidents in order to avoid a new confrontation” with Noriega.
Noriega, under indictment in the United States on drug-trafficking charges, withstood the Reagan Administration’s effort last year to force him from office.
The Army Times quoted Elliott Abrams, who was President Ronald Reagan’s chief Central American policy-maker in the State Department, as saying that Joint Chiefs Chairman William J. Crowe Jr. has tried to “bury the incidents to achieve a business-as-usual relationship with Noriega.”
A Crowe spokesman, Col. William Smullen, told the newspaper that “the chairman has chosen to deal with it in a more private way.”
The newspaper said one of the most recent and violent incidents involved Navy petty officer Mike Nieves, who told the newspaper he was detained, beaten and threatened with death.