by Project Censored
Published: Last Updated on

According to a variety of non-mainstream but authoritative sources, the U.S. invasion of Panama on December 20, 1989, received inadequate and erroneous news coverage. It now appears that the legal implications of the invasion, the Bush-Noriega relationship and the actual post-invasion conditions in Panama have all been misrepresented to the American people. But perhaps the most fraudulent news coverage dealt with the true numbers of civilian and combat fatalities.

Official accounts spoke of 202 dead Panamanian civilians, 314 dead Panamanian sol­diers, and 23 dead Americans. The press was oddly silent two months after the invasion when a Southern Command official acknowledged to the L.A. Times that only 50 Panamanian soldiers died. And, American soldiers reported that at least 60 to 70 Americans were killed, possibly many more. Apparently some combat deaths were disguised as accidental deaths unrelated to the invasion. The new findings indicate that the U.S. lost more soldiers than Panama. Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) has challenged the government figure of 202 dead civilians and former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark has put the figure at 3,000, using the phrase “conspiracy of silence” to describe efforts to bury the true civilian death toll. The official U.S. report was based on unconfirmed battlefield observations and mortuary and hospital statistics. PHR’s investiga­tion tallied burial sites, mortuaries, hospital records, and interviews with officials.

In addition to Stealth aircraft dropping 2000-pound bombs, U.S. soldiers are reported to have directly fired upon civilian homes with machine guns, rockets, and tanks in the barrio of El Chorillo surrounding Noriega’s headquarters. U.S. soldiers evacuated apartments and summa­rily burned them to the ground. Witnesses reported U.S. troops killing wounded civilians with either gunshots or rifle-butts to the head.

CBS’s “60 Minutes,” in a September 1990 expose, reported the existence of at least six yet-to-be-exhumed mass graves to conclude that Panamanian civilian deaths could run as high as 4,000. The findings of many watch groups support the “60 Minutes” casualty report. Peace and Justice in Panama, The Central American Human Rights Commission, Panamanian National Human Rights Commission, Panamanian Episcopal Commission and the National Lawyers Guild all calculate the death toll to range from two to four thousand.

The actual death toll has been obscured through U.S. military practices of incineration of corpses prior to identification, burial of remains in common graves prior to identification, and U.S. military control of administrative offices of hospitals and morgues, as well as the removal of hospital and morgue registries from their original sites. The U.S. retained direct and full control of Panamanian media until mid-February. U.S. journalists were sequestered in military barracks for the first 36 hours of the invasion and then saw only official authorized sites.


SOURCE: Panama Delegation Report, AP 189 Paseo Estudiantes, San Jose, Costa Rica, DATE: 3/1/90

AUTHOR: Central American Human Rights Commission

SOURCE: SAN FRANCISCO BAY GUARDIAN, 520 Hampshire St., San Francisco, CA 94110-1417, DATE: 9/26/90

TITLE: “The hidden body count”

AUTHOR: Jonathan Franklin

SOURCE: CBS NEWS, “60 Minutes,” 524 West 57th St., New York, NY 10019, DATE: 9/30/90

TITLE: “Victims of Just Cause”


SOURCE: Guatemalan Human Rights Commission, USA, 1359 Monroe St., NE, Washington, DC 20017, DATE: 6/30/90 (Letter to The Washington Post)

TITLE: “How Many Died in Panama?”

AUTHOR: Joanne Heisel

SOURCE: THE NATION, 72 Fifth Ave., New York,, NY 10011, DATE: 6/18/90

TITLE: “The Press and the Panama Invasion”

AUTHOR: Marc Cooper

COMMENTS: Journalist Jonathan Franklin raised the issue of the media’s willingness to obey the military’s dictates of “pool coverage” while Grahame Russell warned that “faulty, complicit press coverage of … injustice contributes directly to human rights violations, that is to say human suffering.”