JUDGE William Hoeveler, who is presiding over the Noriega trial in Miami, issued an order Thursday that disappointed government lawyers but emphasized the determination of American courts to give a fair trial to the former Panamanian ruler. The judge required the government to make a complete accounting of all Gen. Noriega's assets that have been seized. Not only is it reasonable for the government to tell the defendant which of his bank accounts have been frozen, it is absolutely necessary. For without access to this information the general will be unable to retain the attorneys he has chosen for his defense.
Under the provisions of this country's drug laws, the government can seize the assets of an accused person if those assets were accumulated as a result of illegal activity. If the accused is convicted, the assets become the property of the United States. Immediately after Gen. Noriega was arrested in December, this government seized not only personal property, real estate, cars and cash in Panama but Swiss bank accounts as well. Prosecutors acknowledge that the frozen accounts contain about $20 million. Gen. Noriega, though, claims that at least $11 million of that money was earned legitimately for his services to U.S. intelligence agencies. He has to have an accounting so that he can press for the return of this money, which he needs to pay his lawyers. Otherwise, he will have to rely on a court-appointed lawyer who may not be familiar with drug trafficking cases or the facts of this complicated and international alleged conspiracy.
In another challenge to the government, a lawyer for one of Gen. Noriega's codefendants has filed a motion demanding a full accounting of all trial-related documents seized by the United States during the Panama invasion. The prosecution is under an obligation to provide this information to the defendants, and Gen. Maxwell Thurman, commander of U.S. forces in Central America, has given assurances that no one has tampered with the documents. But the defense suggests that some material that might prove embarrassing to U.S. intelligence organizations has been removed. It is important that the accounting be provided without delay and that the court supervise this matter carefully.
It has been clear from the day Gen. Noriega was indicted that providing him a full and fair trial in this country would be a complicated endeavor. And surely government lawyers must have realized that information the United States would just as soon keep secret will have to come out in court. But having taken this course, the prosecutors cannot trim, shortchange the defendant or attempt to undermine -- whether in open court or otherwise -- his right to due process. He acquired that right the moment he set foot in Texas and was taken into custody.