Malcolm McConnell asserted {Free for All, June 23} that Colman McCarthy used "transparent hyperbole," "rhetorical excess" and "crudely distorted rumors" when he wrote that "by conservative count, 2,000 Panamanians were killed and thousands more injured" in the U.S. invasion of Panama {Style, May 20}.

McCarthy was not exaggerating. Numerous international organizations have put the invasion death toll in the thousands. The Post article "Panamanians Seek Damages for U.S. Invasion" {May 11} quoted U.S. Southern Command figures of "202 Panamanian civilians and more than 300 soldiers {who} died in the operation." But the next sentence read: "Other groups have reported many more civilian deaths."

The following organizations are some of the "other groups" that dispute official U.S. figures, followed by their estimates of civilian deaths in the U.S. invasion of Panama:

Peace and Justice Service of Panama: 2,000 to 3,000.

Central American Human Rights Commission: 2,000 to 3,000.

Panamanian National Human Rights Commission: 4,000.

Panamanian Episcopal Commission: "At least 3,000."

Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark: "At least 1,000."

National Lawyers Guild: "Thousands."

McConnell found one organization that cited figures similar to the official U.S. count, and that is what he cited. Perhaps it is he, not McCarthy, who "breached the line between journalism and demagoguery."

-- Joanne Heisel

The writer is a member of the Guatemala Human Rights Commission, U.S.A.