A lawyer for a codefendant of deposed Panamanian dictator Manuel Antonio Noriega charged yesterday that "elements" in the U.S. government have secretly removed documents potentially embarrassing to the United States from records seized in the U.S. invasion of Panama.
In court papers filed in U.S. District Court in Miami, where Noriega and others face drug-smuggling charges, attorney Michael J. O'Kane said an inventory of documents seized in the U.S. invasion and turned over to defense lawyers in the Noriega case is a "fabrication" that does not include "potentially thousands of pages of" records that were obtained by U.S. authorities.
O'Kane represents Daniel Miranda, a Noriega codefendant charged with flying drug money from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Panama in 1983.
Thousands of internal Panamanian military and government files as well as personal records of Noriega were recovered by U.S. forces during the December invasion and remain in Panama under the control of the U.S. Army's 470th Military Intelligence Brigade.
Diane Cossin, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in Miami, declined comment yesterday, saying prosecutors had not seen O'Kane's filing.
Cossin has said that documents the government intends to use in the Noriega case have been set aside in Panama for review by defense lawyers.
O'Kane said a representative of his who went to Panama to inspect documents found "wadded up in one of the boxes as garbage" a "secret" inventory that itemizes many more seized files than those listed in the inventory provided by prosecutors.
O'Kane attached to his court papers a copy of what he said was the "secret" inventory, which appears to be five pages long and includes files for the Panamanian military intelligence, known as G-2, "intelligence summaries by military zone" and records on "political parties."
O'Kane said in the court papers that he is not sure whether the U.S. attorney's office in Miami was aware of the existence of the second, "secret" inventory or whether it "was the victim of a coverup, effectuated in Panama, by unknown elements within the government of the United States."
He asked the court to order the government to preserve all documents listed in the "secret" inventory and to make those records available to the defense.
Cossin confirmed that prosecutors in January had provided defense lawyers with an inventory of documents, but she declined to say whether that inventory cited all the files seized in the invasion.
Cossin has previously said she did not believe the government's lawyers would show defenses lawyers everything that was seized. She said she believed the defense would be allowed to see only files relevant to the criminal case.
The Washington Post reported last month that U.S. Army intelligence officials were concerned that the Central Intelligence Agency may have tampered with documents seized in the invasion. A senior Justice Department official said the department had no evidence that any documents had been improperly removed.