MIAMI, DEC. 5 -- Cable News Network announced today it will allow court transcripts of its tape recordings of conversations between former Panamanian leader Manuel Antonio Noriega and his attorneys to be made public without further legal battles.
U.S. District Judge William Hoeveler ruled Tuesday the transcripts could be released Thursday, unless CNN decided to take the case to a higher court.
"CNN has decided not to appeal," network attorney Terry Bienstock said, adding that CNN's primary concern had always been to protect its confidential source. "We don't think the transcripts in and of themselves will jeopardize the source," he said.
The tapes controversy began last month when CNN aired telecasts based on Noriega's telephone conversations. The judge ordered the telecasts stopped pending his review of the tapes, a move CNN opposed as unconstitutional prior restraint of the press. The Supreme Court decided not to intervene, and the judge determined there was no threat to Noriega's right to a fair trial and said the tapes could be aired.
In a related matter, Luis Del Cid, a former Panamanian lieutenant colonel who prosecutors say can tie Noriega directly to drug payoffs, signed a long-delayed plea bargain, his attorney said.
The Justice Department has agreed to oppose deporting or extraditing del Cid on drug-related charges in return for his testimony against Noriega, his attorney, Sam Burstyn, said.