Estimates of Panamanian Casualties Not a Secret

Regarding the opinion-page column ``What's the Truth on Panama Casualties?,'' Oct. 16: There has been no attempt on the part of the US government to hide the reporting of Panamanian fatalities as a result of Operation Just Cause. Also, there is no basis to allegations of 4,000 or more deaths. Thorough investigations by several human rights groups found no evidence to support allegations of thousands dead. On Jan. 11, 1990, US Southern Command in conjunction with Panama's Institute of Legal Medicine provided an estimate of 202 Panamanian civilian fatalities as a result of Operation Just Cause. The 202 figure was based on visits to each major US and Panamanian hospital and clinic. This figure was released publicly on Jan. 11 and briefed to humanitarian and relief organizations.

At the same time, Southern Command officials provided an estimate of 314 military fatalities as a result of Operation Just Cause. The 314 figure was the operational commander's estimate and was based on data reported by units involved in combat operations.

Since Jan. 11, all queries regarding death figures have been referred to Panama's Institute of Legal Medicine, which provides information regarding Panamanian deaths associated with Operation Just Cause. The accounts are based on recovered remains. In a letter dated June 26, 1990 (which was widely publicized in the Panamanian media), the Institute stated that it had identified 63 military and 157 civilian remains. Another 47 bodies were not identified. In addition to these 267 confirmed fatalities, the Institute holds 93 unresolved reports of missing persons. Since some of the 47 unidentified remains could account for some of the missing persons, the Institute's figures suggest a range of between 267 and a maximum of 360 possible deaths (military and civilian).

With respect to allegations of ``secret mass burials,'' there are only two known instances of Panamanian nationals interred in common graves during Operation Just Cause - one in Panama City (the remains of 123 individuals) and one in Colon (the remains of 18 individuals, of whom eight died as a result of hostilities).

The only instance in which US forces were involved in burying Panamanians who died as a result of Operation Just Cause occurred on Dec. 21, 1989 when, for reasons of public health, the remains of 28 Panamanians were temporarily interred in shallow, individual graves. One week later, those remains were disinterred and turned over to representatives of the Panamanian government for identification and final disposition. Joseph S. Panvini Miami, Colonel, US Air Force, Dept. of Defense, US Southern Command

This article on civilian casualties incurred in Panama during Operation Just Cause cites a ``60 Minutes'' segment that revealed a range of improprieties allegedly conducted or condoned in Panama by the US Army and government. The ``60 Minutes'' story was wrong. There is no Panamanian casualty scandal and no coverup. There were no thousands of corpses and no war crimes. There has been no deception on the part of the US Army. From the time the action took place, Panamanian casualty figures have been accurately reported to the best of all of our abilities. No evidence has been added since December 1989 to substantiate figures other than those that have been affirmed.

The ``official Army document'' that contains what was referred to as a ``secret Army estimate of 1,000 civilian dead'' was neither secret nor an official military position. As the producer of ``60 Minutes,'' Charles Thompson, was told prior to the airing of the program, the memorandum was written by a property-claims officer who had no knowledge or information about Panamanian civilian casualties (casualties meaning ``dead'' or ``injured''). In no possible interpretation does it imply any substantiation of a civilian death toll higher than the figures officially released and referred to above. Michael P.W. Stone, Washington, Secretary of the Army

The accountability of our government has gone unchecked for too long. Senate Bill S2834 and House Bill HR5422, called the ``Intelligence Authorization Act,'' would allow our president to design and carry out covert actions without congressional approval. If allowed to go into effect the American public will be left in the dark with no recourse against immoral actions. Just as the 250 civilian casualties admitted to by our leaders is only the tip of the iceberg, the Panama coverup is just one in a long line of horrendous actions sanctioned by our administration. Ellen Quigley, Goochland, Va.

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