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  OPERATION JUST CAUSE -- Panamanian Casualties                                       [p1 of 1]  

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MAJOR EVENTS

-- Panama Canal Treaty Implementation (1979-1999)

Operation Just Cause (Dec 20, 1989 - Jan 12, 1990)

-- Operation Promote Liberty (Jan 12, 1990 - mid-1994)

-- Operation Safe Haven (Sept 1994-Feb 1995)

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-- Engineering Exercises (Fuertes Caminos;  New Horizons)

-- Other Exercises

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-- U.S. Army School of the Americas

-- Inter-American Air Forces Academy

-- Naval Small Craft Instruction and Technical Training School (NAVSCIATTS)

-- Army Jungle Operations Training Center

-- Army Tropic Test Center

-- Inter-American Geodetic Survey

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VIGNETTES

  

OPERATION JUST CAUSE

INVASION OF PANAMA (December 20, 1989)   

PANAMANIAN CASUALTIES

 

Although the total of Panamanian fatalities during Operation Just Cause had been the subject of many inquiries and documentaries with several varying estimates, the official accounting of all Panamanian fatalities from all causes during that time by the Panamanian Institute of Legal Medicine (Panamaís Coronerís office, which is the official Panamanian agency responsible for accounting for unnatural deaths in Panama) showed (as of January 3, 1991) no more than 347 total dead. The Institute identified a total of 272 confirmed dead (65 military and 157 civilians, including several members of Manuel Antonio Noriegaís para-military Dignity Battalions who were considered combatants and not in uniforms. Another 50 bodies could not be positively identified. With 75 unresolved reports of missing persons on file (possibly some of the unidentified remains), Instituteís accounting suggest a maximum of 347 possible deaths. 

There are no credible reports that substantiate claims of up to thousands dead.  

 

SUMMARY OF REPORTING OF PANAMANIAN CASUALTIES DURING OPERATION JUST CAUSE 

 

DATE ACTIONS FATALITIES
Jan 9, 1990 Southern Command's initial estimate announced in SCPA news release 90-1-17) which also stated that Panama's Institute of Legal Medicine reported on Jan 9 that 212 civilians died.

-- Later 18 of those had been determined to be military fatalities (in civilian clothes)

 

220 civilians
Jan 11, 1990 SouthCom, in coordination with Institute of Legal Medicine, announced revised fatalities estimate (SCPA news release 90-1-19):

-- Based on bodies counted (but not positively identified as members of the Panama Defense Forces PDF or the paramilitary Dignity Battalions) during visits to hospitals and clinics

-- Same information briefed Jan 10 to local and international humanitarian and relief organizations

-- Never meant as final accounting; subsequent reporting the responsibility of the Institute of Legal Medicine; also since then, all queries on death figures referred to the Institute (which is under the Public Ministry)

 

202 civilians (revised estimate)
Jan 11, 1990 SouthCom announced estimate of combatants (members of Panama Defense Forces and Dignity Battalions - paramilitary)

-- The operational commander's estimate was based on data reported by units involved in combat operations

-- Since then, all queries on death figures had been referred to the Institute of Legal Medicine

 

314 military
TOTAL SOUTHCOM ESTIMATE OF FATALITIES 

(Never meant to be revised later by SouthCom)

 

516 civilians and military/ combatants
June 26, 1990 Panamanian Government's revised estimate of fatalities announced by Institute of Legal Medicine (to media and by letter to SouthCom; names of the dead were published in Panamanian media June 26-27) 

--Accounts based on recovered remains:

-- 157 civilian remains identified

--  63 military remains identified

--  47 remains unidentified

--  93 unresolved reports of missing persons

-- Since some of the 47 unidentified may account for some of the 93 missing, Institute's figures suggest a range of 267-360 maximum deaths

--No reliable estimate of Panamanian civilians wounded

 

267 confirmed (of which 220 identified)
Nov 7, 1990

(rev Jan 3, 1991)

Panamanian Government's latest revised estimate of fatalities -- by Institute of Legal Medicine to SouthCom: 

-- Accounts based on recovered remains

-- 157 civilian remains identified

--  65 military remains identified

--  50 remains unidentified

--  75 unresolved reports of missing persons

-- Since some of the 50 unidentified may account for some of the 75 missing, the Institute's figures suggest a range from 272 total confirmed dead to a maximum of 347 possible deaths.

 

272 confirmed (of which 220  identified)

 

BURIALS DURING OPERATION JUST CAUSE

As with the often erroneous or speculative reporting or commentaries of Panamanian civilian casualties, baseless allegations abounded of the U.S. forces burying bodies in numerous mass graves in different locations and dumping bodies at sea.  Such allegations had been investigated by U.S. authorities and none judged to be more than baseless in fact.

 

COROZAL CEMETERY in Canal Area (shallow, temporary, individual graves)
-- Only instance of U.S. troops involved in burying Panamanians
-- 28 Panamanian remains temporarily interred Dec 21, 1989 (for reasons of public health) in the Panamanian sector of this U.S.- controlled cemetery.
-- One week later, those remains were disinterred and turned over Panamanian Government for identification and final disposition
-- Those numbers included in the Institute of Legal Medicine's June 26, 1990 figures of fatalities
 

 

ONLY TWO KNOWN INSTANCES OF COMMON GRAVES:
JARDIN DE PAZ CEMETERY (Panama City)
-- 123 remains interred by Panamanian personnel
-- Two exhumations (April 28 and May 5, 1990) by Panamanian personnel
MOUNT HOPE CEMETERY (Colon on Atlantic Side)
-- 18 remains interred by Panamanian personnel
-- One exhumation July 28 by Panamanian personnel
-- Only 8 of the 18 remains determined to have died as result of hostilities
 

 

All the above data had been reported in the Panamanian news media and wire services (provided by the Panamanian government).  The above was published as a fact sheet by the Southern Command in December 1990.  Previous to that publication, media queries to SouthCom on these issues were referred to the appropriate Panamanian authorities for response.

 

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William H. Ormsbee, Jr.  2006

 

 

 

 

 

OPERATION JUST CAUSE CASUALTIES

U.S. Military - 23  (For names GO TO)

U.S. Civilians -  3 (For names GO TO)

Panamanians - 272 confirmed

Military and Paramilitary -    65 confirmed

Panamanian Civilians     -    157 confirmed

Not Identified -  50

75 Reported Missing-unresolved