Foto de archivo del dictador panameño Manuel Antonio Noriega (izq) mientras saluda a las tropas en una localización no identificada en Panamá, en 1985. EFE
Photo file of Panamanian dictator Manuel Antonio Noriega (left) while greeting the troops in an unidentified location in Panama, in 1985. EFE

[OP-ED]: Insanity, Common Sense and Mandatory Sentencing

Tucked down in some news coverage about the recent death of Manuel Noriega, the former dictator of Panama, were accounts of the 1989 U.S. invasion of that…


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That full-scale U.S. military invasion to nab Noriega for trial on federal criminal charges, some related to drug trafficking, caused massive destruction in Panama, from civilian deaths to destroyed homes and businesses. 

The civilian death toll ranged wildly from a low of 200 proclaimed by the U.S. military to 500 by United Nations accounting to nearly 3,000 according to Latin American human rights organizations.

Whatever the exact number of innocent Panamanians who perished during that U.S. invasion, the reality is America – its military, its mainstream media, members of Congress and officials in the White House including then President George H.W. Bush – treated that death and destruction in Central America as mere collateral damage…acceptable for the greater good of apprehending a brutal, drug dealing dictator.

Collateral damage in American military parlance is incidental death and/or damage during an attack on a legitimate military target.

Lost in that casual dismissal of Panamanian death and destruction as collateral damage are disturbing facts like American foreign policy initiatives often involve collaborations with known big-time drug dealers and those collaborations dump tons of drugs on American streets (inner-city, suburban and rural) that cause Drug War domestic devastation routinely excused as: collateral damage. 

The U.S. personnel responsible for domestic collateral damage from drug-drenched foreign policy are rarely if ever held accountable.

Take then President George H.W. Bush who ordered the invasion to arrest the clearly brutal and double-dealing Noriega. Bush knew or should have known about Noriega’s nefarious criminal conduct since Noriega was a highly paid CIA asset and Bush once headed the CIA. 

But Bush was never called on the official carpet for the covert collaborations with drug traffickers that occurred on his watch.

Drugs from foreign policy collaborations, like with Noriega, contributed to the flood of cocaine that washed across America during the 1980s. Violence from that cocaine tidal wave, particularly crack cocaine in inner cities, led to legislative lynch-mob resurrections of mandatory minimum sentencing.

Those draconian/discriminatory sentencing laws – that received bi-partisan political support –triggered the epidemic of mass incarceration. That epidemic in turn drained tax coffers at federal and state levels without clear evidence of reductions in either violent crime or widespread drug use.

Today, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has ordered federal prosecutors to seek maximum sentences, reversing a years long trend toward common sense in corrections like eliminating mandatory sentencing.

Equally absurd is some Pennsylvania state legislators, mainly Republican, are pushing a return of mandatories for drug crimes that will increase prisons costs by millions at a time when Pa state government is facing a severe budget deficit resulting in cuts in vital areas like – drug treatment.

Isn’t a definition of insanity doing the same thing the same way and expecting a different result?

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