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Digital Subscriptions > Newsweek International > 14th April 2017 > ALL THE PRESIDENT’S STRONGMEN


Some 20 years later, the war in Panama is a cautionary tale about an American president who misled the country for political purposes


“ DID YOU SEND cocaine to the United States?”

Jamás, jamás, jamás!” the man in the orange jumpsuit said. Never, never, never!

It was 1995, and I was inside a federal prison in Miami, interviewing General Manuel Antonio Noriega in a claustrophobic cell. The Panamanian strongman was smaller than I had remembered from when I had tried—and failed—to speak to him years earlier in Panama. He didn’t resemble the machete-wielding murderer the U.S. had made him out to be.

I thought of this encounter in March when I learned Noriega was in a coma after brain surgery in a hospital in Panama City (he remains on a ventilator and in critical condition). After our prison interview, Random House hired me to gather his memoirs for a book. What emerged was less a story about Noriega than a cautionary tale about an American president who misled the country for political purposes.

Following about a year of Miami jailhouse interviews, Random House published the memoir, America’s Prisoner. The publisher paid a flat fee for my work, and I had no financial connection to Noriega. Separately and independently, I evaluated what he had to say and provided more than 70 pages of analysis of U.S. policy leading up to the invasion. To sum up his view of what had happened to him, Noriega said simply, “You have to create a problem in order to solve it.”

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