The Noriego tapes

November 15, 1990|By The Atlanta Constitution

WHAT POSES the real threat to Manuel Antonio Noriega's right to a fair trial?

Is it the airing by Cable News Network of a few leaked recordings of privileged conversations between the ousted Panamanian dictator and his legal defense team?

Or is it the bald fact that federal agents taped an unknown nubmer of telephone discussions involving Noriega and his attorney and legal staff, and thus may possess important clues as to the direction his defense strategists will take, clues that a prosecutor could use, if he were so minded, to parry effectively his adversary's courtroom thrusts?

The latter possibility seems a far more plausible menace to a fair hearing for the accused drug trafficker Noriega than the off-chance that potential jurors might be swayed by his conversations as broadcast by CNN.

The proceeding, after all, was meant to be a culmination of one of the objectives President Bush set for the country in invading Panama last December. It is vital that the case be won. It is no less vital that the trial be perceived around the world as fair.

Alas, it's not likely to work out that way. The feds could hardly have done a better job of jeopardizing the case if they tried.

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