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referred, when the mediation proposal was very much an alive idea. If memory serves me correctly, one of the things that would have been—and I believe was-discussed in terms of the possible outcome would be that if President Somoza lost the plebescite, would he leave the country, would he resign. I believe that was discussed there at the meeting, but I submit that that is very different from asking President Somoza to resign.
Mr. HUBBARD. General McAuliffe, do you recall hearing Mr. William Bowdler tell President Somoza that his resignation would be in the best interests of the stability of Central America? Yes or no.
General MCAULIFFE. No, sir, not in my presence.
Again, let me say that my purpose was as I have previously expressed it, the meeting was rather lengthy and, as I recall, was largely taken up by General Somoza in an explanation by him of the situation in Nicaragua and of his position on the entire plebescite process. This was before he announced his opposition to that process.
Mr. HUBBARD. Congressman Dornan? Mr. DORNAN. General McAuliffe, good to see you again. General, I thought we had learned a very, very hard lesson in Vietnam, sending high-ranking military officers, trained, and trained quite well, to fight wars in political situations. It ended up in the Kennedy years with the ultimate--but nobody intended the death of Diem. But it ended up in finding Diem and his brother executed by a crew that we had encouraged, according to a 4-hour NBC white paper. It had been discussed in the Cabinet Room, and the President himself, in that case, President John F. Kennedy, said, are there any objections to encouraging this coup?
Ted Sorensen told me himself that in an interview. And the result was beheading a country that was then under severe Communist attack. We picked up a moral obligation and went through a series of Air Force attacks and ended up with a guy who runs a restaurant in Paris and who wore a little goatee and a top hat. I thought we had learned that lesson.
Now, I see you were sent, and I am sure you were acting as an honorable citizen, but I do not think that you should be in discussions with a head of a Central American country, whether or not he should resign; whether before or after a plebescite.
I have gotten this from several ambassadors off the record and they have begged me to let them remain anonymous. Two years after your visit down there, a really ugly scene happened in Iran. I understand that the President asked General Haig before he resigned to go down to Iran and tell the generals there not to arrange a coup. Despite all of our international power, we were playing the Pat Darien-Mark Schneider game.
General Haig turned him down, so he sent a four-star general and the Air Force Command, who was probably a decent and honorable man. He described his associations with some of the pilots he had. Then there was this ugly kangaroo execution trial the night before he was—in Iran. One of the victims told this story to the kangaroo court; that the U.S. general came down, met with some of them down there to encourage them to believe in the ayatollah. All those men are dead now.
I wonder if we are not playing a desperate game. If General Somoza is gunned down or blown up, under this Operation Astronaut that we were told about yesterday, whether you will not be left the military fall guy holding some diplomatic policy instead of commanding the south, which you told me was our last outpost from the Rio Grande to the Antarctic. You said you would defend that and defend the canal. We discussed that; that is why we needed this treaty, to keep the canal open, defensible and free.
I responded that the canal was open and free. You told me it was defensible.
I would like to ask you this question:
Do you believe if we decided to give the canal to Panama tomorrow that Nicaraguan ships would be allowed to pass through it the very moment that-would Nicaragua have any access to that canal?
General MCAULIFFE. There seem to be two aspects to your question, Congressman.
First, whether the canal is defensible and, second, whether when Panama should ever take it over, they would permit a Nicaraguan ship through.
The canal is defensible. But I must define that to say that our military forces are prepared, have been prepared and can keep the canal from being destroyed by a hostile force.
However, no matter what kind of a force we would put into the Canal Zone, and during World War II we had as much as 67,000 troops in that area, whatever kind of force we put in there could not, if we were in a hostile environment, give a guarantee that we could keep the canal open; that is, today, without interruption of its use by commercial shipping.
We could, of course, from a military point of view, if we should have a hostile environment around the Canal Zone, put air and sea escorts around ships and literally drive them through the canal as we drove ships and barges and the like through the Mekong River in Southeast Asia. But that is a very costly way to go and obviously would not be looked upon very long and favorably by the shipping industry. Mr. DORNAN. If I may interrupt, may I get into a- I did not get
I this from a classified source—but immediately after the Panama Canal Treaty went through, and I was one of the few Congressmen on the Senate floor that day watching that hairsplitting victory, the word leaked out of Panama that—the State Department leaked it only for domestic use—that Torrijos had a plan to sink ships at either the mouth of the isthmus, which certainly would not have been beyond his control. That is exactly what he was going to do if the Senate vote had gone two votes the other way.
heard from unclassified sources these stories? General MCAULIFFE. We have heard stories like that. As a matter of fact, General Torrijos talked in a publicized session a day or two after that vote. He was talking obviously for the benefit of the Panamanians and specifically for the benefit of the members of his Guardia Nacional to try to pat them on the back and tell them that, now they have the treaty and that he would have called upon them to do such damage as you have indicated if the treaty vote had gone the other way.
Mr. DORNAN. If he would say that afterward, of course, under article 52 of the Vienna Conference of 1969—again, people laugh about this--our power compared to Panama; if they had done that behind the scenes, to Bunker and Linowitz, that would have violated the treaty under the International Canons of Law before we even went into the treaty.
The point I am trying to make-and I think you have grasped this because we have talked about it before-the canal is open.
If the treaty is not passed, it will stay open. But I maintain that Panama, even under its constituted government today—and I think it is shifting to the left very quickly-would run discriminatory policies as Egypt did against Israel.
As a matter of fact, Torrijos is the kind of man who would make a snap decision about Israel on the other side of the world and not let Israel transit the canal. I think we are headed for one mess.
Before my time runs out, either I or someone else asked you in February of 1977 if it was true that Senor Manuel Noriega had been used in the planting of the bomb in the Canal Zone that you were commissioned to protect in, I believe, October of 1976. I believe when we asked the then Ambassador Taylor if that was true, he said, yes, and that he went over and expressed outrage himself quietly, behind the scenes, to the then appointed president and to Omar Torrijos.
Is this the same Noreiga we have been hearing about yesterday and today, and do you personally believe that he did engage in setting bombs in our Canal Zone 3 years ago?
General MCAULIFFE. We have never been able to solve that bomb case. It must be the same Noriega you are talking about. He is very well known, but we have not been able to determine precisely who set those bombs. There were lots of rumors that we really have never been able to check out, that the G-2 section was behind this.
But by the same token, there is also rumor and partial evidence that there may have been another group involved in it. It is just one of those things that we will never know.
I would like to address one point you raised, and that is whether Torrijos would let a Nicaraguan vessel through. Panama does not get complete control of the canal until the year 2000. We just cannot answer that question now. Obviously, Torrijos will not be around and we are hard pressed to know what the nature of the Panama Government will be at that time.
Mr. DORNAN. Mr. Grove, I do not mean not to ask you questions, but I have established an acquaintance with the general. I just believe that we have boxed ourselves into a corner by ignoring the House's role. I discussed this with the President. I could see this coming and I was a freshman last year.
I heard the discussion with The Washington Post about whether the President or Tip O'Neill is going to prevail or whether the vote even comes up, which is fascinating, whether or not the votes are there. You have noticed Congressmen coming in all day long, taking a look at the panel, the guns.
The State Department recommended against it. So did other Government agencies. But I think it flushes out the issue.
All I am attempting to do is to go back to the 1930's and to the expressions and—they were defending the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, a beautiful name, going over to Spain-and we are still terrified and uncomfortable in using the word "conspiracy,” even a small Caribbean conspiracy. I note that Torrijos is not a very bright man, like the ghost of Che Guevera and most recently, Mr Castro himself.
Mr. HUBBARD. Thank you.
Just to pursue this question of the defensibility of the canal, if I might, General, I believe you have indicated in statements previously that you could stop the canal from being conquered, as it were, by someone; but you could not insure that it be kept open.
We have mentioned the possibility or the probability of ships being sunk in the entrances. I presume the gates, the dams, may be very vulnerable to weaponry of one kind or another.
Could you, without getting into some area that you are not permitted to discuss, could you address that subject?
General MCAULIFFE. I would be pleased to. There are a couple of sensitive points about the canal itself that I would wish to avoid in an open discussion; but I can say that these critical points of the canal, the locks, the dams, the things that, if seriously damaged, would destroy the canal, drain the lakes, and prohibit the use of that canal, these works of the canal were very well made, very well put together.
They can indeed be defended and it would take a rather major effort by a saboteur or anyone else to destroy them.
But having said that, I can also say that it would not take much of an effort to temporarily disable, say, one of the lock gates, and that would be one means of sabotage that would be very difficult to defend against because just a wrench in a gear box could cause that kind of thing.
But when we talk about the possibility of disrupting the canal by a hostile force, the force does not have to be very strong and does not have to reach the canal itself. It can stand off beyond the Canal Zone boundary, which is 5 miles from the centerline of the canal except in the lake area, and lob in mortar rounds or recoilless rifle rounds or something like that. Even if they did not hit anything, just lobbing those into the centers where the canal operating employees are working, and there are several such centers, would scatter those employees and by that scattering, render the canal useless until such time as you could get them all back on the job again.
So that the opportunities to disrupt the canal operations by a small military or paramilitary force are rather limitless down there.
Mr. Bowen. Thank you, General.
I have gathered that there are some who feel, without saying so explicitly, that if we lost our right to remain in Panama through failure to pass legislation, for example, or in some other manner violating the treaties, that we could always stay down there under the forces under your command, for example. And I think it is enlightening to know that it would be an extremely difficult matter to keep the canal open.
Certainly, we could stay there if we wanted to use force, although I do not think many Americans would support that course of action. But the matter of keeping the canal open, which we all want to do, would be extremely difficult.
Did either one, or both, of you have the opportunity to hear the testimony of retired General Sumner? Were you here?
General McAULIFFE. Yes,
Mr. BOWEN. If I could ask you, General, or Mr. Grove, either, he seemed to indicate that if we failed to pass any legislation or in some other manner violated the treaty, and if that repudiated the treaties and our obligation under them, and if Panama under international law terminated the treaties and invited us to remove our troops and personnel, that somehow or other we could all get together and Panama would agree to some international administration of the canal.
I wonder if you might comment what you think might happen. Do you see that sort of attitude on the part of Panama?
General MCAULIFFE. I certainly do not see that attitude at the present time, sir.
I believe that if implementing legislation should not be passed, there will be an adverse reaction, first of all, by the canal employees who are depending on that legislation for their future jobs and welfare, and by the military forces who are depending on it as well.
There are several very essential provisions in the legislation. Getting to the point, I believe the canal employees would themselves probably cause the canal to stop operating. Then you would have an adverse reaction as well from Panama.
I believe that instead of coming into the zone with flowers and flags, which I understand to be under consideration by groups of Panamanians, the Panamanians may be coming in with rocks in their hands on October 1, laying claim to those areas that are to be released to Panama under the terms of the treaty, and otherwise expressing their complete opposition to the course of events.
I would also say, since we have been discussing Mr. Castro here earlier today, that such an event would give Castro ample basis to tell Torrijos and other leaders of Latin American countries, “I told you not to trust those gringos."
Mr. BOWEN. So you feel there is no likelihood, then, that Panama would be quite as cooperative as was suggested this morning, and would be delighted to sit down and work out an international arrangement which would, in a sense, dispose of the treaties we are not looking at?
General MCAULIFFE. No, sir, I do not. I think it would serve to encourage those more radical elements in the country to seek an early exit of the United States from that area.
Mr. BOWEN. Mr. Chairman, if I might make one further comment, I believe Congressman Dornan of California has certainly given the strongest possible argument for supporting the implementing legislation.
He has pointed out that he simply does not trust Torrijos or the Panama Government to maintain the neutrality and openness of access to the canal to all nations.
I think that, of course, would be a very, very strong argument for passing the implementing legislation and ensuring that the United States of America will run the canal for the next 20 years, and