google.com, pub-6045402682023866, DIRECT, f08c47fec0942fa0
top of page

When Manuel Noriega Was Forced From The Sanctuary Of The Vatican Embassy By The Power Of Rock


On Christmas Day in 1989, General Manuel Noriega, the Panamanian strongman, sought refuge in the Vatican's embassy in Panama City after President George Bush Senior invaded Panama. Noriega faced a US indictment for drug trafficking and allegations of election rigging in 1989.


Noriega had phoned Monsignor Laboa at the Apostolic Nunciature and explained he would appreciate being able to seek sanctuary within; noting that he would otherwise have to flee to the countryside and wage a guerrilla war. Given only ten minutes to decide, Laboa said he did not confer with the Vatican, but agreed to allow Noriega to enter the Nunciature grounds – although from the very start, he confessed that he deceived Noriega, noting that he believed that Panamanian politics necessitated that his own role be to convince Noriega to surrender to the American army, not to grant him asylum within Vatican territory. Laboa later confided he was "surprised and dismayed" that Noriega would choose to seek refuge with the Church


Noriega fled to the Apostolic Nunciature, the de facto embassy of the Holy See, and took refuge there with four others: Lieutenant Colonel Nivaldo Madrinan, head of Panama's secret police; Captain Eliecer Gaitan, who led the special force charged with protecting Noriega; Belgica de Castillo, the former head of the immigration department; and her husband Carlos Castillo.[8][9][10] He turned over the majority of his weapons, and requested sanctuary within.[8] He spent his time in a "stark" room with no air conditioning or television, reading the Bible for the duration of his stay.

Noriega fled to the Apostolic Nunciature, the de facto embassy of the Holy See, and took refuge there with four others: Lieutenant Colonel Nivaldo Madrinan, head of Panama's secret police; Captain Eliecer Gaitan, who led the special force charged with protecting Noriega; Belgica de Castillo, the former head of the immigration department; and her husband Carlos Castillo.


He turned over the majority of his weapons, and requested sanctuary within. He spent his time in a "stark" room with no air conditioning or television, reading the Bible for the duration of his stay.


Despite the US troops surrounding the embassy, Noriega refused to surrender. The US military opted for psychological warfare by continuously playing a barrage of loud rock music outside. Humvees equipped with loudspeakers rolled in, featuring a playlist from the Southern Command Network, including songs like "I Fought The Law" by The Clash, "Panama" by Van Halen, U2's "All I Want Is You," and Bruce Cockburn's "If I Had A Rocket Launcher," Ricky Nelson’s “Poor Little Fool” to “You Shook Me All Night Long” by AC/DC


The full list has been saved for posterity in The George Washington University's National Security Archive (pages 4,5 and 6), while parts of it are available on YouTube.


Perhaps inevitably, The Holy See complained to President Bush, and the musical war was stopped after three days.

Noriega asked permission to phone his wife and three daughters, who had taken refuge in the Cuban embassy; he was assured that they would be flown to exile in the Dominican Republic if he surrendered


On 3 January, Noriega attended Holy Mass in the Nuncio's chapel and took communion; where Laboa's homily was about the thief on the cross who in one moment asked God to change his life, and reportedly brought tears to Noriega's eyes.


After Mass, Noriega retired to his room where he wrote two letters, one to his wife informing her "I go now on an adventure", and the other thanking the Pope and stressing that he believed himself innocent and that he had always acted in the best interests of the Panamanian people and requesting the Pope's prayers.


Noriega dressed in his tan uniform, receiving permission to bring the Nuncio's Bible with him, and went outside into the dark night with three priests who walked with him the fifty paces to the front gate; when he reached the front gate, an American paratrooper named Sgt. Scott Geist confronted Noriega and described him as "a broken man". A number of other soldiers then forced him to the ground and began searching his effects. His wrists were taped behind his back and was led into a waiting American helicopter which took him to Howard Air Force Base.


Monsignor Laboa later told the press that he was proud at having "outwitted" Noriega and convincing him to surrender himself to the Americans, noting "I'm better at psychology"

Noriega is escorted onto a U.S. Air Force MC-130E Combat Talon by agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Marshals Service

It's hard to say if it was The Clash wot won it, but the US Army has often repeated the approach.

In February 1993, law enforcement agents and the military laid siege to a Texas compound belonging to the Branch Davidians cult, trying to arrest its leader David Koresh.


During the 51-day stand-off, it is claimed they played pop music - including Nancy Sinatra's These Boots Are Made for Walkin' - and the sound of jet planes all night. The onslaught included Tibetan chanting and the screams of rabbits being slaughtered.

Marines reportedly blared heavy metal into villages in Marjah for several hours, along with threats to the Taliban.

One officer put it succinctly: There are no obscenities, "but we tell them they're gonna die".


Metallica's Enter Sandman had became a particular favourite at the height of the War on Terror, when US interrogators admitted using music to break the resistance of captives in Iraq. The goal was to deprive them of sleep and offend their cultural sensibilities.

Unco-operative prisoners were exposed to children's TV music from Sesame Street, and the purple singing dinosaur Barney.


Sergeant Mark Hadsell of the Psychological Operations Company (Psy Ops) told Newsweek magazine: "These people haven't heard heavy metal. They can't take it.

"If you play it for 24 hours, your brain and body functions start to slide, your train of thought slows down and your will is broken. That's when we come in and talk to them."


"In training, they forced me to listen to the Barney I Love You song for 45 minutes. I never want to go through that again," one US operative told Newsweek.


UK resident and ex Guantanamo Bay detainee Binyam Mohamed told the Human Rights group Reprieve: "There was loud music, [rapper Eminem's] Slim Shady and Dr Dre for 20 days. [...] Plenty lost their minds. I could hear people knocking their heads against the walls and the doors, screaming their heads off."


Haj Ali, who was also held at Guantanamo, told the Daily Mirror that his captors deliberately played only the title phrase of a David Gray song.


"Babylon... Babylon... Babylon... over and over again. It was so loud I thought my head would burst. It went on for a day and a night," he said.


The United Nations and the European Court of Human Rights have banned the use of loud music in interrogations. The human rights group Amnesty International counts it as a method of torture.

 


bottom of page