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11th-hour plan to save Panama Canal

Twenty-two years after the Panama Canal treaties were signed, and
with only a month-and-a-half to go before the transfer is complete, Rep.
Helen Chenoweth-Hage, R-Idaho, has introduced legislation seeking to
nullify the planned turnover of the strategic waterway.

“The Carter-Torrijos treaties are not valid,” Chenoweth-Hage told
WorldNetDaily, adding that there are “very few people standing up to
point out that fact.” Even though time is short, “I don’t think it’s
ever too late to take action on something you know needs to be done,”
she said.

The bill is named the Panama and America Security Act, or H.J. Res.77
— aptly matching the year the treaties were originally signed before
ratification. Co-sponsoring the bill are Rep. John Doolittle, R-Calif.,
Rep. Dave McIntosh, R-Ind., Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, Rep. Cliff
Stearns, R-Fla., and Rep. Charles Taylor, R-N.C.

“It’s a bill that has teeth,” a spokesman for Chenoweth-Hage told
WorldNetDaily. “Other pieces of legislation regarding the canal transfer
were just a consensus of Congress without any substance to them.

“Basically, what this legislation would do is recognize that the
original treaty that was signed in 1903 which gives the United States
full sovereign rights over the Panama Canal and Canal Zone is still in
effect — and that these two other treaties were not legally ratified,
therefore they’re null and void.”

The timing of the bill’s introduction appears to be a symbolic
parting shot. Congress apparently will let the calendar run out on the
last vestiges of U.S. control over one of the world’s most strategic
choke points by leaving town for the holiday recess.

Asked if the legislation will be given emergency treatment before the
canal transfer is completed Dec. 31, the spokesman for Chenoweth-Hage
replied: “No it won’t; the transfer will occur. We will be adjourning,
but we will be coming back in January and we hope this legislation will
begin to reverse the process,” adding they anticipate major opposition
to the bill.

“Carter-Torrijos,” the controversial pact hammered out by President
Carter and Panamanian dictator Omar Torrijos, consists of two separate
treaties signed Sept. 7, 1977 — less than a year after Carter promised,
“I’ll never give up control of the Panama Canal.” On that day, the
wheels were set in motion for the United States to withdraw its armed
forces from Panama and hand over the keys to the canal and military

Asked for comment about efforts to nullify the Carter-Torrijos
treaties, Carrie Harmon, a spokesperson at the Carter Center in Atlanta,
told WorldNetDaily, “President Carter supports the treaties now as he
did when he negotiated them.”

The first treaty put the Panamanian flag in the position of honor at
the canal, terminated any previous agreements and treaties, disposed of
U.S. property without charge, initiated payments to Panama and
established a new U.S. agency called the Panama Canal Commission. The
agency was tasked with running the canal during the scheduled transition
process, which included a drawdown of U.S. military forces standing
guard over the engineering marvel and source of pride for many

In 1990, the Commission became the first U.S. agency to be headed by
a non-citizen. The Panama Canal Treaty terminates Dec. 31, 1999, at noon
Panama time, when complete legal jurisdiction and ownership of the canal
and facilities will go to Panama.

The other treaty, the “Neutrality Treaty,” guarantees the canal will
stay open to all nations in war or peace while granting expeditious
passage to the U.S. and Panama in wartime.

This second treaty, however, is one in which the two nations ratified
different documents, according to the Chenoweth-Hage legislation, which
maintains fundamental conflicts were created when “the United Sates and
Panama did not agree to the same text of the treaties.”

Universal principles of international law concerning treaties hold
that “the parties must agree to the same written text” — or there is no
treaty, according to Chenoweth-Hage.

To gain Senate ratification of the canal treaties, in early 1978
President Carter agreed to the “DeConcini Reservation,” among others.
That amendment gives the U.S. the legal right, with or without Panama’s
consent, to use military force to re-open the canal or restore
operations should the canal be interfered with.

However, according to the Chenoweth-Hage bill, “The United States
Senate was not informed that the president of the United States had
secretly agreed with the regime of Omar Torrijos in Panama not to
include the essential DeConcini Reservation in Panama’s text version;
and, moreover, that the president of the United States added further to
this illegal and unconstitutional action by secretly accepting Panama’s
counter-reservation, which explicitly repudiates the DeConcini
Reservation and subjects United States’ right of military intervention
to ‘principles of mutual respect and cooperation.'”

The neutrality treaty is “doubly void,” says the bill, because
Article V of the treaty “specifies use of defense sites by Panama only,
but Panama is leasing defense sites to a partner of the merchant marine
arm of China’s People’s Liberation Army (Hutchison Whampoa).”

Critics of the treaties also point out that the U.S. Constitution
requires both houses of Congress to vote to dispose of U.S. territory
and property and to terminate a law or treaty, such as the original 1903
Panama Canal treaty. Only the Senate and the president acted in this

On the Panamanian side, the president is required by that nation’s
constitution to sign treaties, but President Demetrio Lakas did not.
Torrijos, alone, signed the canal treaties. Torrijos also did not submit
the six major U.S. changes added to the treaty to a plebiscite vote by
the Panamanian people as required, say critics.

A State Department official told WorldNetDaily he had not seen the
Chenoweth-Hage bill yet, and couldn’t comment on it, but that the Panama
Canal treaties “were carefully worked out in a bi-partisan way more than
20 years ago and has gone through many, many steps to assure that it
would take place.”

Asked if signing treaties with different text rendered them invalid,
the official responded, “The administration certainly, and the bulk of
the Congress are convinced that they are valid and that we are doing the
right thing.”

Commenting on the treaty nullification legislation, former chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Thomas Moorer, told WorldNetDaily,
“Congress may act or it may not, but the chance that it will do so
undoubtedly will be improved by a spirited battle in the courts,”
referring to a lawsuit his organization, U.S. Defense-American Victory,
filed late last month with assistance from Larry Klayman and Judicial
The suit’s plaintiff is dual
Panamanian/American citizen William Bright Marine.

By asserting his rights as a Panamanian, Marine is suing to have our
courts strike down the treaties based on the way in which the Neutrality
Treaty was altered in Panama and not signed by the Panamanian president
in accord with its constitution. The lawsuit cites precedent from old
U.S. cases.

Gen. Gordon Sumner was heavily involved in Latin American military
affairs as chairman of the Inter-American Defense board from 1975 until
the spring of 1978. A three-star general with a promising military
career, Sumner resigned from the army as a matter of honor after
testifying against the Carter-Torrijos treaties. He objects to the canal
treaties negotiated during the Torrijos regime because, he said, “these
are bad contracts with bad people.”

“On a scale of one to 10, the importance of the Panama Canal to the
United States is a nine, and Kosovo is a two,” Sumner told

Regarding the legislation just introduced to nullify the treaties,
Sumner said it is a good move that will both put Clinton on notice, and
the issue in front of the American public. “The treaties in the first
instance were not properly ratified according to the constitutions of
both countries,” he said. “Plus, they have been violated in so many
respects that nullifying them is the proper course.” He questioned,
however, whether we can “walk this cat back,” since the U.S. already has
turned over a lot of property to Panama.

“There is no military capability to protect the canal,” said Sumner,
pointing out that Colombian narco-terrorists recently walked into a
former U.S. air base at the canal and seized two helicopters at

Although reluctant to speculate, Sumner thinks if the U.S. does not
recover what it lost, the nation eventually will be forced into another
invasion of Panama similar to the Noriega-busting “Operation Just

Aside from any security concerns, he said, loss of passage through
the waterway commercially would be “catastrophic.” Sumner videotaped a
U.S. transportation system computer model developed by Los Alamos
national laboratory and showed it to the House in June to demonstrate
the commercial impact that would result from the Panama Canal’s closure.

“If I were a shipper, I’d be making other plans,” he said, adding
that it would be very expensive to go an extra 9,000 nautical miles
around Tierra del Fuego, an area littered with shipwrecks.

Recounting how Carter and his supporters had claimed that if shipping
were ever blocked, the “dry canal” — an inland transportation system —
could handle our commerce, Sumner says that system is at full capacity
now, with a backlog, and “could never handle the enormous tonnage we put
through the Panama Canal.” The Navy requires passage through the canal,
too, he said.

“We’ve got enough carriers from a two-ocean Navy standpoint,” he
said, “but not enough ships. We’ve dropped from 650 ships to
approximately 300.” Sumner explained the necessity of transferring
destroyers, frigates and logistics ships from one ocean to the other in
case of a conflict. “You can’t move a frigate or a destroyer across

There was a “need for a new relationship” with Panama, said Sumner,
but “this was not it.” The strategy of completely abandoning our
position in Panama was, he said, “sheer madness that will come back to
haunt us some day, some way, and sooner rather than later.”

Edward G. Oliver is a contributing editor
to WorldNetDaily.