In 1979, the United States signed a treaty that would gradually turn over control of the Panama Canal zone to the nation in whose territory it was found. But by 1989, the U.S. government was profoundly unhappy with de facto Panamanian military dictator Manuel Noriega. So, then head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel William Barr was given an assignment—come up with a legal justification for the United States to enter a sovereign country, dispose its leader, kidnap him, and bring him to America to stand trial.
Barr did just that. As Political Wire reports, Barr sent Congress a letter on Friday the 13th, 1989, the same day as a massive stock market crash, that concluded that “the FBI could forcibly abduct people in other countries without the consent of the foreign state.” Barr made it seem that this position was the result of a study by the Justice Department and represented the department’s best legal opinion.
But there was a problem. Barr would only provide Congress with “a summary” of that opinion.
Members of Congress asked to see the full legal opinion. Barr refused, but said he would provide an account that ‘summarizes the principal conclusions.’
In the end, Congress actually acted. A subpoena was issued, and the DOJ eventually provided Congress with complete information. What did they discover? That Barr had “significantly misled” Congress, and that his “summary” actually failed to fully disclose the study’s principal conclusions, much less its full opinion on the legality of the proposed action.
But by then, actions had already been taken that could not be reversed.