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Ex-president Bush fears Noriega release - lawyer
Updated 6:54 PM ET March 21, 2000
By Jane Sutton

MIAMI (Reuters) - Former President George Bush is trying to block Gen. Manuel Noriega's release from a U.S. prison because he fears the Panamanian strongman wants to kill him, Noriega's attorney said Tuesday.

Noriega attorney Frank Rubino said the assertion was made by Assistant U.S. Attorney Pat Sullivan, who represented the government at a parole hearing for Noriega on Monday.

Rubino quoted Sullivan as telling the parole examiner that he had met Bush and that the former president, who ordered the 1989 U.S. invasion of Panama that resulted in Noriega's arrest, opposed Noriega's early release because he feared for his life.

"(Bush) is in fear for his life and he believes if General Noriega is released from the prison, that he will come kill him," Rubino said, quoting Sullivan.

According to Rubino, Sullivan said Bush asked him to convey his objections to the parole commission.

Bush's spokesman, Gian-Carlo Peressutti, said the former president could not comment. A U.S. attorney's spokeswoman said prosecutors also could not comment on anything that happened at the parole hearing, which was held at a Miami federal prison and closed to the public.

Reuters has submitted a request to the U.S. Parole Commission to obtain transcripts under the Freedom of Information Act.

The U.S. Parole Commission would say only that the hearing was held and that results would be made public when the commission has made its decision.

Rubino said the parole examiner who conducted the hearing would recommend that Noriega remain imprisoned until 2007, but that he be allowed to seek another hearing in two years.

Noriega, 62, is serving a 30-year term for drug trafficking. Under federal guidelines he would be released by Dec. 10, 2007, for good behavior, but the commission could free him earlier.

In deciding whether to do so, the commission generally considers the need for just punishment, the prisoner's risk of recidivism, his conduct in prison, his future plans and his individual circumstances.

Rubino said Noriega's conduct has been good, "recidivism is not an issue," and that Noriega would return to Panama to settle legal charges there and "enjoy his grandchildren" if freed.

Rubino said he submitted letters to the parole commission from former U.S. Ambassador to Panama Arthur Davis, from a former CIA official and from a retired U.S. Air Force colonel supporting Noriega's release.

He called Bush's alleged fears "weird" and questioned if the former president's involvement in a parole matter would violate the constitutional separation of powers.

"George Bush right now is hiding in the closet under a rug, terrified that Noriega will get out and blow him away?" Rubino said. "It is absurd. It is ridiculous."

"How can he be such a wussy?" Rubino said.

Noriega, a one-time U.S. ally and the only prisoner of war in the United States, surrendered to U.S. invasion forces in Panama in 1990. He was brought to Miami, where he was convicted in 1992 of allowing Colombian cartels to use Panama as a transit center for U.S.-bound drugs.

Noriega was initially sentenced to 40 years in prison but a judge reduced that to 30 yeas last year, saying Noriega had served much of his time in near-solitary confinement and had received a harsher sentence than his co-defendants.

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Panama's Noriega to get parole hearing in Miami (Mar 20 4:37 pm ET)


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