Manuel Noriega's lawyers say the former Panamanian dictator has evidence that the U.S. government plotted to assassinate him, and they demanded government documents they said would bolster his account.
Prosecutors immediately objected to further discussion in open court, saying any such material would be classified, and a federal judge agreed.The CIA refused to comment directly on the allegations Tuesday but noted a presidential order bars assassinations.
Defense lawyers in Noriega's drug and racketeering case seek documents seized by the United States during the December 1989 invasion of Panama.
Among those documents, attorney Frank Rubino said during a hearing Tuesday, should be evidence of U.S. plots against Noriega and his predecessor, Gen. Omar Torrijos, who ruled the country from 1968 until he died in a plane crash in 1981.
"General Noriega has in his possession documents showing attempts to assassinate Gen. Noriega and Mr. Torrijos by agencies of the United States," said Rubino. He asked the government to turn over any similar evidence gathered in Panama.
He was quickly interrupted by Assistant U.S. Attorney James McAdams, who said a public request for such documents is barred by the Classified Information Procedures Act.
U.S. District Judge William Hoeveler agreed that questions about assassination plots - as well as documents regarding Noriega's meeting with then-Vice President Bush and other U.S. officials - must be cleared by a court security officer.
Hoeveler said he would decide by Friday which documents, if any, should be handed over to the defense.
Rubino did not detail the alleged assassination attempts and refused to comment further outside the courtroom because of the judge's ruling.
Under U.S. law, "no person employed by, or acting on behalf of the U.S. government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassinations," CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield said.