While U.S. forces fought in Panama, the Bush administration prepared to explain JUST CAUSE to the American people. The Policy Coordinating Committee (PCC) of the National Security Council laid the groundwork. Committee members included Brigadier General David C. Meade of J-5; Bernard Aronson, State Department; Richard Brown, OSD; and William Price, NSC. Having learned only hours before of the decision to execute JUST CAUSE, the PCC members worked in the White House Situation Room during the evening of 19 December and the early morning of 20 December. They drafted talking papers for the President and the Secretary of State to use in briefing congressional leaders and answering press questions. They also helped prepare the speech that the President would deliver on national television later that morning.
At 0700 President Bush spoke to the nation:
Fellow citizens, last night I ordered U.S. military forces to Panama....For nearly two years the United States, nations of Latin America and the Caribbean have worked together to resolve the crisis in Panama. The goals of the United States have been to safeguard the lives of Americans, to defend democracy in Panama, to combat drug trafficking, and to protect the integrity of the Panama Canal Treaty. Many attempts have been made to resolve the crisis through diplomacy and negotiations. All were rejected by the dictator of Panama, General Manuel A. Noriega, an indicted drug trafficker.
Last Friday Noriega declared his military dictatorship to be in a state of war with the United States and publicly threatened the lives of Americans in Panama. The very next day forces under his command shot and killed an unarmed American serviceman, wounded another, arrested and brutally beat a third American serviceman and then brutally interrogated his wife, threatening her with sexual abuse. That was enough.
General Noriega's reckless threats and attacks upon Americans created an imminent danger to the thirty-five thousand American citizens in Panama. As President I have no higher obligation than to safeguard the lives of American citizens. And that is why I directed our armed forces to protect the lives of Americans citizens in Panama and to bring General Noriega to justice in the United States ....
I took this action only after reaching the conclusion that every other avenue was closed and the lives of American citizens were in grave danger .....
In an interview with the New York Times, Secretary of State Baker discussed the legal justification for U.S. intervention in Panama. Both Article 51 of the United Nations Charter and Article 21 of the Organization of American States Charter recognized the right of self defense that entitled the United States to take appropriate measures to defend U.S. military personnel, U.S. nationals, and U.S. installations. Not only had Panama declared the existence of a state of war and brutalized U.S. citizens, but reports indicated that Noriega supporters were preparing to attack U.S. citizens in residential neighborhoods. Furthermore, the United States had the right and duty under Article IV of the Panama Canal Treaty to protect and defend that strategically important waterway. Finally, the elected government of Endara, Arias Calderon, and Ford welcomed the U.S..