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The United States does not owe damages for failing to protect Panamanian businesses that were looted during the December 1989 invasion, a federal appeals court ruled Friday.

The government is not liable for damage resulting from discretionary policy decisions such as the use of military and law enforcement personnel, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said in affirming a lower court ruling.Numerous businesses had filed 16 lawsuits seeking at least $80 million from the government.

They contended the United States was responsible for looting damage during and after the invasion because it dismantled Panama's only police force - Gen. Manuel Noriega's Panama Defense Force - and left Panamanians virtually unprotected from their fellow citizens.