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Published:April 10th, 2009 10:17 EST
Noriega to be extradited to France

Noriega to be extradited to France

By S Renee Greene

* Honorable Jane A. Restani, Chief Judge of the United States Court of International Trade, sitting by designation.

General Manuel Antonio Noriega was today denied his appeal for extradition to France, where he was convicted in absentia of using the proceeds of illegal drug trafficking to engage in financial transactions (what we would call money laundering) in violation of the French Customs Code.


Noriega will have the opportunity to challenge this conviction and seek a new trial upon his surrender to France. Noriega invoked the Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, (the Geneva Convention of Aug. 12, 1949), in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, which determined that Noriega`s Geneva Convention rights will not be violated by his extradition to France.


Noriega, who was indicted in the Southern District of Florida in 1988, was convicted in 1992 on federal racketeering (RICO) conspiracy, and on conspiracy to manufacture, import and distribute cocaine. He was sentenced to a total of 40 years in prison and three years on special parole. Designated a prison of war according to the Third Geneva Convention, which reduced his sentence to 30 years, he was scheduled for release in September of 2007.


The French government requested that the United States file a complaint to have Noriega extradited pursuant to an extradition treaty. Noriega filed an answer stating that his rights under the Third Geneva Convention were being violated. The petition was denied because Noriega was not challenging the sentencing, but the extradition as a stand-alone.


The district court, reasoning on merit alone, decided that the United States had satisfied its international obligations under the Geneva Convention and that it had no further obligation to Noriega. He was certified to be extradited to France in August of 2007; however, he again filed a petition for writ of Habeas Corpus because he claimed that the U.S. had not satisfied its obligation under Article 12 by ascertaining whether or not France would accord him the same rights under the Convention.


Lack of jurisdiction was invoked by the court because Noriega did not file a new civil action, but a writ for the extradition only. The district court concluded that the Third Geneva Convention did not bar Noriega`s extradition to France, and Noriega again appealed and was denied in January 2008.


Article 1 of the extradition treaty between the United States and France, entitled Obligation to Extradite, states that [t]he Contracting States agree to extradite to each other, pursuant to the provisions of this Treaty, persons whom the competent authorities in the Requesting State have charged with or found guilty of an extraditable offense. Extradition Treaty, U.S.-Fr., art. 1, Apr. 23, 1996, S. Treaty Doc. No. 105-13 (2002).


There is no applicable law under the Extradition Treaty which would preclude Noriega`s custodial release to France. However, Noriega argues that Article 118 of the Third Geneva Convention mandates immediate repatriation to Panama, as his term of imprisonment in the United States is complete. Article 119 takes exception to prisoners of war against whom criminal proceedings for an indictable offence are pending may be detained until the end of such proceedings, and, if necessary, until the completion of the punishment.


The same shall apply to prisoners of war already convicted for an indictable offence. It is apparent that the drafters of the Convention did not mean for those subject to criminal proceedings to be automatically released under its guidelines.


The bad news for Noriega is that precedent has already put forth that the Convention is not to be misconstrued as a source of personal rights (as with habeas, where it lacks jurisdiction), but that it is to be taken as a treaty agreement between nations of how to treat prisoners of war who are captured and detained outside of their homeland and under what conditions and circumstances they may be released.


Though the Fourth Convention does mention certain obligations with regard to transfer of prisoners, the Circuit Court declined to make a decision that would, in essence, draw a line of demarcation between the treatment of civilians and war prisoners.


The district court has determined that the U.S. has met its obligation of duty. Noriega`s imprisonment and subsequent release appears not to fit any of these scenarios, according to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. The district court`s decision was affirmed.