Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Tomorrow, January 14, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, GA is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case of General Manuel A. Noriega, the former dictator of Panama, who is fighting his extradition to France under a 1909 extradition treaty between the U.S. and France. In 1992, Gen. Noriega was convicted of various drug-related crimes in U.S. District Court in Miami. He completed his sentence in September 2007. However, he has remained in prison in the United States while fighting an extradition request by France, which wants to try Noriega on charges of money laundering. Noriega would prefer to return to Panama, where he would also face trial on various charges, apparently because his age (73) would allow him to serve any sentence at home rather than in prison. Noriega is arguing that his status as a Prisoner of War (POW) under the Geneva Conventions (GC), which status the U.S. District Court granted him in 1992, requires the U.S. to repatriate him to Panama upon the completion of his sentence rather than extradicting him to France. Noriega lost that argument at the District Court level and has appealled to the Eleventh Circuit.
GC III relating to POWs does not appear to directly address this legal issue. Article 118 of GC III relating to POWs does set forth a general rule that POWs be repatriated after the cessation of hostilities. However, Article 119 states that POWs may be detained longer pending criminal proceedings and completion of punishment. Article 119 may be read to permit further criminal prosecution by France because it states: "Prisoners of war against whom criminal proceedings for an indictable offense are pending may be detained until the end of such proceedings." Noriega has been indicted in France and criminal proceedings are pending there.
GC IV relating to protections for civilians during armed conflict contains provisions allowing the transfer of detained persons to other states that are also parties to the GCs and that pledge to respect the GCs. France is a party to the GCs and has given assurances to the United States that it will respect the GCs in the case of Noriega. Accordingly, these provisions from GC IV may be used to inform the analysis under GC III and allow the transfer of Noreiga to France.
It may be some months before the Eleventh Circuit issues its decision in this interesting case involving the interplay between the 1949 GCs and a prior extradition treaty.