Noriega takes extradition fight to appeals court

/ Source: The Associated Press

Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega has asked a U.S. appeals court to overrule three federal judges and block his extradition to France to face money-laundering charges.

Attorneys for Noriega, 73, want the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta to allow him to return home to Panama. As before, they argue that Noriega is a prisoner of war and should be repatriated under the Geneva Conventions.

"Plainly, the prisoner of war convention requires the immediate return home of prisoners of war at the end of hostilities, subject to completion of any sentence imposed for crimes," attorneys Frank Rubino and Jonathan May argued in the brief filed Monday.

Three federal judges in Miami have previously rejected that argument, concluding that France's extradition request is proper. The Bush administration has argued in favor of extradition and that the Geneva Conventions do not apply.

Noriega, once a valuable CIA asset in Latin America, was ousted after a 1989 U.S. military invasion of Panama as his government became increasingly linked to Colombian cocaine cartels. Noriega was tried and convicted of drug racketeering in a Miami federal court.

Money laundering charges
In September, just as his sentence was up, France suddenly announced it wanted to try Noriega for allegedly laundering $3 million in drug proceeds through French banks. Panama also has a pending extradition request for Noriega, but it has been ignored by the U.S.

While imprisoned near Miami, Noriega was convicted in France of drug money laundering. But the French have said he will get a new trial if extradited and faces a possible 10-year prison sentence.

A judge has ordered that Noriega remain in the U.S. until his legal appeals are exhausted. A final decision on his extradition rests with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice or her successor.

Noriega has separate quarters in prison, the right to wear his military uniform and insignia, access to a television and monitoring by international rights groups. Senior U.S. District Judge William Hoeveler declared Noriega a prisoner of war after his drug conviction, but Hoeveler and two other judges have ruled that the POW status does not prevent his extradition.