France has requested the extradition of Manuel Noriega, the former Panamanian dictator, from the United States to face money laundering charges. (Indeed, Noriega was tried in absentia in France, found guilty, and sentenced to ten years imprisonment. France has agreed to re-try him if he is extradited.) Noriega is completing a U.S. sentence next month for drug trafficking and racketeering and wishes to return to Panama to fight charges filed against him there. (Panama does not extradite its nationals, so Noriega would not be in jeopardy of being extradited from Panama to France if he was not convicted in Panama.) On July 23, Noriega filed a petition for writs of habeas corpus, mandamus, and prohibition, asserting that his status as a prisoner of war precludes his extradition. In a ruling yesterday, Judge Hoeveler of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida (the same judge who presided over Noriega's trial) ruled against Noriega, finding that his POW status does not prevent his extradition to another country that is a party to the Geneva Conventions. (The opinion is here. Kenneth Anderson has further commentary here.)
The judge's order does not mean, in and of itself, that Noriega will be extradited to France. Noriega may appeal Judge Hoeveler's ruling to the Eleventh Circuit. Further, the United States (representing France) will need to obtain a certification of extraditability and order of commitment (usually issued by a magistrate judge) before the extradition can take place. Judge Hoeveler's decision today specifically notes that Noriega can renew his arguments, as appropriate, in the extradition proceedings; Noriega can also raise other issues there. Further, the extradition certification, though not appealable, can be challenged in a habeas proceeding before a district court judge, whose ruling can then be appealed. Noriega's extradition (if a certification is in fact issued) will be stayed pending the resolution of any habeas proceedings. During this period, Noriega will, in all likelihood, remain incarcerated, even after he is paroled on his U.S. criminal sentence. All this means that, despite today's ruling, it is unlikely that Noriega will be heading anywhere any time soon.