Remember Manuel Noriega, the former Panamanian general and drug trafficker commonly known as “pineapple face”? He was convicted in 1992 of receiving payoffs in exchange for letting Colombian drug lords use his country as a conduit for tons of cocaine bound for the United States.
Noriega, a convicted narcotrafficker incarcerated in a Southwest Miami-Dade prison, is appealing an extradition order on money-laundering charges in France in the hope of returning to his native country.
Noriega, 73, asserts his status as a prisoner of war entitles him to be repatriated to Panama under the Geneva Conventions. But the federal judge who granted him POW status after his original trial in Miami has ruled the United States can extradite him to France, setting the stage for Wednesday’s appeal arguments.
”The convention trumps extradition,” argued Jon May, one of Noriega’s lawyers.
But a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals questioned whether Noriega has any protections under the international treaty to fight his extradition order — especially in light of a 2006 law passed by Congress that strictly limited the rights of enemy combatants such as those at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to file habeas corpus petitions in U.S. courts.
”If you take away that substantive right, then you can’t prevail,” appellate judge Jane Restani told May.
But Restani took her analysis one step further, saying the international treaty itself ”doesn’t apply” to Noriega’s argument that as a prisoner of war he cannot be legally extradited to France.
Appellate Judge Ed Carnes agreed with her assessment.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Cronin drove that point home: ”What they’re trying to do here is improper.” Then he added: “There is nothing in the Geneva Conventions that would prohibit his transfer.”
After the half-hour hearing, May acknowledged that the three-judge panel was more interested in Noriega’s jurisdictional rights in a U.S. court than the merits of his arguments about protections afforded him under the Geneva Conventions.
Now comes the interesting part:
”Congress messed everything up” with the Military Commissions Act of 2006, May lamented after the hearing. `”Congress created a mess.”
So now we have Noriega the thug sitting in “an apartment-like cell — complete with phone, color TV and exercise bike — at the low-security Southwest Miami-Dade federal prison” at taxpayers’ expense, waiting for the courts to clear up Congress’ doing.