Judges seem to favor sending Noriega to France for trial

MIAMI — Lawyers for Manuel Antonio Noriega, the jailed Panamanian general whose country was invaded by the United States almost two decades ago, faced tough questions Wednesday from an appeals court that seemed to support his extradition to France rather than his repatriation to Panama.

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.

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