The United States has extradited former Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega to France to face trial on money laundering charges. Noriega had been seeking to be sent home to Panama, where he faces separate charges from his years as military ruler.
The U.S. decision to extradite Manuel Noriega ends a nearly three-year legal battle over the fate of the former Panamanian general. Defense lawyers had argued that the 76-year-old Noriega should be returned to Panama to face charges of murder, but American officials said they endorsed a separate extradition request from France.
In recent months, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case or to agree to block Noriega's extradition to France.
One of Noriega's defense attorneys, John May, says he was less surprised by news of the extradition, rather the way it was conducted.
"We are disappointed with the result. We think the result is wrong. But we are not surprised by it. What surprised us is the inhumane way the government handled matters today," he said.
May says journalists - and not U.S. officials - were the first to inform him that the former general had been placed on a plane Monday. He says he did not understand a need for secrecy, because Noriega was not a security threat.
Noriega had been in U.S. custody since 1989, when he was ousted in a U.S. military operation and brought to the United States to face trial on charges of drug trafficking and money laundering. His prison term ended in 2007 and Panama and France filed competing requests for extradition.
The charges in Panama include murder and human rights violations against his opponents, while French prosecutors accuse him of laundering drug money through the country.
Attorneys for Noriega had based their arguments on the decision of U.S. officials to grants him status as a prisoner of war. The defense team says the Geneva Convention grant special protections to prisoners of war, such as sending individuals home at the end of their prison terms.
Attorney John May says American officials clearly disagreed with their arguments.
"This is just plain bad policy to ignore the Geneva Convention and the requirement that General Noriega be repatriated to Panama and not extradited anywhere else," he said.
U.S. officials say Noriega's treatment met the standards of the Geneva Convention and that French officials had committed to offering him the same treatment, while in their custody.