Manuel Noriega in Legal Limbo – Grant Him House ArrestBy: COHA Research Associate Aviva Elzufon
Former Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega will be living out the rest of his life in custody, the question is – where? While in prison in the U.S. for cocaine trafficking, racketeering, and money laundering, Noriega was convicted in absentia for crimes committed in Panama and France. Both countries are currently seeking to extradite him to serve sentences on their soil. Claiming that France will not honor his legal status as a prisoner of war, Noriega is appealing his extradition to that country.
From the beginning of his legal troubles in the U.S. court system, Noriega experienced a politicized trial in a Florida District Federal Court accustomed to such trials. Having been in a U.S. prison ever since his trial in 1991, Noriega was flown to the U.S after his capture shortly after the U.S. intervention in Panama in 1989 that overturned his regime. While Noriega has served out his sentence, the U.S. has had no difficulty in pardoning and awarding citizenship to Orlando Bosch or Luis Posada Carriles, who walk the streets of Miami free men even though their crimes far transcend those of Noriega. Noriega is hardly a noble figure, but the accusations against him have arguably been exaggerated. It also can be maintained that although Noriega was involved in an array of illegal activities, the U.S. intervention in Panama also had no legal precedent. Noriega is not a major human rights repressor; Panama in 1989 was no Chile under Pinochet. Clearly, Noriega has been incarcerated long enough.
COHA is currently preparing a study that argues that Noriega should be extradited to Panama, where he will serve his 20 year sentence for corruption, murder, and drug trafficking under house arrest as dictated by Panamanian Law.