Monday, August 27, 2007

Goodbye to "Get Out of Jail Free!" cards

There's much food for thought in the news of U.S. District Judge William M. Hoeveler's ruling that Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega, due for release next week from U.S. federal prison, may be extradited to France, where he's been convicted in absentia of laundering proceeds from drug trafficking through French banks and the French real estate market.
There's the decision itself, of course:
Convicted of drug trafficking by a Miami-based jury in 1992, Noriega, de facto ruler of Panama at the time of his 1989 capture there by U.S. troops, enjoys, by judicial order, the status of a prisoner of war protected by the Third Geneva Convention. Hoeveler's decision hinged, therefore, on his conclusion that the Convention does not forbid transferring a POW to a 3d state for criminal trial. Noriega's attorney's said to be mulling "whether to challenge the ruling in the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit or with the United Nations." That last reference comes as a surprise. Can't think of any U.N. body that might be able to do anything enforceable in the matter except the Security Council, where, of course, the United States and France both have power to veto any such move.
And then there's the larger picture:
As more and more states reach outside their own territory to exercise criminal jurisdiction, it seems likely that the most notorious persons who suffer conviction and less-than-a-life-sentence in 1 sovereign state will look forward not to a final release date, but rather, on release, to a move to another jail in another sovereign state. Perhaps it's the ne bis in idem (that's double jeopardy, roughly speaking) overtones in this prospect that explain France's no-comment on the still-pending U.S. case -- as Reuters' Paris bureau put it, why France has made no official statement but instead "accepted the decision with prudence and discretion."

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