In his dissent, Justice Thomas said the high court should examine the issues raised by Noriega. He said any resulting opinion would provide much-needed guidance to the lower courts in cases involving Al Qaeda suspects.
Issues raised in the appeal include whether the 2006 Military Commission Act, as enforced against Noriega, resulted in an unconstitutional suspension of the writ of habeas corpus. The appeal also questioned whether the protections of the Geneva Conventions can be invoked by an individual POW and whether those protections may be enforced by US judges.
“It is incumbent upon us to provide what guidance we can on these issues now,” Thomas wrote in a 15-page dissent. “Whatever conclusion we reach, our opinion will help the political branches and the courts discharge their responsibilities over detainee cases, and will spare detainees and the government years of unnecessary litigation.”
The high court rejected Noriega’s appeal in a one-line order without explanation. No other justices wrote about the Noriega case.
Noriega was convicted in a 1992 trial in Miami of cocaine trafficking, racketeering, and money laundering. His 40-year sentence was later reduced for good behavior. He completed his sentence in September 2007.
Since then, he’s been fighting extradition. Noriega’s lawyers argued that as a prisoner of war he should be sent home to Panama now that his US prison sentence has been served.
Although he was a criminal defendant, the judge at Noriega’s trial in Miami also ruled that the US government must treat him as a prisoner of war because of his surrender to US military forces during the 1989 US invasion of Panama. It was this POW status that his lawyers were seeking to use to force the US government to send Noriega home to Panama rather than to France.