Lawyers debated Monday over where to send former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega when he is released from a U.S. prison next month, with his likely destinations either courtrooms in his home country or France.

His lawyers argued Monday that he is a prisoner of war and should be sent to Panama, where he wants to fight a conviction in the slayings of two political opponents.

U.S. government attorneys said Noriega should be extradited to France to face a money laundering trial.

Noriega, 72, wore a military uniform and his dark hair slicked back at the Monday hearing, pausing at points to put on glasses and read documents, and conferring with an attorney. He used a headset to follow a Spanish translation.

He is scheduled to be released from a U.S. prison Sept. 9 after serving 15 years for drug trafficking and racketeering.

Senior U.S. District Judge William Hoeveler, who also presided over Noriega's original trial, said he will rule on Aug. 24 on Noriega's request to be sent immediately to Panama when he gets out of prison. A magistrate judge will separately decide on France's extradition request.

During Monday's hearing, Hoeveler questioned prosecutor Sean Cronin on why Noriega should be sent to France, considering the crimes he faces at home are more serious.

"The government of the U.S., for its own reasons, very much wants to see Gen. Noriega sent to France," Noriega's attorney Jon May told Senior U.S. District Judge William Hoeveler.

Federal prosecutors did not respond to those allegations either in court or afterward.

Hoeveler, who also presided over Noriega's original trial, said he will rule on Aug. 24 on Noriega's request to be sent immediately to Panama when he gets out of prison. A magistrate judge will separately decide on France's extradition request.

During Monday's hearing, Hoeveler questioned prosecutor Sean Cronin on why Noriega should be sent to France, considering the crimes he faces at home are more serious.

Cronin told the judge that if Noriega were sent to Panama, that country would not allow him to be extradited to France because of his Panamanian citizenship. He did not elaborate.

Noriega's attorneys argue that Hoeveler had previously declared Noriega a prisoner of war, a designation that they say requires he be sent home to Panama under the Geneva Conventions. Cronin said the Geneva Conventions do not prohibit his extradition to France.

U.S. forces captured Noriega after a 1989 military invasion ordered by then-President George H.W. Bush in part because of the Panamanian's links to drug traffickers. It later emerged that Noriega had been on the CIA payroll for years, assisting U.S. interests throughout Latin America, including acting as liaison to Cuban President Fidel Castro.

In 1992, Noriega was tried and convicted in the U.S. of accepting bribes to allow shipments of U.S.-bound cocaine through Panama. His 30-year sentence has been reduced for good behavior.

Panamanians, meanwhile, are split on whether Noriega should be imprisoned in their country. A poll in July before the U.S. announced plans to try to extradite him to France found 47 percent want him imprisoned in Panama and 44 percent want him sent to a third country. The poll of 1,218 people conducted by Dichter & Neira Latin Research Network for La Prensa newspaper had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.