Yarr! There be a precedent!
August 19, 2005 8:08 AM   Subscribe

What if there were an established international legal precedent for addressing the terrorism problem? Maybe there is. And maybe it involves a plank. Or an eyepatch. Or, like, a hook instead of a hand. [via aldaily]
posted by willpie (19 comments total)
Great read. In this light, the relationship between Sir Walter Raleigh and Queen Elizabeth seems quite easily comparable with the cozy relationship of Saudi Arabia and Al Qaeda.
posted by Rothko at 8:14 AM on August 19, 2005

...except with less sex.
posted by Pollomacho at 8:19 AM on August 19, 2005

You don't know that, Pollomacho.

Good article, willpie, thanks.
posted by danb at 8:24 AM on August 19, 2005

Excellent read... Doesn't make total sense in all aspects, but it's definitely one of the more coherent and thought out takes on the problem that I've heard to date. Somebody get this person an interview on The Daily Show...
posted by Debaser626 at 8:28 AM on August 19, 2005

It was an interesting article, but it assumes that countries want to stop terrorism.

For a very tiny investment in money and material, America's enemies can keep the United States bogged down in the gulf region for a very long time. For countries like North Korea, Syria, and Iran, the terrorists could be considered allies, or at least useful.

It wasn't that long ago that America was supporting "freedom fighters" in Afghanistan and Central America. They were violent people who did horrible things, but "the enemy of my enemy is my friend," so they were given arms and money.

Changing the legal definitions is not going to stop this.
posted by Jatayu das at 8:39 AM on August 19, 2005

Not Pirates...Religion and Weapons, that cocktail of increasing destructive capability. "Terrorists" provide the perfect example of the utter incompatability of religion and modern life (not that it was ever compatable with life at all), mostly because they are following the arcane and insanely violent texts (take your pick here) directing them to kill folks who don't agree with them.

The remedy, yeah maybe the plank, or worse, much worse, since these religious nuts not only can't live among us but want to destroy anyone who won't agree with them.
posted by philmas at 8:40 AM on August 19, 2005

Aye, matey, that be an interesting read, it be.
posted by caddis at 8:55 AM on August 19, 2005

Make it illegal to belong to a terrorist organization? How long until Greenpeace is "classified" as a terrorist organization in some country, and all its members arrested? Million man march, terrorists. So much for freedom of assembly.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:58 AM on August 19, 2005

Great link, cheers.

I first heard about this comparison between pirates and terrorists in a BBC interview with Noam Chomsky. He was talking about his book - Pirates and Emperors, old and new.

I haven't read the book but from the interview I gathered that he was actually drawing comparisons between the relationship of the Roman Empire and the pirates. Completely different take than the article linked to but interesting nonetheless.
posted by twistedonion at 9:06 AM on August 19, 2005

For countries like North Korea, Syria, and Iran, the terrorists could be considered allies, or at least useful.

Not to mention China, Russia, and dare I say it ...

posted by notyou at 9:24 AM on August 19, 2005

Arrrrrrrr Quaeda.

someone had to do it.
posted by mygothlaundry at 9:30 AM on August 19, 2005

Interesting, but according to Burgess' proposed definition, Timothy McVeigh isn't a pirate/terrorist:

If a group directs its attacks on military or civilian targets within its own state, it may still fall within domestic criminal law. Yet once it directs those attacks on property or civilians belonging to another state, it exceeds both domestic law and the traditional right of self-determination, and becomes akin to a pirate band.
posted by Daddio at 10:18 AM on August 19, 2005

A very interesting read willpie, thanks. It strikes me as being more given to the philosophical rather than the practical. In addition to reservations others have raised above, the efforts of say Kurds and other groups (I'd be just inaccurate guessing) who have a multinational identity and seek autonomy [arguably legitimate, depending on your point of view] could be proscribed with adoption of a piratoterrorist definition. And again, I'm unsure how the practicalities of enforcement would play out. There's also the notion that national laws ought to deal with specific offenses carried out by individuals - and there is the balance of international opinion and diplomacy helping to arrange extraditions as it already occurs. But that's just my ignorant 2c reaction.
posted by peacay at 10:26 AM on August 19, 2005

This is old hat in international law (every int-law prof I know makes the comparison). Pirates were the first entity to be subject to extraterritorial jurisdiction, in that another nation-state not only could take jurisdiction to prosecute, but must take jurisdiction to prosecute, if they can -- which is the current status of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The problem with using this model for terrorism is the terrorist/freedom fighter duality. Terrorist acts are not unambiguous (ask the U.S., who won't agree to a definition, appearing to want it entity-defined so that U.S. actions are never terrorist actions). Piracy is, in contrast, relatively straightforward, with the few exceptions usually falling directly into international civil actions for damage.

The author doesn't describe how this problem would be solved except to say that terrorism would be well-defined, which diminishes to some extent my enthusiasm for the article, as there are a number of nations not prepared to do this today. Just one example: would the United States be happy with many acts, not only by Hamas, et al, but by Israel, being considered acts of terrorism? (there have been Security Council vetoes to block just this assertion).
posted by dreamsign at 10:40 AM on August 19, 2005

How about this for a definition of terrorism: "Violence that deliberately and specifically targets noncombatants so as to inspire terror in a civilian populace, in order to advance a political cause"? Have there been any American military actions since World War II that would count? (Maybe Operation Phoenix...) And international terrorism would just be terrorism that crosses international borders. I think Burgess is only concerned with the latter, since that's the kind that is problematic in terms of the legal status of the perpetrators.
posted by skoosh at 11:38 AM on August 19, 2005

Pirates were the first entity to be subject to extraterritorial jurisdiction, in that another nation-state not only could take jurisdiction to prosecute, but must take jurisdiction to prosecute, if they can -- which is the current status of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Dreamsign, do you have a date for this?
posted by IndigoJones at 11:58 AM on August 19, 2005

Interesting article, but I suspect the decline of piracy was less to do with this 1856 Declaration of Paris, and more to do with the ocean-going steamships which started around the same time. It's a bit harder to be a pirate if you have to regularly stop into ports to get fuel and spare parts.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 12:31 PM on August 19, 2005

From the article: This framework must recognize the unique threat that terrorists pose to nation-states, yet not grant them the legitimacy accorded to belligerent states.

The problem with this view is that it mistakes the original rationale for granting "legitimacy" to belligerents in the modern laws of war -- the purpose wasn't to give any special status to the other side, but rather allow their captured soldiers to be treated humanely. Lincoln faced the same dilemma in the Civil War, because he didn't want to recognized the legitimacy of the Confederacy. Here's a really interesting essay on the subject.

I'm afraid that by creating a special definition for "terrorists" that's beyond the current laws of war AND domestic law, then we'll just have more grey areas like Guantanamo. Is there any reason that the Geneva conventions can't simply be modified to fit non-state actors?
posted by footnote at 12:39 PM on August 19, 2005

From the article: "Ironically, it is the very effectiveness of this criminalization that has marginalized piracy and made it seem an arcane and almost romantic offense. Pirates no longer terrorize the seas because a concerted effort among the European states in the 19th century almost eradicated them."

Pirates "no longer terrorize the seas"? Depends on what seas you're in, I gather. For example, here's the maritime piracy report for this week.

I'm not sure what this means in light of Burgess's article, but it's worth thinking about.
posted by Jaie at 1:35 PM on August 23, 2005

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