Thursday, August 11, 2005

The Dread Pirate Bin Laden

Via Rich Magahiz in comments (thanks):

How thinking of terrorists as pirates can help win the war on terror.

By Douglas R. Burgess Jr.


INTERNATIONAL LAW LACKS A DEFINITION FOR TERRORISM as a crime. According to Secretary General Kofi Annan, this lack has hampered "the moral authority of the United Nations and its strength in condemning" the scourge.

But attempts to provide a definition have failed because of terrorists' strangely hybrid status in the law. They are neither ordinary criminals nor recognized state actors, so there is almost no international or domestic law dealing with them. This gives an out to countries that harbor terrorists and declare them "freedom fighters." It also lets the United States flout its own constitutional safeguards by holding suspects captive indefinitely at Guantánamo Bay. The overall situation is, in a word, anarchic...What is needed now is a framework for an international crime of terrorism...

Coming up with such a framework would perhaps seem impossible, except that one already exists. Dusty and anachronistic, perhaps, but viable all the same. More than 2,000 years ago, Marcus Tullius Cicero defined pirates in Roman law as hostis humani generis, "enemies of the human race." From that day until now, pirates have held a unique status in the law as international criminals subject to universal jurisdiction—meaning that they may be captured wherever they are found, by any person who finds them. The ongoing war against pirates is the only known example of state vs. nonstate conflict until the advent of the war on terror, and its history is long and notable. More important, there are enormous potential benefits of applying this legal definition to contemporary terrorism.


Read the rest in Legal Affairs.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Rich said...

You're quite welcome. I'd always thought of pirates, highwaymen, bandits, and the like as people who were bent on obtaining material goods, rather than wreaking terror on society. But it does seem that this other aspect of their actions is of interest in the present context.

I first heard about the article on WNYC public radio where the author was interviewed on the Leonard Lopate show last week (link to MP3 audio of this interview). Interesting mention about "idealistic" pirate societies of old, which make me think of the Taliban and al-Qaeda in a different way.

I didn't know about the interesting fact you quote: From that day until now, pirates have held a unique status in the law as international criminals subject to universal jurisdiction—meaning that they may be captured wherever they are found, by any person who finds them. I suppose this is the justification for the profession of bounty hunter, after all.

Oh, I almost forgot to add - "YARRRRR!"

7:15 PM  
Blogger Daryl McCullough said...

The down side of considering terrorists to be pirates is that little kids love pirates. It would be a boost to their recruitment to call them pirates. We have to come up with a new name that doesn't sound fun.

Maybe "Stupid Stinky Poopy-Heads"?

11:05 AM  
Blogger Kyle McCullough said...

Actually, I was thinking along opposite lines from Daryl, who suggested that the romantic notion of pirates might make becoming one sound more appealing. Right now, terrorists think of themselves as holy warriors. Classifying them as pirates might help to make clear that they are nothing more than thugs and common criminals.

11:33 PM  

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