Dread Pirate Bin Laden

From Legal Affairs magazine, How thinking of terrorists as pirates can help win the war on terror.

Absolutely brilliant article about the surpising paralleles between pirates (privateers) and terrorists.

What is needed now is a framework for an international crime of terrorism. The framework should be incorporated into the U.N. Convention on Terrorism and should call for including the crime in domestic criminal law and perhaps the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. This framework must recognize the unique threat that terrorists pose to nation-states, yet not grant them the legitimacy accorded to belligerent states. It must provide the foundation for a law that criminalizes not only terrorist acts but membership in a terrorist organization. It must define methods of punishment.

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‚Äîmeaning 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.

…Western powers regularly employed pirates to wage secret wars. After a series of draconian laws passed by George I of England effectively banished pirates from the Atlantic, the Mediterranean corsairs emerged as pre-eminent maritime mercenaries in the employ of any European state wishing to harass another. This situation proved disastrous. The corsairs refused to curtail their activities after each war’s conclusion, and the states realized that they had created an uncontrollable force. It was this realization that led to the Declaration of Paris in 1856, signed by England, France, Spain, and most other European nations, which abolished the use of piracy for state purposes. Piracy became and remained beyond the pale of legitimate state behavior.

…Until 1856, international law recognized only two legal entities: people and states. People were subject to the laws of their own governments; states were subject to the laws made amongst themselves. The Declaration of Paris created a third entity: people who lacked both the individual rights and protections of law for citizens and the legitimacy and sovereignty of states. This understanding of pirates as a legally distinct category of international criminals persists to the present day, and was echoed in the 1958 and 1982 U.N. Conventions on the Law of the Sea. The latter defines the crime of piracy as “any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends.” This definition of piracy as private war for private ends may hold the crux of a new legal definition of international terrorists.

DANIEL DEFOE, THE GREAT CHRONICLER OF PIRACY’S GOLDEN AGE in his General History of the Pyrates, described his subjects as stateless persons “at war with all the world,” a definition that may connect contemporary terrorism to piracy even more than state sponsorship does.

…The corollaries between the pirates’ “war against the world” and modern terrorism are profound and disturbing. With their vengeful practices, pirates were the first and perhaps only historical precedent for the terrorist cell: a group of men who bound themselves in extraterritorial enclaves, removed themselves from the protection and jurisdiction of the nation-state, and declared war against civilization. Both pirates and terrorists deliberately employ this extranationality as a means of pursuing their activities. The pirates hid in the myriad shoals and islands of the Atlantic. The terrorists hide in cells throughout the world. Both seek through their acts to bring notice to themselves and their causes. They share means as well‚Äîdestruction of property, frustration of commerce, and homicide. Most important, both are properly considered enemies of the rest of the human race.

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