Terrorists as Pirates

"The Dread Pirate Bin Laden" argues that, legally, terrorists should be treated as pirates under international law:

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.

[...]

President Bush and others persist in depicting this new form of state vs. nonstate warfare in traditional terms, as with the president's declaration of June 2, 2004, that "like the Second World War, our present conflict began with a ruthless surprise attack on the United States." He went on: "We will not forget that treachery and we will accept nothing less than victory over the enemy." What constitutes ultimate victory against an enemy that lacks territorial boundaries and governmental structures, in a war without fields of battle or codes of conduct? We can't capture the enemy's capital and hoist our flag in triumph. The possibility of perpetual embattlement looms before us.

If the war on terror becomes akin to war against the pirates, however, the situation would change. First, the crime of terrorism would be defined and proscribed internationally, and terrorists would be properly understood as enemies of all states. This legal status carries significant advantages, chief among them the possibility of universal jurisdiction. Terrorists, as hostis humani generis, could be captured wherever they were found, by anyone who found them. Pirates are currently the only form of criminals subject to this special jurisdiction.

Second, this definition would deter states from harboring terrorists on the grounds that they are "freedom fighters" by providing an objective distinction in law between legitimate insurgency and outright terrorism. This same objective definition could, conversely, also deter states from cracking down on political dissidents as "terrorists," as both Russia and China have done against their dissidents.

Recall the U.N. definition of piracy as acts of "depredation [committed] for private ends." Just as international piracy is viewed as transcending domestic criminal law, so too must the crime of international terrorism be defined as distinct from domestic homicide or, alternately, revolutionary activities. 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.

Third, and perhaps most important, nations that now balk at assisting the United States in the war on terror might have fewer reservations if terrorism were defined as an international crime that could be prosecuted before the International Criminal Court.

Ross Anderson recognized the parallels between terrorism and piracy back in 2001.

Posted on August 30, 2006 at 7:57 AM • 103 Comments

Comments

ArrghhAugust 30, 2006 8:26 AM

While I generally agree with defining today's terrorists as pirates, especially in the legal context discussed, I think it may be difficult given that today, pirates and the act piracy are generally "glorified" in the movies.

I suspect that with today's youth, the term "pirate" doesn't carry the same connotation as the true legal definition of pirate.

We don't want to inadvertently glorify the terrorists by calling them pirates by the wrong definition.

TedAugust 30, 2006 8:26 AM

cite: From that day until now, pirates have held a unique status in the law as international criminals subject to universal jurisdiction.

That's interesting, but the Ottoman empire used pirates very effectively to build their Mediterranean navy. Isn't that also a worthwhile lesson: That if pirates fill a need for you, it's better to employ them on your side and send them forth -- not everyone views pirates and profiteers in the same way.

Maybe it's shortsighted to think of this as state vs. non-state, but rather as state vs. non-traditional-state.

The need to search for a new, more appropriate word to define terrorists is very interesting. Apparently terrorism is so watered down that we need to evoke Barbarossa to strike terror into our hearts.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khair_ad_Din
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murat_Rais

ShuraAugust 30, 2006 8:35 AM

@Arrghh: this is about treating terrorists like pirates as far as legal matters are concerned, not calling them that.

TamasAugust 30, 2006 8:39 AM

Who would deteremine who the pirates are? For this idea to make sense, we would need an international "pirate list" so that states and their citizens would know who they can arrest/capture.

It is very unlikely that the US would ever agree to have an international body with powers like this.

Moreover, the problem is not that we lack the _legal_ means to capture terrorists -- the laws are pretty clear on this issue. The difficult part is 1) identifying terrorists, preferably before they do something bad and 2) capturing them.

JeremyAugust 30, 2006 8:44 AM

While I definitely see the parallels, he makes some serious misassumptions. The first is that all countries' leaders actually care about international law. Most are only willing to abide by it when it helps out their position, and quickly ignore it and call it "meddling" when it doesn't. The second is getting Bin Laden declared an pirate. Who has the authority to do so? The UN? They've hardly been efficient at anything, so why should this be any different? And how does a person become declared an international pirate? In a UN court? Could Bin Laden be tried absent from that court? I hardly doubt Bin Laden would show up to defend his reputation. Ultimately, it seems that everything has been done in getting Bin Laden declared (as much as possible) internationally "evil", but whether we apply the word "terrorist" or "pirate" is just semantics. I can't imagine, once he is found, that he is going to be turned over to an international jury anyway, so international law probably won't apply.

Carlo GrazianiAugust 30, 2006 8:47 AM

According to the "Flying Spaghetti Monster" theory of creation (http://www.venganza.org/), this sort of legal reform could lead to a reversal of Global Warming.

StuartAugust 30, 2006 9:02 AM

As Ted pointed out, the concept of universal jurisdiction is a fallicy. Another example would be the European Privateers (state sanctioned pirates) used in the Colonial New Worlds.

How exactly is that different than say Iran sponsoring Hezbollah against its stated enemy? Or even the rumours of Chinese or Indonesian military involved in coastal piracy including stealing luxury boats and rebranding them.

So the concept that somehow making terrorists the same in law as pirates will stop states sponsoring terrorist groups I don't see happening. Besides which, the article takes a narrow view of terrorists/freedom fighters. The Chinese and Russians believe their insurgencies to be terrorists. Likewise Arabs believe the likes of Hezbollah to be freedom fighters. And wasn't the main (or one of the main) source of funds for the IRA from domestic USA?

Try getting the hodge podge of nations called the UN to agree on a single unanimous definition of each group ... I dare you. ;)

TedAugust 30, 2006 9:03 AM

Oh yeah, what is this "International Criminal Court" that is being referenced?

Is this the one that the US and Israel have unsigned for fear of politically motivated persecutions?

Yes, those nations that balk at helping the US now in the current war on terror will do it on the basis of directives from the ICCt that the US does not recognize.

roperipeAugust 30, 2006 9:05 AM

I think the distiction between "terrorist" and "pirate" is simply a semantic one. The bigger issue remains how we designate someone as such. As we have seen with the liberal manner in which the "enemy combatant" designation has been applied by the Bush administration, the real challenge is deciding which individuals deserve the label and should be prosecuted as such.

RichAugust 30, 2006 9:08 AM

From the article: Recall the U.N. definition of piracy as acts of "depredation [committed] for private ends."

I wonder about the "private ends" part of the definition. Most (all?) pirates seek financial gains, but few terrorists do (directly). While I find the idea of legally labeling terrorists as pirates appealing, I believe that it is a bit of a stretch.

SoumynonaAugust 30, 2006 9:21 AM

If we do treat the terrorists as 'pirates', what will we do with the people who copy music - treat them as terrorists?

(or has the RIAA got that under control already)

vwmAugust 30, 2006 9:28 AM

According to the “United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea��?, capturing an aeroplane is regarded as piracy (Art. 101). The USA never ratified that convention however.

On the other hand one man's pirate might be the other man's privateer. How long will it take until Mahmoud Ahmadinejad issues Letters of marque and Reprisal?

paulAugust 30, 2006 9:38 AM

The idea sounds attractive, but the notion that non-state actors are rendered "enemies of humanity" when they commit "attacks on property or civilians belonging to another state" really stacks the deck for the strong against the weak. State actors have long made it clear that civilians (and civilian property) participating in, and benefiting from, the 'wrong' actions of their states are considered targets, regardless of what the Geneva conventions may say about the safety of noncombatants.

You could argue that terrorists also target civilians and civilian property of states not a party to whatever conflict they're engaged in, but in a world of interlocking alliances that argument tends to ring hollow.

The basic idea is so attractive, though, that it would be nice to figure out a credible way to phrase it.

bobAugust 30, 2006 9:39 AM

@Soumynona: Yes. The RIAA already has that covered - it treats EVERYONE as a terrorist.

Josh OAugust 30, 2006 9:41 AM

I like this idea, but I can't help but mention that there are still pirates today, especially around the coasts of Africa. So it would seem that treating terrorists legally the same as pirates, won't really get rid of them. Maybe it will help though, reduce it to a tolerable level. Will they make a movie about them in 400 years with the future version of Johnny Depp?

MartinAugust 30, 2006 9:46 AM

am I the only one kinda annoyed that Bush seems to think that WW2 started with Pearl Harbour?

' "like the Second World War, our present conflict began with a ruthless surprise attack on the United States." '

TedAugust 30, 2006 9:48 AM

cite: How long will it take until Mahmoud Ahmadinejad issues Letters of marque and Reprisal?

I thought that's what fatwas were.

Andrew WAugust 30, 2006 9:49 AM

Other commenters have hinted at this, but doesn't the pirate/terrorist analogy break down simply because pirates, by being on the seas, are bound by no nation's laws, while terrorists, by being on land, are within that land's (country's) clear jurisdiction?

Or put another way: bandits, highwaymen, and cattlerustlers are land's version of pirates--but no one's ever suggested they be sent to an ICC, have they?

Andrew BrownAugust 30, 2006 9:53 AM

Well, one of the greatest heroes of traditional British history, Francis Drake, was a state-sponsored pirate, preying off the heretic Spaniards. You get co-operation among states when it is in their interests to co-operate. Citing Cicero isn't really going to make things easier.

It looks to me as if the proposal is essentially one to give the agents of the US government freedom to operate wherever they like against people designated as terrorists. What does this add to the incentives already on offer to other countries to co-operate with this?

Daniel HaranAugust 30, 2006 9:58 AM

This is great; as soon as we can get all the states to sign on to the ICC and agree to a definition of terrorism, we're good to go.

Either the quoted author is dangerously out of touch with consensus reality, or they are cleverly trying to reveal the underlying conflicts.

Michael R. FarnumAugust 30, 2006 10:16 AM

As said above, International law is suspect to begin with. Who is going to enforce? What makes anyone think this is the magic bullet? Making terrorism a law enforcement issue is making the same mistake the Clinton administration made in regards to terrorism. Is should be a military issue.

Now, can the war on terror be defined in typical military fashion? No, of course not. Are we using a lot of resources in the war in Iraq that could be used against terrorists? Maybe. But to move this to a law enforcement issue would not be taking us forward.

Mike ScottAugust 30, 2006 10:19 AM

Lots of people seem to be confusing privateers with pirates. Privateers are part of the armed forces of the country that issued their letter of marque, and normal international law is perfectly suitable for dealing with them. For example, if Iran were to issue letters of marque to Hezbollah authorising them to attack Israeli interests, then they would have committed an act of war against Israel, with all the consequences that would arise from that. Terrorists who do not have official backing from a nation-state can only be compared with genuine pirates, not privateers.

NeilAugust 30, 2006 10:30 AM

The last paragraph is the problem. Try persuading the US government to surrender any alleged terrorists it has captured (include those held at Gauntanamo) to the International Criminal Court.

It just won't happen. "It's not justice unless it's OUR justice".

BennyAugust 30, 2006 11:03 AM

Michael R. Farnum said:

"Making terrorism a law enforcement issue is making the same mistake the Clinton administration made in regards to terrorism. It should be a military issue.
...to move [terrorism] to a law enforcement issue would not be taking us forward."

Then why is it that the most highly touted "successes" against terrorism (such as the UK explosives plot) are the fruits of law enforcement work? Iraq, our attempt to address terrorism militarily, does not seem to be working out so well, as you also seem to acknowledge. What proof is there that terrorism is something that can be addressed militarily?

RealistAugust 30, 2006 11:04 AM

@Martin
Or that Pearl Harbor wasn't exactly a surprise attack? It would be nice if US presidents knew some of the facts about their own history!

GeoffAugust 30, 2006 11:09 AM

@Martin
Not to stray too far off topic, but there's a strong argument for the position that WWII *did* begin with the attack on Pearl Harbor. Up to that point, you had what was basically yet another intra-European dispute. You pays your money, you takes your choice of course.

As for pirates, I think the objective is to remove some of the moral cloud that blurs the apparent legal status of terrorists. By declaring acts of terrorism as being at war with all humanity, you address the excuse of one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, as has been said.

No, it doesn't help to actually bring them to book, but it might be a useful step in leveling the playing field legally.

standAugust 30, 2006 11:35 AM

I think that the current administration in the US is not particularly interested in an official legal definition of terrorism.

Being able to call any old thing done by someone we don't like "terrorism" is a political advantage the US is not likely to give up without a fight.

paulAugust 30, 2006 11:38 AM

"By declaring acts of terrorism as being at war with all humanity, you address the excuse of one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter"

So are there no circumstances where one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter? According to the definition given in the original piece, if Alicestan maliciously invades and occupies Bobovia, replacing the government with a puppet, then Bobovians who attack targets in Alicestan are terrorists unless they make absolutely sure to avoid damage to civilian lives and property, even though the Alicestan army is practically subject to no such constraints. Heck, I'm pretty sure that Greenpeace is a terrorist organization according to that definition, since it unlawfully (if not fatally) interferes with civilian lives and property in many countries.

GeoffAugust 30, 2006 11:47 AM

You are correct. Terrorists are terrorists. There is no scope for ambiguity. If the good people of Bobovia decide to start bombing civilian centers in Alicestan with the specific intent of killing civilians in order to erode said civilian's belief in their government's power to protect them, then they are most assuredly terrorists. It's a bright line, and crossing it for 'the right reasons' doesn't excuse where you end up.

gnomeAugust 30, 2006 11:53 AM

I think that part of the problem with the current war on terror is the press. The general reporting style has gone from reporting the news somewhat objectively to a Jerry Springer-like emotional appeal similiar to someone trying to incite us into a lynch-mob. The blogosphere only intensifies the rousing cry for lynching, and it's only a matter of time before we're all running around with torches and pitchforks. If we can't have a rational, national discussion about the issues, though, we're not going to get anywhere.

I'm not saying we don't have a problem or that terrorists don't need to be hunted down and killed. But the current response by the TSA and the Federal overbroad information interception need to be looked at much more closely to determine if these huge, expensive programs fit the real risk of a terrorist incident here in the US.

The TSA, in particular, is superfluous now. Anyone pulling out a boxcutter or mentioning the word "bomb" on a plane is going to be severly beaten by the flight crew and the other passengers on the plane. A 9/11 style incident simply can't happen in the US again. Yet we continue to suffer being strip searched and other indignities just to move no longer quite so freely about the country.

AndrewAugust 30, 2006 11:58 AM

I have seen nothing to change my opinion that terrorists are best treated like any other criminals.

To call them combatants of any stripe is to endanger all combatants (putting a U.S. Marine on the same moral ground as a tango). To create a third status for terrorists is to demonize them and thus grant them additional power, while causing fear among law-abiding citizens and "common" criminals alike. A brief glance at the newspaper (Gitmo, etc.) shows why the "unlawful combatant" approach is a dismal failure.

@roperipe
>> I think the distiction between "terrorist" and "pirate" is simply a semantic one.

There is nothing simple about semantics in a war of ideals. A war in which we continually spot our enemies points.

>> The bigger issue remains how we designate someone as such. As we have seen with the liberal manner in which the "enemy combatant" designation has been applied by the Bush administration, the real challenge is deciding which individuals deserve the label and should be prosecuted as such.

Isn't it ironic that we have such a well-developed system of justice designed specifically to weed out the innocent from the guilty? AND WE'RE NOT USING IT!

"A nation of laws, not of men."

Clive RobinsonAugust 30, 2006 12:19 PM

There is a real problem with the Terorist = Pirate argument, you can make it against anybody

First of look at history and what was required to become a King. Basically you wher a war lord who subjected a group of people to your whim either by direct action (tiriny) or by indirect action (the old protection racket).

You then put into place a bunch of rules about succession etc which eventually become laws. One of these is usually that of "Divine Right".

You then collected a thieth from your "subjects" to pay for the standing army "for their protection" etc. You where then serving your oun ends at the expense of your subjects. Recall the U.N. definition of piracy as acts of "depredation [committed] for private ends." So by definition a King = Pirate.

After you had a King you then got other people who wanted into the racket. Usually by controling peoples thoughts and thereby their actions they could gain leverage against the King. These people are often known as "men of the cloth" and the self serving organisation they represent is usually given the polite name of the Church. They also thieth the people for their own ends. So by the UN definition they also are pirates.

The church plays a game of "splitting the difference" by apparently supporting the King whilst also undermining his authority. Also the Church could usually get away with excesses that a King could not (think Spanish Inquesition, Witch trials, etc etc) which actually helped bond the self serving to the church and give them fake moral authority, which was almost impossible to question (think Luther etc).

Eventually more people want to get in on the populus control/thiething game, and you start moving towards a democracy. The only trouble is that you have replaced the King with a group of people who again are self serving at the expense of the populus so Polititions = Pirates.

You can go on like this ad infenitum, anybody (say a capatilist) can be portraied as a Pirate, and people will belive the argument if it's in their interest to do so.

As an example the U.K. Government had a few problems with questionable radio stations broadcasting into the U.K. from international waters back in the 1960's. The response was to pass the Marine Offences Act that gave the U.K. the right to board and cease vesels in International waters which is by most definitions an act of Piracy. The joike of it is that the radio stations became known as Pirates...

Geoff LaneAugust 30, 2006 12:32 PM

No, not pirates.

What we need is a return of the concept of the "outlaw", someone who is declared outside the protection of the law. Such a person can be captured, tortured, killed etc without any legal concequences on the perpetrator.

David ThornleyAugust 30, 2006 12:41 PM

If piracy is depredations commited for private ends, and terrorists are to be considered pirates, then the September 11 attackers cannot be considered terrorists. A suicide attacker is not acting for private ends, after all. The goal of the September 11 attacks was to remove at least some Western influence from the Middle East, which is a political goal.

It's also hard to distinguish just on the basis of what is attacked. The United States Air Force, in various incarnations, has destroyed a lot more civilian property and killed many more civilians than Arab terrorist groups have, over the years (1943 through 1945 being big ones for the USAF). Despite that, I consider Al-Qaida as a terrorist organization and the USAF as a non-terrorist organization.

It isn't just a matter of killing lots of people, either. Jeffrey Dahmer is not generally considered a terrorist, for example. Union Carbide is not a terrorist organization, either, despite Bhopal.

If somebody will come up with a good definition of terrorist, I'd be willing to listen to ideas about what legal status terrorists should have. Please make sure that your definition does include Osama bin Laden, and leaves out Union Carbide and the United States Air Force.

paulAugust 30, 2006 1:24 PM

Geoff:

First, you're drawing a line at a different place than the original article, which appears to place out of bounds any attacks whatsoever that kill civilians or destroy civilian property. (So, for example, blowing up a factory that made torture equipment for sale to an army of occupation would be terrorism under that definition, even if no casualties resulted.)

Second. as long as the government of Alicestan can kill Bobovian civilians with impunity, either as part of a "get tough on the resistance" policy or as "collateral damage" then (as I said earlier) we're just saying that state actors are allowed to use terror and non-state actors aren't. Which is neither satisfying nor ultimately credible. (And I've seen no plausible proposals to outlaw states that employ tactics that would be called 'terrorist' in the hands of non-state actors.)

Davi OttenheimerAugust 30, 2006 2:15 PM

Well, I was going to comment on this and how the British authorities are hardly in a place (historically) to tell others who should be a pirate and why, but instead, I thought this might be an important and related tangent:

http://www.opednews.com/articles/...

"What has been termed, "positively Orwellian", by PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, is indeed frightening. It seems that the self-appointed "Decider", George W. Bush, has decided to "end public access to research materials" at EPA Regional libraries without Congressional consent. In an all out effort to impede research and public access, Bush has implemented a loosely covert operation to close down 26 technical libraries under the guise of a budgetary constraint move. Scientists are protesting, but at least 15 of the libraries will be closed by Sept. 30, 2006."

Orwell did not write about pirates in 1984, but if he had...

Gary in DCAugust 30, 2006 2:27 PM

Isn't the anarchist line that the purpose of the state is its monopoly of violence? This can be directed against its own civilians (ranges from political repression to criminal law) or against civilians or combatants from another state (war). Or it may still outsource this violence entirely (CIA "contractors," Darfur janjaweed, 18th-century privateers, Hezbollah). The question isn't, to me, whether there are finely tuned philosophical distinctions between these different applications of violence. The question is, to me, how we want our own countries to apply or outsource the use of violence.

Personally - I would want my country to use violence sparingly, according to rule of law, and as the result of a democratically determined process, regardless of how others might want to use violence against me. I'm not impressed by niceties of distinction between different applications of violence. I'm far more interested in a general principle that the use of violence on my behalf should be subject to, well, law.

GeoffAugust 30, 2006 2:44 PM

Paul:

Re your first point: fair enough. Although you could argue that a factory producing military supplies is a military target. Nevertheless, I see what you are driving at. Despite my claim that there's a bright line, I do agree sometimes it's hard to know where to draw it...

Re your second point: not necessarily. I'm not arguing that it's morally acceptable for the state to use terror as a weapon. Far from it. I would say though, that they are not "terrorists" per se, but rather an evil, repressive state. Lord knows, there are enough examples of them around the world.

I guess the long and short of that is that the definition of terrorist needs to include the fact that the actors are non-state sponsored. (At least, directly and openly.)

To return to the piracy analogy, this would be the difference between a pirate ship and a warship of a hostile navy.

If either sinks a cruise ship full of tourists, it's not something that I think is morally defensible. However, in one case it's terrorism (or piracy), in the other, it's an act of war. (And possibly a war crime, assuming you accept that such things exist.)

Davi OttenheimerAugust 30, 2006 2:52 PM

"who should be a pirate and why"

Sorry, that should read "who should be called a pirate and why".

I was thinking specifically of John Paul Jones, arguably the founding father of the US Navy called a traitor and pirate by the British.

http://seacoastnh.com/Maritime_History/...

"British chapbooks, an early form of dime novels, pictured him as a ruthless marauding pirate akin to Blackbeard. "

TedAugust 30, 2006 3:10 PM

@Farnum >>Making terrorism a law enforcement issue is making the same mistake the Clinton administration made in regards to terrorism. Is should be a military issue.

This may have been previously covered, but why isn't terrorism a political issue?

AlanAugust 30, 2006 3:21 PM

What next? The President issuing indulgences? Oh wait... That might not be far off.

RussAugust 30, 2006 3:34 PM

@David Thornley
"If somebody will come up with a good definition of terrorist..."

That's easy: A terrorist is a non-state actor, employing murder or property destruction to further political goals, who has dark skin and a vaguely middle-eastern sounding name.

Q.E.D.

At least, I think that's the definition they're using at DHS....

AnonymousAugust 30, 2006 4:20 PM

'Recall the U.N. definition of piracy as acts of "depredation [committed] for private ends."'

So all the Enron and WorldCom managers and the likes of them need to be correctly reclassified according to this definition as pirates.

John J.August 30, 2006 5:21 PM

In reading the whole piece, I think the idea of having an international definition of terrorism is a good thing. It was through the agreements of the Western nations (primarily Europe) that piracy is bad and not to be used by the state that helped diminish it to the level it is today. If we (as a globe and our leaders) do the same thing with terrorism, the world could see terrorist actions diminish. Granted it won't become zero, but it could be much less of an impact on our lives and liberties today.

RCAugust 30, 2006 6:11 PM

Problems associated with creating a universal jurisdiction over terrorists:

1. since terrorists have no unique identifying characteristics (until they commit a terrorist act) anyone might be a terrorist, therefore, anyone might be subject to universal jurisdiction and the deprivation of rights that it entails.

2. once such a practice is established, other groups might become subject to universal jurisdiction, such as pro-lifers, or various smaller religious groups.

3. it does not deter a nation from harbouring terrorists, if it wishes to do so, because capturing the terrorists on their soil would risk nation to nation conflict.

4. Encouraging anyone to take action against anyone they suspected to be a terrorist would be like a massive state-approved vigilanteism, and would mostly result in innocent persons being harmed unnecessarily.

The potential for abuse far outweighs the potential advantages.

RC

LongwalkerAugust 30, 2006 6:27 PM

The only way terrorists = pirates is going to work is if there is a universally accepted definition of terrorism. Any definition of terrorism that's reasonably objective and sufficiently broad to cover al Qaida and sudry will apply quite nicely not only to groups like Greenpeace but also to the American and Israeli armed forces. Narrow the definition sufficiently to protect Americans and Israelis from 'malicious prosecution' and it will boil down to little more than 'Islamic groups the United States doesn't like.'

The whole idea is a non-starter as it is so politically convinent to have a fuzzy definition of 'terrorism' that can be used to tar and feather enemies of the state while exempting state actors from similar criticism.

AlanAugust 30, 2006 6:56 PM

@David Thornley
"If somebody will come up with a good definition of terrorist..."

They weigh the same as a duck.

Frank McGowanAugust 30, 2006 7:50 PM

In general, I think it is a good idea. I do not understand the "requirement" for the ICC though. The British Admiralty Courts and their correspondents in the US, France, Spain, etc. seem to have done an adequate job of dealing with the scourge of piracy over the last 200 years or so. Do we really need either the UN or its appendages involved in this effort? I think not; they don't seem to do very much very well, at all.

@RC - How does "the potential for abuse far outweigh" the actual occurrence of murder and mayhem? That is a concept I honestly do not understand; please enlighten me.

@VWM - "On the other hand one man's pirate might be the other man's privateer. How long will it take until Mahmoud Ahmadinejad issues Letters of marque and Reprisal?"

That would be the same time he takes some degree of responsibility for the actions of his proxies and can be dealt with severely. Don't hold your breath; he doesn't want to be dealt with severely...

@Andrew Brown -
"Well, one of the greatest heroes of traditional British history, Francis Drake, was a state-sponsored pirate, preying off the heretic Spaniards."
Actually, he was a "privateer" since he was commissioned by the queen and did her bidding at his own expense and shared the booty for the privilege. Winning may be its own reward, but being in the position to write the accepted histories is not a trivial benefit.

"You get co-operation among states when it is in their interests to co-operate."
Absolutely. Those nations that want to put a stop to international terrorism must make non-support of terrorists in the interests of other nations if the effort is to succeed. Make it cost nation states dearly to harbor, train or otherwise support terrorists far out of proportion to the benefit they receive from doing these things. In short, punish the terrorists and their supporters grievously.

"It looks to me as if the proposal is essentially one to give the agents of the US government freedom to operate wherever they like against people designated as terrorists. What does this add to the incentives already on offer to other countries to co-operate with this?"
Not just Americans. 9/11 finally got American officials to offer Britain assistance with IRA operatives found in the territories of the US in exchange for help elsewhere. Could that be a reason the IRA have assumed a fairly low profile in recent years? I think it was one of them but probably not the only one.

@Geoff - Thanks for the concise and consistent arguments.

@Clive Robinson - You have demonstrated the ability to stretch the argument beyond the bounds of reason. That brigands became kings is a historical fact common to all feudal societies. However, that was the way politics was executed in those times and places. That is no longer the case.

Because the struggles are essentially to determine which world view dominates, the rules of the struggle are what the aggressor makes them. In this case, that would be the terrorists.

The winner gets to make the post war rules. If it's all the same to you, I prefer ballots to bullets and buillets to car bombs as the preferred means of effecting political and/or social change. That means I think that "we" - those opposed to terrorism - must win the struggle.

@Davi Ottenheimer - "'who should be called a pirate and why'."
It seems the actions in which one engages must be the determinant. One who engages in terrorism is a terrorist. Because this activity is likely to be executed in places the terrorist believes safe to his purposes, he will be resisted and defeated (if he is) by those present on the scene without benefit of trial.

Those who choose violence as their trade can hardly complain if others pay them in the coin of their own choosing.

But, complain they will and the foolish among us will heed them thereby hindering effort and endangering the outcome.

"I was thinking specifically of John Paul Jones, arguably the founding father of the US Navy called a traitor and pirate by the British."

Of course; the British did not really recognize the US as an actual nation until after the "War of 1812" as it is known in the US. That made Mr. Jones a traitor in their eyes, as well as a "non-state actor" or an "unlawful combabant" as described in the Geneva Conventions.

Again, being in a position to write the history of an event or era is not a trivial benefit of winning the wars in that period. Unfortunately for the US, most of the wars in the colonies were just sideshows to larger European efforts of the time so the British were not in any way compelled to write histories the US might find comfortable.


JimAugust 30, 2006 8:37 PM

Our baseball team is the Pirates, which is customary. I'm sure the terrorists don't really care what you call them. Pirates can be charming. I guess you could call the global oil companies pirates and they have ships and the works. Corporate pirates? They're making a killing, while the terrorists are just killing with no profit motive, so they aren't real pirates in the tradition of plundering. The terrorists can't be charming. A pirate will resort to violence, it just isn't the prime objective. The pirate is interested in riches and is motivated by greed. The terrorist is motivated by hate and wants to destroy wealth for the sake of creating mayhem, death and fear. A pirate will kill, just not commit mass murder like blowing up a whole port. A terrorist will blow up a port, a pirate will rob the port and wants it in tact to return and plunder it again and again. A pirate will lay traps which can be avoided. Terrorists don't work this way. They try avoiding traps by blending in, not rocking the boat. Pirates don't care about blending in or fitting in. The whole boat can be rocking, don't bother knocking. Pirates aren't motivated by religion or some image of God. Pirates aren't a suicidal group,they want to live to enjoy the booty they captured. Calling a terrorist a pirate is an insult to pirates everywhere and won't help stop terrorism anywhere. Argh!

JimAugust 30, 2006 8:53 PM

A terrorists sneaks up on you. A pirate doesn't care if you see it coming. By the time you see it coming, you can't prepare a defense and the best thing to do is retreat. With terrorism you don't have a chance to retreat. Retreat is not an option.

aeschylusAugust 30, 2006 9:12 PM

Ted> cite: How long will it take until Mahmoud Ahmadinejad issues Letters of marque and Reprisal?

Ted> I thought that's what fatwas were.

A fatwa is an interpretation of religious law issued by a mufti. In fact, the words mufti and fatwa have the same root. A fatwa is not a "death sentence" or even necessarily a condemnation of anything. Unfortunately some famous fatwas, such as Khomeini's, calling for the execution of Rushdie, have created a complete misconception in many people's minds as to what the word means.

RrrrrrrrrAugust 30, 2006 10:32 PM

@Geoff.

Which part of Europe are you from anyway?

"In Asia, Japan had invaded China in 1937."

The war should be called the World War in my opinion, not because everyone in the world was involved, but because it was a war for domination *of* the world. I hope that perspective clears things up for you and anyone else confused as to whether it was a World War before the USA got involved, famously late. Otherwise we might get to arguing over the lack of involvement by Switzerland, for instance. HOW COULD IT BE A WORLD WAR WITHOUT SWITZERLAND?!

I'm more interested by the fact that Mr Bush's comment is open to interpretation specifically on who was the traitor in both cases, since both events mentioned are controversial and consPIRACY theorists claim both were acts of treachery from within.

"We will not forget that treachery and we will accept nothing less than victory over the enemy."

If in interpreting his words, we define Bush as the treacherous enemy, then it is only natural that Bush should stop in no case apart from one where the treacherous enemy suffers defeat. Oh dictator-for-life, we pledge alleagiance to the flag of skull and bones ... erm. Cough cough. Cough'in'. I put a cough in.

silkioAugust 30, 2006 10:38 PM

this idea is ridiculously stupid.

no country has _any_ problems arresting, harrassing, torturing, invading-the-privacy-of some person that they 'consider' to be a terrorist.

the suggestion is an absolute joke; but hardly a surprise on this blog.

Davi OttenheimerAugust 31, 2006 1:07 AM

Ooops, sorry, meant "if it weighs the same as a duck". Vegetables for a nose and a large paper hat are also giveaways.

Confused myself for a minute there.

averrosAugust 31, 2006 4:04 AM

>What we need is a return of the concept of the
>"outlaw", someone who is declared outside the
>protection of the law. Such a person can be
> captured, tortured, killed etc without any legal
> concequences on the perpetrator.

I'm all for it. Let's start with politicans.

AnonymousAugust 31, 2006 6:04 AM

"Second, this definition would deter states from harboring terrorists on the grounds that they are "freedom fighters" by providing an objective distinction in law between legitimate insurgency and outright terrorism. This same objective definition could, conversely, also deter states from cracking down on political dissidents as "terrorists," as both Russia and China have done against their dissidents."

Oooh... what about exil-cubans who plan to invade cuba from the US???

Mr PondAugust 31, 2006 6:52 AM

Another parallel could be drawn with the "privateers" employed by the British in the West Indies in the 18th century. Yet another example could be the East india Company established to pave the way for British rule of India, which turned in to the Raj.

As an aside, the Roman & British empires were both very clever in the way that they imposed minimal change on existing regimes in teh countries they conquered. This of course lead (and leads?) to minimal disruption perceived by the population, and thus minimal subsequent unrest. Etc.

Terrorists as pirates? Interesting idea! Piracy on the High Seas is apparently one of only two offences under British law that still theoretically carry the death penalty. The other of course being treason.

End of Mr. Pond's Thought of the Day (TM).

My history on the British EMpire in India is a little hazy, so feel free to correct me where applicable...

CommonSenseAugust 31, 2006 7:56 AM

Not a bad parallel. Piracy as international crime makes sense. The only diversion I would point out is that terrorism is meant to be a much larger act. A pirate does not always intend the loss of thousands of lives. Typically, they intend the seizure of property.

A terrorist intends to kill civilians. This takes it to a form of genocide, where you kill a civilian for no reason other than they are of a culture or nationality you don't like. Being American or Western is the target in the case of the "liquid bomb plot".

This raises terrorism to the level of a war crime. While the international community should recognize the dangers of war criminals, it really doesn't require any permission to take one out. Just as when you capture an illegal enemy combatant, that combatant has no Geneva Convention rights and you are free to treat them as you please.

I see no reason why the men who planned to kill thousands of innocent people aboard airplanes (whether their stupid plot was workable or not) shouldn't simply be lined up and shot. They crossed the line from crime to genocide.

SleepygruntAugust 31, 2006 9:16 AM

"That's interesting, but the Ottoman empire used pirates very effectively to build their Mediterranean navy. Isn't that also a worthwhile lesson: That if pirates fill a need for you, it's better to employ them on your side and send them forth -- not everyone views pirates and profiteers in the same way."

Privateers commited the act of piracy as agents of a state but keep the spoils for themselves (my privateers will attack my enemie's shipping but not mine). Pirates make no distinction, but many historically were privateers from time to time and suddenly became pirates when their sponsors no longer required their services.

As most modern trans-national terrorism is at least in part state sponsored/sanctioned/supported, is it more akin to the privateer than the pirate?

Bin Laden and co have, at various times in the past, been directly and indirectly funded and supplied by the US, Saudi Arabian and Pakistani governments (via their intelligence services). Since the defeat of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, these "privateers" turned their attentions to democratic governments throughout the region and the US and allies. They are still being supported by donations from private individuals and organizations and the proceeds of organized criminal activity. They are being at least passively aided by the governments of various Muslim nations, especially Pakistan, who are failing to act to disrupt that support if not actively abetting their activities.

What does that make them? Pirates or privateers?

DAAugust 31, 2006 10:53 AM

Some positive musings regarding pirates (although not asymetrical warfare, nor any type of warfare)

"Because I do it with one small ship, I am called a terrorist. You do it with a whole fleet and are called an emperor."
A pirate, from St. Augustine's "City of God"

Buckminster Fullers thoughts on pirates are also worth reading - http://www.bfi.org/node/420

Finally Hakim Bey's insights into 'pirate utopia's' are worthy of some reflection. http://www.t0.or.at/hakimbey/taz/taz3a.htm

DA

XellosAugust 31, 2006 10:53 AM

--"A terrorists sneaks up on you. A pirate doesn't care if you see it coming."

No, no, no. A _ninja_ sneaks up on you. That means this is obviously a Ninja vs. Pirates battle. Or maybe we should be hiring ninjas to take out terrorists.

On a more serious note, I don't think this has anything to do with _calling_ terrorists pirates. This is about treating them similarly under law, which acutally makes quite a bit of sense. It'll be getting a significant portion of the governments to agree on a definition that'll be the problem.

--"What does that make them? Pirates or privateers?"

Sometimes (equivalent to) one, sometimes the other. It's not like either is a permanent condition. As long as they're operating with support (letter of marque equivalent) they're privateers conducting acts of war, and the supporting government needs to beware the consequences (if only we could make them).

JimAugust 31, 2006 11:48 AM

Everybody is equal under the law, so what you call them doesn't matter much.
You can call a killer a murder but so what. All you end up with is a term in prison, jail, the gulag or whatever you want to call it. There are pirates in Iraq right now, plundering the joint by taking advantage of the war. Some may be called privateers or profiteers. Where there is chaos there is piracy and lawlessness. Where there is law there is order. Maybe the pirates will take over New Orleans and plunder the Saints. They got $75 million to fix the Super Dome, so they can make a killing from football. Pirates don't play football, those are Buccaneers. Where there is football there is fun and that's what keeps it all from driving us nuts. If we can get the pirates plundering the terrorists, it will be their problem. The terrorists can't defeat the pirates, because most of us have a steak of piracy in us. Repaying a kindness is a burden and repaying an injury is a pleasure. Pay backs are a bitch.

Clive RobinsonAugust 31, 2006 11:50 AM

@Frank McGowan

"You have demonstrated the ability to stretch the argument beyond the bounds of reason"

Which is exactly my point, by most definitions of Pirate you can easily make an argument to show it covers just about any target you wish to chose this week.

A simple argument is that of Freedom fighter -v- terorist. It is your point of view that makes the difference. The U.S.A and Israel both started by terrorist activities against the British.

However with a little time and the fact that they make their own laws they become legitimate.

If you start misusing a law it becomes extreamly dangerous as the scope will tend to get larger and larger with time. As more people fall under the net more people will become terorised, untill they take the only action left open to them. This is simple logic which was recognised by an early American President,

Our civil liberties were hard won, but they are easy to lose. And once we give them away, they are difficult to reclaim. Benjamin Franklin said those who would trade their freedom for security deserve neither.

TedAugust 31, 2006 11:58 AM

@Sleepygrunt >>As most modern trans-national terrorism is at least in part state sponsored/sanctioned/supported, is it more akin to the privateer than the pirate?

Well yes, but if you choose privateer, then you're associating the terrorist with state-sponsorship and that's why the original article was going for the angle of non-state sponsored actors. A way of dealing with state-sponsored actors, without calling them that. A nod's as good as a wink to a blind bat.

My original reference to the Ottomans use of pirates was not meant to evoke privateers but asymetricity in developing capability. Prior to commissioning the pirates into the Ottoman navy the pirates were a nuisance but the Ottomans had no navy to speak. They had shot their wad on high payoff conventional warfare of the day - land troops, Janissaries, superior numbers, horses and artillery.

Then a day came that they thought, "Oh! - if we had a navy we could extend and subdue our fellow unruly Muslims as well and interdict the Venetians", and poof, courtesy of the new, unconventionally trained navy their empire became a big Ole crescent from Hungary to western Africa. A very nice case of co-opting and bypassing the bureaucrats that designed their "Defense Transformation of the 15th Century" battle plan.

I bring up the Ottomans because they're Muslim, had a sizable empire, and if you had to search for a golden age, it's not a stretch that people return to what works for them.

Lets assume that these are state-sponsored (as we do in other forums). These countries don't have much in the way of a coercive army, but they do have these fairly effective people at least in an unconventional forces sense (like special forces even) capable of producing strategic changes. No land army to intimidate the superpowers but something that jumps directly into a preference for unconventional warfare -- as Rummy would like us to do more often (I hear); no dependence for him on slow and plodding conventional forces. Well maybe just a bit. Now.

And really, does this work? Let me ask: recently, where did all those Hezbollah fighters come from if not directly bypassing the training and conventions of conventional forces of established states. I'm led to believe that they even maintained effective command and control. We can insist that they were state sponsored by Syria, Iran or whoever, but they were surprisingly effective in their little hop-skip-jump from shopkeepers to unconventional forces. If you were to stretch imagination a bit, you may even conclude that there's some kind of unspoken trans-national thing going on here -- cooperation between states in the case of Hezbollah (an army that spans three countries at least) , or less clearly between people that arrive in Iraq from all over to blow up -- Rummy says they're foreign terrorists, so foreign in this case means trans-national recruiting offices).

It is exceedingly inconvenient and annoying that they fight the fight that we're not.

JimAugust 31, 2006 12:02 PM

The British used terrorism against the colonies. The United States wasn't started by terrorists. It was started by Constitutionalists. Terrorists don't have a constitution. They want a state based on religion, not the consent of the people. The terrorists are more like the British than the Americans. Bin laden is more like a king than a President. He couldn't win an election in the United States, he might find support though. A nation with no constitution has little hope of human liberty and no right to call another with a constitution inferior or uncivilized.

AnonymousAugust 31, 2006 1:21 PM

I dislike this parallel intensely.

1) Piracy was an activity that took place, in general, in international waters where no nation state had any legal authority. The caveat that pirates could be arrested by anyone, anywhere, was therefore necessary to be able to deal with the pirates. Terrorism takes place, in general, within or above the the legal boundaries of a nation state, making this caveat unecessary. The activities take place where they are under the jurisdiction of someone.

2) This same caveat would theoretically allow the officers of any nation to enter any other nation and arrest anyone they consider a terrorist. Most contries would be shy of doing this for political reasons, but then many would not. What would stop the USA from sending a marshal to Canada to arrest Joe because they say he is a hacker which is a terrorist act under US law?

I do agree that terrorist are enemies of the human race. Terrorism is a global problem which should be addressed by a global entity. Unfortunately we currently do not have a global entity with the ability to take effective action and provide effective leadership. As long as each country remains an island trying to deal with terrorism alone, it will never be defeated. We need to stand united with a common purpose of defending the human race. Good luck to us all.

JimAugust 31, 2006 2:24 PM

"Terrorism is a global problem which should be addressed by a global entity."

Let the UN deal with it. As far as I'm concerned it's the UN's problem now. If anything goes wrong blame the UN. Turn Iraq over to the UN too. Iraq is a global problem and a mess. The UN can sort it out. We could leave a note.

Sorry for breaking Iraq, we just meant to break the government. We'll be more careful on the next invasion.

Sincerely,
The United States of America

P.S: You have to jiggle the handle on the upstairs toilet at Presidential Palace #44 in Baghdad, just so you know.

C GomezAugust 31, 2006 3:10 PM

@Clive Robinson:
"A simple argument is that of Freedom fighter -v- terorist. It is your point of view that makes the difference."

Untrue. Completely untrue and sad that this ridiculous statement is made all the time.

Terrorists attack civilians. Terrorists conspire to commit murder on those who are NOT part of the fight.

If they were truly "freedom fighters", they would attack military, political, and appropriately tactical targets. This is not what "terrorists" do.

It is very important to make this distinction and it does not matter what your "point of view" is. Terrorists are terrorists, not freedom fighters.

Jon SowdenAugust 31, 2006 3:46 PM

"The United States wasn't started by terrorists. It was started by Constitutionalists. Terrorists don't have a constitution. They want a state based on religion, not the consent of the people. The terrorists are more like the British than the Americans."

... and that is exactly why there will never be agreement on what makes a terrorist.

(hint: the definition of terrorist has _nothing_ to do with religion.)

(hit2: the definition of terrorist has _nothing_ to do with nationality.)

Frank McGowanAugust 31, 2006 6:14 PM

@Davi Otttenheimer - Perhaps your humor was intended strictly as humor, but maybe not.

If one who engages in lying is a "liar" and one who engages in theft is a "thief" and one who engages in murder is a "murderer" and one who engages in art is an "artist," why does it strike you so funny to say that one who engages in terrorism is a "terrortist?"

I think that qualifies as "looks like a duch, it walks like a duck, etc."; don't you?

Just because something is obvious does not make it wrong. Nor does it make denying it correct or even clever.

-Or- Maybe I drank too much coffee today...

NE PatriotAugust 31, 2006 6:25 PM

This is a bad idea.
Some of the comments have touched on the reasons why, but the short form is one of identity. How do you brand a pirate, or a terrorist, as such?
We've seen the USA PATRIOT act used to prosecute meth labs. Under the auspices of "national security," free speech is regularly curbed at political rallies: in Boston, protesters at the DNC were confined to a small cage about 1/2 a mile from the convention site.
It's easy to say "terrorism is when an Arab man straps a bomb to his chest and triggers it in a crowded market" but that misses the point. What about the people or governments who funded it? That's taking on the role of the enabler, and by fiat, becoming part of the terrorist act. (After all, as we see on the news today, one doesn't need to actually pull the trigger to be guilty, but simply plan an act.) Should people who buy illicit drugs (think: Afghanistan and it's poppy/heroin trade) be branded terrorists because drug money so often fuels terrorist acts? What about the various members of the Regan Administration, who famously furnished weapons to states who are well known sponsors of terrorism? Are they now terrorists? If someone talks out against a group, and someone else, feeling moved by this, kills many members of that group, is the initial speaker now a terrorist?
Fingers are occasionally pointed at fanatical imans, that they sit in league with terrorists, as their firey rhetoric is the very inspiration for scores of marketplace bombings around the world. But are the ultra conservative preachers who foment anger against abortion clinics terrorists?
What ever happened to arresting people for the plain old crime of murder, and conspiracy to commit same? I believe that one is already on the books all over the world. Not as flashy, but look at who nabbed Al Capone.
It's easy to pass knee jerk legislation, but as so often happens, the well meaning intent of such laws frequently get warped to justify a later crackdown on reasonably innocent, but socially undesirable members of society. We need fewer laws, not more.

Frank McGowanAugust 31, 2006 6:35 PM

@Clive Robinson - If what you are saying is that laws enforced overly enthusiastically or applied beyond the clear legislative intent of those that passed it is dangerous, I agree wholeheartedly. But if what you are saying is that a particular legal need should not be addressed because of the potential of such abuse, I disagree.

In the event of such abuse, the legislature that passed the law needs to intervene by amending the law to make the abuse of the law clearly illegal or the judges before whom such cases are brought need to toss them out.

Neither happens as often as it should, but that is the way the system is designed to work. It is not the system's fault that the people charged with guiding and preserving it are derelict. It is ours if we permit it.

Make the terrorist subject to general jurisdiction and hang him when you catch him as was sometimes done for the pirates of old or try him in front of an Admiralty Court or whatever the analogous authority would be in this case. Then hang him if the verdict is guilty or turn him loose if not.

Just for the record, no - I really don't care if we are speaking of al Qaeda, the IRA or any other group of bus- and market-bombers. If they can be dealt with internally, like the guys who raided the school in Beslan finally were, good. If not, once they step over an international border to "ply their trade" or to hide from pursuit, they are subject to any nation's justice.

May they get it swiftly.

Frank McGowanAugust 31, 2006 6:39 PM

@Jim - What situation has the UN handled effectively in the last 50 years?

You might as well leave it to your grandma to handle terrorists.

AnonymousAugust 31, 2006 6:53 PM

@Jon Sowden
"... and that is exactly why there will never be agreement on what makes a terrorist."
You don't need *unanimous* agreement. What you need is general agreement and a sufficient mass of determined actors to get this under control.


"(hint: the definition of terrorist has _nothing_ to do with religion.)"
Correct; it has to do with actions and intent.

"(hint2: the definition of terrorist has _nothing_ to do with nationality.)"
Right again; see above.

Find the people that *act* like terrorists and suppress them.

Find the people that *recruit* or *train* or *finance* the people that *act* like terrorists and suppress them, too.

Find the countries that *act* like they are protecting terrorists and knock hell out of them until they give up the terrorists. Or until they cease to function at all.

Then you *help* the people that *don't* act like terrorists. Eventually, those willing to chance the consequences will grow few in number and their supporters will be both few and weak.

Repeat as needed.

The problem thus far has been that terrorists, by and large, have not suffered significant consequences with sufficient regularlity. Neither have the nations that sponsor them. If we want to change the political reality, we need to change how we deal with the bad actors.

Clive RobinsonAugust 31, 2006 7:52 PM

@jim

"The United States wasn't started by terrorists. It was started by Constitutionalists. Terrorists don't have a constitution."

What is a constitution, it is a document of aims and objectives, some might call it a manifesto, a large number of "terrorist" organisations have pieces of paper with aims and objective on. Like declarations of intent starting a document with "We the people" does not in any way legitamise the document or the words it contains.

What legitimises the piece of paper is the ability to make it stick not just in the minds of people but in the way they belive and respond to it, so that it becomes law.

The American Constitution was Proposed in 1787, and effective from 1789, which is a generation after the events you refer to. So no America was not "started by Constitutionalists".

Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, was adopted in July 1776 some ten years after the events that gave rise to it.

As regards to "The British used terrorism against the colonies." the majority of the colonists in and around Boston where white settelers who had been transported over to the "new lands" at the expense of one or more Governments in Europe. Boston MA happens to be named after a town in Lincolnshire England, which gives you a clue as to where a large chunk of it's nonindigenous population came from (and where citizens of...). Like other Europeans they did a fairly good job of repressing those who already lived there (the Native American Indian tribes in particular the Mohawks).

If you take a close look at the history of the times you will find that although the British Parliment had imposed taxes on trade (designed to recover the vast expediture of colonisation), all but one of the taxes had been repealed.

The one remaining tax on tea had been put in place (due to much campaining to Parliment) to prevent the East India Company from becoming bankrupt. Tea was a luxury item in the colonies, imbibed only by a very small minority. Ironicaly even with the tax the cost of the taxed tea was actually significantly cheaper than that that was being smuggled in prior to the tax. It was the loss of their livelyhood that drove many involved with tea smugling into the arms of the radicals.

The majority of the populace at the time was not pro-independence quite the reverse and most saw those that where as dangerous rebels/radicals to be avoided.

The trouble actually started in Boston as a result of unrest where the colonial authorities where attacked (specificaly tax collectors) two British regiments where posted there to "keep the King's peace".

In March 1770, antagonism between Bostonians and British soldiers again flared into violence. What began as a harmless snowballing of British soldiers degenerated into a mob attack. Faced with what appeared to be mob rule somebody gave the order to fire, as the smoke cleared, three Bostonians lay dead or dying in the snow.

Dubbed the "Boston Massacre," the incident was dramatically pictured as proof of British heartlessness and tyranny. It was this event and the "bad press" that followed that caused the British Parliment to repeal the taxes

However in December 1773 a Boston resident (Samuel Adams) purportedly gave a signal, to a band of radicals disguiesd as Mohawk Native Americans to illegaly board three ships (Guess Piracy does spring up) and dump the cargos of tea into the harbour.

This gave rise to the British closing Boston Harbour with a law (Boston Port Bill) untill the tea was paid for. This was a face saving act due in the main to the then percieved activites of the French. It was felt that a show of force was required (the proverbial sledge hammer to crack a nut) to show that Britian still had control of the colonies and prevent further incursion by the French from the North (Quebec).

In April 1775 the "radicals" accumulated supplies to arm a millitia in Concord. A large British force was sent out from Boston under Major John Pitcairn. On route they where confrunted by a group of 70 "Minutemen" at Lexington comanded by Captain John Parker. Now I do not know what your definition of a terorist is but if a citizen takes up arms against a Govrnment it is usualy considered by the Governemnt to be an act of treason or in more modern times terrorisum.

Apparently it was supposed to be a peacfull protest (although the Minutemen where fairly well armed) but a shot was fired from the minutemen (it is belived that one of them triped and fell). Fearing an all out attack the British troops fired back and charged with bayonets. The result was eight dead and ten wounded minutemen.

In a state of high alert the British force then moved on to Concord to capture what remained of the arms and amunition and destroy them. They then had to fight their way back to Boston under almost continual guerilla attack from minutemen. the result was 250 dead British "Red Coat" troops and 93 dead millitia men.

Many attempts where made by moderate voices on both sides of the ocean to dampen down the situation. Unfortunatly the radicals used intimidation and violence against the moderates in the "colonies" (ie terror tactics).

Meanwhile the French had siezed upon the oportunity offered by this series of events to forment trouble in the North. Which only increased King George III's suspicions that it was all "French Motivated" (it also did not help that the balence of his mind due to a rare disorder was not good).

In May 1775 the Continental Congress met in Philadelphia and declaired war, and inducted the militias into service appointing Colonel George Washington of Virginia as commander-in-chief of the American forces.

Faced with what he saw as acts of treason (/terrorisum) and the continued agitiation of the French King George III of England issued a proclamation in August 1775, declaring the colonies to be in a state of rebellion.

The French Spanish and Dutch however seeing Britain distracted by events in the Americas formented trouble back in Europe. Faced with a much more significant threat Britain focused it's attention on Europe. You could therefore put up a good argument that the U.S.A only exists because of the French attempts to colanize much of the world and their emnity towards the British.

Were the colonial radicals "Freedom fighters" or "terrorists" they certainly used terorist tactics on the manly pro-British population of the time. As was once observed "History is written by the victors". And as we know from recent times Victors are Heros, and the losers "War Criminals".

As an asside Great Britain only came into existance due to the failier of an earlier attempt at setteling the Americas by the Scottish. It was portraied as a grate adventure that would bring great wealth to all those who invested and many many did. When it failed (due to being wiped out by pestalance in the marsh lands they landed in) it caused the Scottish investors to become impoverished and brought the Scottish economy to it's knees.

It was at this point that the English finally saw the oportunity they had been waiting for and pushed unification down the throats of the Scots (Act of Union 1707) with a bribe of money to both the Scottish MPs and the people. The sum of money known as “the Equivalent��? was supposedly equal to the share it was assuming of England's national debt. Thus was formed Great Britain, the Scots sent 45 MPs and 16 Lords to London to sit in the two houses of Parliment (and thus it remained untill 1999).

Clive RobinsonAugust 31, 2006 8:08 PM

Sorry folks my posting above was in reply to Jon Sowden not to Jim (I blame the latness of the night it's 2AM in London).

@Frank McGowan

"If what you are saying is that laws enforced overly enthusiastically or applied beyond the clear legislative intent of those that passed it is dangerous,"

Yes, (also poorly formed or overly broad legislation is more easily open to abuse).

As my father always used to tell me "A Hammer is for nails a Screwdriver for screws, use a hammer on a screw and it will give you trouble"

JimAugust 31, 2006 9:10 PM

"The American Constitution was Proposed in 1787, and effective from 1789, which is a generation after the events you refer to. So no America was not "started by Constitutionalists"."

Maybe so but Pennsylvania was started by Constitutionalists. Read about the Stamp Act, the beginning of the end for subversives in America. The old constitution was the basis for the new constitution.

Resolves of the Pennsylvania Assembly on the Stamp Act, September 21, 1765

Resolved, N. C. D. 4. That it is the inherent Birth-right, and indubitable Privilege, of every British Subject, to be taxed only by his own Consent, or that of his legal Representatives, in Conjunction with his Majesty, or his Substitutes.

Resolved, therefore, N. C. D. 6. That the Taxation of the People of this Province by any other Persons whatsoever than such their Representatives in Assembly, is unconstitutional, and subversive of their most valuable Rights.

Resolved, N. C. D. 8.1 That the vesting and Authority in the Courts of Admiralty to decide in Suits relating to the Stamp Duty, and other Matters, foreign to their proper Jurisdiction, is highly dangerous to the Liberties of his Majesty’s American Subjects, contrary to Magna Charta, the great Charter and Fountain of English Liberty, and destructive of one of their most darling and acknowledged Rights, that of Trials by Juries.

Resolved, N. C. D. 10. That this House think it their Duty thus firmly to assert, with Modesty and Decency, their inherent Rights, that their Posterity may learn and know, that it was not with their Consent and Acquiescence, that any Taxes should be levied on them by any Persons but their own Representatives; and are desirous that these their Resolves should remain on their Minutes, as a Testimony of the Zeal and ardent Desire of the present House of Assembly to preserve their inestimable Rights, which, as Englishmen, they have possessed ever since this Province was settled, and to transmit them to their latest Posterity.

The document is here.
http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/amerrev/...

The United States has no secret state. The FISA court is unconstitutional. We have adopted the English concept of liberty which is good and the English custom of spying on the citizens of our own nation which is not good.

"Award-winning reporter Peter Taylor investigates how the British "Secret State" has spied on its citizens, including actor Ricky Tomlinson, for decades."

A clearly shocked Ricky Tomlinson told the programme: "I'm totally gobsmacked. If they can do it to me, they can do it to anyone."
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/true_spies/...

They can't do it in Pennsylvania constitutionally. Gobsmack that!

JimAugust 31, 2006 9:36 PM

I'm sure the contitutionalists hanged some British spies. Does that make the terrorists? I don't think so. The FBI has used spies and then had to arrest their own spies. They did more harm than good. You can't beat a well informed public to keep the peace. There's more honor among pirates than there is among spies. The spies can't even find bin laden. So much for spying.

Clive RobinsonAugust 31, 2006 9:57 PM

@Jim,

As I said in my following post I incorrectly addressed my comments to you not to Jon Sowden who I had quoted.

I was aware of the Stamp Act by reference to "Sons of Liberty" and Patrick Henry denouncing taxation without representation as a threat to colonial liberties, and declaring that Virginians had the rights of Englishmen (which is what appeared in our English History books which made a big point about British MP's are supposed to hold a universal view and not just those of their constituents).

I was not aware of Pennsylvania Assembly resolutions (the internet was still ARPAnet when I was at school and not available to school children ;) I shall have a read over the links this week end.

On another note (and just for fun), the Declaration of independence has the following sentance,

"That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new Government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

The bit that always gave me pause for thought is,

"it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new Government,"

In the odd forms of government we live in (only losely based on democracy) how do you abolish a Government. After all I have never seen "None of the above" on a voting slip ;)

JimAugust 31, 2006 10:18 PM

We're always abolishing the government here in the United States. You elect new people and they write new legislation to abolish the bad legislation passed by the former government. It's a never ending process that requires a lot of resources. That's why we have so many lobbyists. Get more lobbyists to do the job of abolishing the government. They're more effective than spies and don't invade the privacy of the people. They're too busy making money and living it up.

Some people don't care for lobbyists but you have to give them credit where credit is due. You can abolish the government and the lobbyists can help you do it. I believe President Grant coined the term. He held meetings at Washington hotels and the men interested in politics waited around in the hotel lobby to try to meet President Grant, who said keep those lobbyists away from me. Some lobbyists are known to pirate a piece of legislation from time to time. Sometimes you have to run your black flag up the pole and start sinking ships. Argh!

Clive RobinsonAugust 31, 2006 10:25 PM

@jim

Award-winning reporter Peter Taylor investigates how the British "Secret State" has spied on its citizens, including actor Ricky Tomlinson, for decades."

I have been aware for many years that the UK Government maintains a watch list on the rich and famous it used to be Millionairs and up (not sure how much money you need to have to get on it these days).

The info held was mainly biographical with details of relatives etc. The reason for keeping these people on the list was mainly incase they where kiddnapped etc.

There was a time if you became wealthy overnight (say you sold your business for a few million) you would get a visit from a "friend" to advise you on security and other aspects, and give you pointers to the appropriate Lloyds syndicates and other organisations.

The reasons where not alturistic, no Gov want's the bad press of seeing a top media or business person (or their close relatives) being ransomed for money etc (or to be seen to be medaling when it comes to recovering them).

As for other reasons, well J. Edger Hover had a reputation for that type of spying, so it is fair to assume that others have been and probably still are "at it".

The sad thing about it is that the likes of the British MP Jack Straw etc. made lots of noise about individual rights and being spied upon in the 70's etc. However when it came to their turn in the Home Office they put into place laws that basicaly opened the door to all sorts of spying.

So much so that one previous head of MI5 came out and said that there was realy no need for new laws but there was a need for better oversight. Guess what the politicos ignored the advice of the profesional and prefered that of the Whitehall Manderins...

JimAugust 31, 2006 10:54 PM

They're still at it. Spying is more corporate today. The motivation has not changed. Money. Spying breaks security and do we ever have broken security. Governments seem to believe that spying increases security. If you destroy privacy by spying, you compromise security in the process and you lose more than you gain. What you lose is integrity and you can't put a price on that. Spying is ineffective which is why terrorism is such a problem or one reason it is a problem. Spying makes for interesting cinema with James Bond and that sort of thing. In reality, it's not a very effective security method. Having a secret police is just a gestapo and we all know how that works.

JimSeptember 1, 2006 1:09 AM

Why is FISA dangerous?
Most important, FISA powers are broad and vague, and the secrecy of FISA proceedings makes FISA powers susceptible to abuse.

FISA power extends well beyond spies and terrorists. It can be used in connection with ordinary criminal investigations involving United States citizens who live in this country and who may be charged with offenses such as narcotics violations or breaches of an employer's confidentiality. 50 U.S.C. §§ 1806, 1825.

For instance, electronic surveillance under § 1801(f)(1) only reaches wire or radio communications "sent by or intended to be received by a particular, known United States person who is in the United States, if the contents are acquired by intentionally targeting that United States person" and a warrant would ordinarily be required. If the U.S. person is not "known," or more important, not "intentionally" targeted, it simply isn't "electronic surveillance" under § 1801(f)(1).

Note also that FISA expressly contemplates that it will produce "unintentionally acquired information." § 1806(i). But while this section requires the destruction of such information, it only applies to "the contents of any radio communication," only if a warrant would have been required, and only if both the sender and intended recipients are within the United States.

Given these limits, one may presume that "unintentionally acquired information" outside these lines is not destroyed. That would include all "unintentionally acquired"wire or electronic communications.

Is FISA really constitutional?
Lower courts have found FISA constitutional. See e.g., United States v. Duggan, 743 F.2d 59(2d Cir. 1984); United States v. Belfield, 692 F.2d 141 (D.C.Cir 1982); United States v. Nicholson, 955 F.Supp. 588 (E.D. Va. 1997).

In United States v. U.S. District Court, the Supreme Court used a two-part Fourth Amendment reasonableness test. It is doubtful whether the FISA review process satisfies the Court's first measure of the reasonableness of warrantless surveillance -- whether the citizens' interest in privacy and free expression are better served by a warrant requirement.

The second element—whether a judicially imposed law enforcement warrant requirement would "unduly frustrate the efforts of Government to protect itself"—may be more easily met in the foreign intelligence setting. But Title III has for more than 30 years required more stringent procedures for criminal investigatory wiretaps.

Source:
http://www.eff.org/Censorship/Terrorism_militias/...

FISA is broad and vague for sure. If you keep the public in the dark, you always have problems. After the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, you have to question the effectiveness of what these people are doing or better what the system is doing. Does it work and for who? What makes no sense is having a U.S. court with broad powers not understood by the people it serves. The public has right to privacy and the courts don't have a right to privacy. Judges are public officials and their work should be done in the public light of day. In my opinion the FISA court is a disgrace and unconstitutional. Law is by nature public and as such it relies on critical review that is open to and subject to public opinion.

JimSeptember 1, 2006 1:44 AM

FISA is "contrary to Magna Charta, the great Charter and Fountain of English Liberty, and destructive of one of their most darling and acknowledged Rights, that of Trials by Juries."

FISA exchanges Juries for secrecy and when you do that Liberty is compromised. This causes abuses and insecurity. It is destructive to freedom and an insult to reason. It's the sort of court the devil would create if the devil was creating courts. How can you have faith in such a creation? God only knows. Even President Bush avoided the whole thing. You can be sure the corporate crooks have it all figured out. I can't figure it out and I'm a fairly good detective.

Frank McGowanSeptember 1, 2006 11:35 AM

@Clive Robinson -
Contrary to your repeated implication, treason != terrorism though they can be coincidental.

Neither is guerilla warfare "terrorism" when the targets of such action are military personnel or military assets. When one is conducting guerilla operations in one's own country, that would definitely qualify as "treason" but would only become "terrorism" when civilians become the object of such action.

Hence, you are correct in that the Lexington Minutemen and the Concord Militia engaged in treason that day 1775. They would have hanged had the war turned the other way.

You are also incorrect in that you called a series of harrassing attacks against a retreating army formation acts of "terrorism." They would be better characterized as a "guerilla" attack.

You are also correct in that the FISA act and the "legal" mechanisms it established are **definitely** unconstitutional. (I don't care what the courts have said about it; I can read the Constitution, too. Even judges have the "right to remain wrong.") In this case, Congress is definitely derelict in its duty to provide clear, concise and enforceable law by not revisiting this one. The founders of the US were definitely outraged by the British "Star Chamber" and would be absolutely aghast at the idea - much less the fact - of the FISA "court."

We currently have secret immigration "courts" as well and I suppose they are built on the foundation FISA provided. As a practical matter, they may even be FISA courts rather than separate entities; I don't know. Secret courts and/or secret evidence and/or secret witnesses are the sort of things the constitution was written to prevent.

Even as Congress has been derelict in its duty to pass just and wise laws, the voters have been derelict in their duty to hold Congress and its members responsible for the results of their actions via the ballot box.

Was it Blackstone who said "The the law should be so reasonable that only the most unreasonable would refuse to obey it and so simple that only the most simple minded could not understand it?"

Returning to the original topic, defining terrorists as subject to "general juisdiction" would at least provide a way of dealing with them that is based on a precedent. Nothing is all good, though, and continuing vigilance - of both terrorists and legal systems - remains a requirement.

JimSeptember 1, 2006 12:52 PM

FISA is a real Frankenstein. It makes you feel like Lilly from the Munsters. She was normal and they were all the Munsters and she thought they were all normal. There's nothing wrong here, that's how they are. That's judges as Munsters. Go figure!

JimSeptember 1, 2006 1:00 PM

Meet Mrs. Munster.
Lily's housekeeping duties often involve spreading garbage around the mansion and "dusting" via a vacuum cleaner operating in reverse so that it blows dirt about.

This could be funny. I think Lily became a Judge in Washington. Don't tell anybody.

JimSeptember 1, 2006 1:16 PM

Marilyn Munster was the one who was normal. Then there was Grandpa Munster, he built a sleeping machine which made the user fall asleep for a selected amount of time. While the victim was asleep, his or her age did not change. The machine was tested on the entire family. When Grandpa accidently sets the unit for 22 YEARS instead of 22 minutes, the family awakens to the world of 1988. They all struggle to find their way in the strange new era. A real catch 22!

AnonymousSeptember 1, 2006 5:01 PM

President Bush is giving speeches about terrorists as nazis. "They are not political speeches," Bush said. When a politician delivers a speech it is a political speech. Terrorists aren't politicians, nazis were politicians. The message is that political speech is bad, I guess.

Clive RobinsonSeptember 1, 2006 6:19 PM

@Frank McGowan

"Contrary to your repeated implication, treason != terrorism though they can be coincidental."

As far as I am concerned,

Treason is when a person commits an act to harm the nation they are a citizen of.

Terrorism is when a person commits acts of terror against other persons or property.

If the harm a person uses is terror tactics against other citizens of the nation they belong to it is both treason and terrorism.

The radicals pressing for independence from 1765 to 1773 where in the minority they did indead use terror tactics against the general populace that had loyalist/Royalist sympathies. Therefore by my above definitions they commited actes of terrorisum against other citizens of their country which is also treason.

If you re-read what I posted you will find I said,

"Now I do not know what your definition of a terorist is but if a citizen takes up arms against a Govrnment it is usualy considered by the Governemnt to be an act of treason or in more modern times terrorisum."

The UK, Spain, Germany and America have all had attackes against their civilian and millitary personell by citizens of their country in the last 50 years (ie modern times). The individuals used weapons of war (guns and bombs) I do not remember any of the nations refering to the acts as anything other than terrorism (if you are aware of any please let me know I would be interested to see them).

When you say,

"You are also incorrect in that you called a series of harrassing attacks against a retreating army formation acts of "terrorism." They would be better characterized as a "guerilla" attack."

I can only assume that you miss read what I wrote,

"They then had to fight their way back to Boston under almost continual guerilla attack from minutemen."

At no point did I refer to it as acts of terrorism.

Contrary to your assertion,

"Contrary to your repeated implication, treason != terrorism though they can be coincidental."

The question I possed was,

"Were the colonial radicals "Freedom fighters" or "terrorists" they certainly used terorist tactics on the manly pro-British population of the time."

As I have said in my previous postings a persons perspective on "Freedom fighters" or "terrorists" is not about the acts they commit but they way the person views them. If you tend to agree with the aims and objectives of people carrying out terrorist activities you are more likely to call them freedom fighters. If these people then overthrow the government they are attacking the history books likewise record them as freedom fighters and the fallen government as opressive (or similar).

The U.S. has had this problem in the past when it has followed the doctrin of "mine enimies enemy is my friend". They have forgoton that in time your enemy might become your friend, then what happens.

Back in the late 70's and 80's Osama bin Laden was a "freedom fighter" in Afghanistan helping to overthrow the oppressive Afghanistan (pupet) government supported by the Russians. Now Osama is a terrorist (which as far as I am concerned he always was).

From what I can remember of your previous postings you and I have very similar views and outlooks, it's the imprecice termanology we have to use that causes the issues.

ClayfootOctober 4, 2006 9:09 AM

I like it. The definition of piracy could be easily adapted to terrorism as acts of "depredation [committed] for political ends."

IkeOctober 4, 2006 10:26 AM

I'd certainly agree with terrorism as piracy from an international law standpoint, but since one man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter, I think trying to define who to place under the interdict would be difficult. The guys plying the China Sea knocking off freighters would be easy, but the IRA, the Taliban (whom we funded when they fought the Russians), etc and so on . . . a different story. What a brawl in the General Assembly that would be!

In a case of history repeating itself (and lest we think that your idea might actually be a solution), I am reminded that, back in the days to which you refer, our response to state-sanctioned piracy was to send in the Marines.

ashieOctober 31, 2008 4:46 PM

i think sick minded people like terrorists need to realise that the world doesnt revole around them that harming inocent people to get what you want isnt the answer and that if your smart enough to do something like that you should put your brain to good use and become an inventor or something

lizaveta ivanovaDecember 29, 2009 11:36 AM

Let's face it folks, there is no generally agreed definition of the term Terrorist, under international law, nor even under domestic (municipal) law. Therefore, it only stands to reason that there can be no such thing as a generally agreed international jurisdiction of a nation state over "terrorists". While this is an interesting soliloquy at best, it does nothing to address the real problem, which is precisely that given the lack of definition, we have only the measures afforded under criminal law of sovereign states, or under international law dealing with international crimes against humanity. This is the inconvenient fact, folks. There is a related question, however, which is the converse of the question asked in your blog. Should pirates be considered terrorists? This too is purely academic. The fact that piracy is a known and clearly defined term under international law, with very clear recourse both on the level of municipal law, and under international law, yet there are a host of navies who seem to be impotent in the face of a squadron of men in rafts. Let's start here. Who needs to dream up new threats and definitions that defy real analysis?

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