Wednesday, September 06, 2006
TO UNDERSTAND THE POTENTIAL OF DEFINING TERRORISM as a species of piracy, consider the words of the 16th-century jurist Alberico Gentili's De jure belli: "Pirates are common enemies, and they are attacked with impunity by all, because they are without the pale of the law. They are scorners of the law of nations; hence they find no protection in that law." Gentili, and many people who came after him, recognized piracy as a threat, not merely to the state but to the idea of statehood itself. All states were equally obligated to stamp out this menace, whether or not they had been a victim of piracy. This was codified explicitly in the 1856 Declaration of Paris, and it has been reiterated as a guiding principle of piracy law ever since. Ironically, it is the very effectiveness of this criminalization that has marginalized piracy and made it seem an arcane and almost romantic offense. Pirates no longer terrorize the seas because a concerted effort among the European states in the 19th century almost eradicated them. It is just such a concerted effort that all states must now undertake against terrorists, until the crime of terrorism becomes as remote and obsolete as piracy.
But we are still very far from such recognition for the present war on terror.
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.
This is more than pure legalese. The lengthy article goes into extensive historical detail, and the parallels between historical piracy and modern-day terror are striking enough to suggest that the difference is indeed purely semantic. The great European powers actually had state-sanctioned piracy, as vehicles for their foreign policy aims - a fact that immediately brings to mind the Great Game in Afghanistan and the way in which realpolitik created the Taliban and funded Saddam in the mid-eighties.
Much of the advantages are long -term, to be sure. But there is one immediate benefit, which incidentally also gives a moral clarity of its own:
In the short term, it is a tool to cut the Gordian knot of definition that has hampered antiterrorist legislation for 40 years. In the long term, and far more important, it provides the parameters by which to understand this current and intense conflict and the means within which it may one day be resolved. That resolution will begin with the recognition among nations that terrorism is a threat to all states and to all persons, the same recognition given to piracy in 1856. Terrorists, like pirates, must be given their proper status in law: hostis humani generis, enemies of the human race.
Considering how meaningless the Administration's tactic of lumping all terror threats into one faceless mass of generic "Islamofascism" has been, adopting the piracy standard provides some much-needed contrast in the debate about how best to achieve victory.
UPDATE: such a legal approach is fully compatible with the Geneva Conventions, as well.
what i said at deans.
essentially, the LE extinction of pirates was possible because the pirates were separable from the host culture they preyed on.
so, resupply and hiding places could be burned out and destroyed.
the jihaadis embedd in the host culture.
Obama 2008 - I want my country back
Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.