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Is Piracy Terrorism?

Douglas Burgess Jr. makes the interesting argument that pirates are a type of terrorist and should be treated as such.

The solution to piracy lies in the very nature of piracy itself. The Roman lawmaker Cicero defined piracy as a crime against civilization itself, which English jurist Edward Coke famously rephrased as "hostis humani generis" — enemies of the human race. As such, they were enemies not of one state but of all states, and correspondingly all states shared in the burden of capturing them. . . .

Pirates are not ordinary criminals. They are not enemy combatants. They are a hybrid, recognized as such for thousands of years, and can be seized at will by anyone, at any time, anywhere they are found.

. . . Are pirates a species of terrorist? In short, yes. The same definition of pirates as hostis humani generis could also be applied to international organized terrorism. Both crimes involve bands of brigands that divorce themselves from their nation-states and form extraterritorial enclaves; both aim at civilians; both involve acts of homicide and destruction, as the United Nations Convention on the High Seas stipulates, "for private ends."

It is an interesting argument, but it may have a faulty premise. As Kevin Jon Heller notes, while pirates may be enemies of all states, that does not make them the same as terrorists.

The defining feature of terrorism is precisely that it is committed not for private ends, but to intimidate a civilian population or to influence government policy. Indeed, over the long and troubled history of efforts to create a general definition of terrorism, that is perhaps the only aspect of the definition that has never seriously been in doubt. . . .

Pirates have no politics. They are, therefore, not terrorists.

Curt Fischer:
Very interesting that this post came just after Ilya's post on genocide vs. mass murder. Labels: sometimes they matter, sometimes they don't?
12.7.2008 7:51pm
Cardozo'd (www):
One thing I find interesting about the latest pirates is that companies seemingly wish to deal with them instead of having them attacked. They want to get their cargo and probably more so their ships back, so they are willing to pay the ransom instead of having them blown to bits. I believe the Somali pirates have yet to kill anyone...so the companies seem more than willing to just pay them off rather than rebuild a ship or lose precious cargo.
12.7.2008 7:53pm
MCM (mail):
I believe the Somali pirates have yet to kill anyone...


From what I have read they are responsible for about 9 or 10 deaths this year, plus more "missing" who are assumed dead.

That said it should be obvious that pirates are not terrorists. Terrorists might be like pirates, but they don't share the same goals.
12.7.2008 7:57pm
Patent Lawyer:
The argument is phrased wrong, which doesn't help. The question isn't "are pirates a species of terrorist?", but "should international law treat terrorists and pirates the same way?" The answer to the second question is a much clearer "Yes". Both are forms of warfare, conducted out of uniform, against civilian targets, in violation of every standard of civilized behavior. Neither deserve the civil rights and protections granted to ordinary criminals and POWs.
12.7.2008 8:04pm
MCM (mail):
I think an even bigger mistake Burgess makes is when he talks about a "solution to piracy". You might as well talk about a solution to burglary or battery.
12.7.2008 8:08pm
Raționalitate (www):
Pirates are a cost of doing business. Just as the government doesn't go around paying for people's locks on their doors and banks' safes to keep their deposits in, the government has no business protecting private shippers from the vagaries of the high seas. If this costs shippers more money, then so be it, because that's the cost of their business. But when governments internalize the cost, it's just creating inefficiencies in the system.

There is, however, a catch: in the current regulatory/customs environment, international shippers are not allowed to defend their own ships. Maybe if we liberalized our customs regimes and allowed shippers to defend themselves, shippers would start internalizing their own defense, and governments around the world could reduce their naval spending.
12.7.2008 8:08pm
Anonperson (mail):
Both are forms of warfare, conducted out of uniform, against civilian targets, in violation of every standard of civilized behavior. Neither deserve the civil rights and protections granted to ordinary criminals and POWs.

Hm...it seems to me that all the above applies to ordinary robbers also, except for the claim that piracy is a form of warfare. What exactly does that mean, though? What exactly makes an accused pirate less deserving of civil rights than an accused armed robber?
12.7.2008 8:10pm
Jim Rhoads (mail):
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, pirates, like spies, were always subject to walking the plank or being hung whenever caught. I don't see any reason to change that fine old tradition.
12.7.2008 8:16pm
Paulk:

the government has no business protecting private shippers from the vagaries of the high seas


Nonsense---governments have consistently historically taken very serious measures to protect their merchant marine from piracy. Witness the mini-war against the Barbary Pirates. Also witness the French and English government policies from the same period of paying Tripoli pirates to allow their ships safe passage. See also the multitude of Spanish and English anti-piracy efforts of the 17th and 18th century. I'm all for limited government, but I know the history here is wrong and I seriously suspect the legal premises about the nature of the high seas are as well, but I'll let someone else speak to that. Privateering may be a possible answer to piracy, but it's surely not the only logical one.
12.7.2008 8:24pm
PersonFromPorlock:
The short and cynical answer is: "If the spending authority's in 'fighting terrorism', then pretty soon everything is terrorism."
12.7.2008 8:24pm
CDR D (mail):
>>>If this costs shippers more money, then so be it, because that's the cost of their business.<<<



Cool.

And who do you think the shippers will pass that "cost of business" on to?

Kinda like the concept of corporate taxes, I suppose.

Rip those shippers! Rip those evil corporations! Make 'em pay!

Doesn't affect me.

No.

Not at all.
12.7.2008 8:32pm
Barry P. (mail):
These days, "terrorist" = "anybody I don't like". It's about as useful a label as "conservative" or "liberal".
12.7.2008 8:34pm
Barry P. (mail):
CDR D:

I think the point is that having shippers protect themselves and pass on the cost is more efficient than having navies defend the shippers, with Joe Taxpayer covering the tab.

It might just be that the cost of fighting piracy is greater than the benefits, so the current system of capture, ransom and release may be economically optimal.

Although, in our technological age, I imagine it is possible to track and attack the pirates after they release a vessel, and will only get easier with time.
12.7.2008 8:41pm
Eli Rabett (www):
To claim that pirates did not try to intimidate is silly. They were feared for good reason.
Described as a "maniac and a brute" by his own men, Ned Low was a Boston ship rigger who turned to piracy. He earned a reputation for extreme cruelty. After capturing a Nantucket whaler, Low made her commander eat his own sliced off ears, sprinkled with salt, before he killed him. When he captured the Spanish galleon "Montcova", he personally slaughtered fifty-three officers and made one Spaniard eat the heart of another before killing him. His own crew finally set him adrift in an open boat without provisions. Two days later a French ship rescued him, but upon discovering who he was, the French gave him a short trail and hanged him.
12.7.2008 8:51pm
norm (mail):
The problem is that these criminals are based in a place that does not have a government willing and able to suppress crime. Trying to redefine piracy, a combination of theft and kidnapping, as terrorism makes no sense. They want money from us, not terror.
We need a "declaration of sorta war" which would say this land is not controlling its criminals and we can go take anyone and prosecute and punish them to whatever standards we set until control is established by the people there. The standards ought to be a fair determination that an individual is associated with piracy (pretty trivial if caught red handed) and jail by the standards of Somalia. If Somalis want more advanced human and legal representation rights they will have to to govern themselves first.
12.7.2008 8:52pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Norm:

They want money from us, not terror.


To be more specific, we normally define terrorism (and terror for that matter) as violence aimed at a goal other than money, which is why armed robbery is not considered an act of terrorism.

What they want from us is money, not compliance in other areas. Hence they are not political terrorists. This seems to be the substance behind 18 USC 2331 definitions.... (i.e. they are not intended to intimidate a "civilian population" as such, and are not intended to affect the course of government).

If we extend "terrorism" to cover piracy, it would be an equal stretch to include all forms of assault and armed robbery as well...
12.7.2008 9:05pm
Elliot123 (mail):
Perhaps it doesn't matter what we call them. When they are caught in piracy, shoot them and sank their ships. Call them Pollyannas if you want.
12.7.2008 9:10pm
Tom Hanna (www):
This post seems to have the whole thing turned upside down. It's a long established principle of international law that any nation can deal with any pirate regardless of nationality, which traditionally meant execution and often meant torture. Terrorists on the other hand are to be mollycoddled under the terms of treaties intended for uniformed military services. No, pirates are not terrorists; terrorists are worse and should be treated so.
12.7.2008 9:23pm
pluribus:
Piracy is an ancient form of crime, as least as old as the United States. and probably much older. Terrorism is a relatively new concept--at least in the sense that it is represented by al Qaeda and the Palestinian suicide bombers. Both are scourges, but different kinds. It doesn't help our analysis to confuse different categories. Just because a crime is horrific, or widespread, or particularly heinous, doesn't means that its perpetrators are analytically the same as al Qaeda, and the language suffers when we try to equate them.
12.7.2008 9:25pm
Kazinski:
One thing that everyone should be able to agree on is that when we know where Pirates and Terrorists are we should go kill them, regardless of whether their cause is profit or politics.
12.7.2008 9:28pm
Thomas_Holsinger:
It would be a bad thing to treat pirates as terrorists because then they would be protected by the U.S. Constitution and entitled to release into the U.S. to continue their piratical ways after trial.
12.7.2008 9:30pm
Raționalitate (www):
@Paulk:

I am well aware of the long history of states defending their merchants from pirate attacks. I'm also well aware of the long history of states subsidizing slave owners by using public monies to hunt down escaped slaves, subsidizing aristocrats by funding their lavish lifestyles, subsidizing environmental destruction by paying farmers above-market prices for their crops, etc., etc. But that doesn't make any of this just or economically efficient.

If it costs me $10 to produce a good, and it costs the Chinese $8 to produce the same good, but the government spends $3 protecting the ship that carries the good from Shenzhen to Los Angeles, are we really better off as consumers paying $8 for the imported good and $3 to the government, rather than paying $10 to the domestic producer and nothing to the government?

For all the hubbub about American jobs going overseas, you'd think that people would support efforts (such as stopping subsidizing anti-pirate naval missions) that would force international traders to pay the full price of their operations.
12.7.2008 9:33pm
Bama 1L:
Augustine of Hippo in City of God has a story about Alexander the Great and a pirate explaining that the only difference between them is scale:

If you have one armed ship and demand money from a single merchantman, you're a criminal and will be hanged.

If you have a navy and demand tribute from every merchantman, you're the government and get to hang criminals.
12.7.2008 10:16pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
"What exactly makes an accused pirate less deserving of civil rights than an accused armed robber?"

Pirates operate on the high seas which is different than being within the borders of a country with clearly defined laws. For example suppose the National Security Agency intercepted pirate communication and that led to their capture. Would the exclusionary rule apply?

Piracy is special in this and other respects. Giving civil rights to pirates is not only hard to implement, but unnecessary.
12.7.2008 10:24pm
Malvolio:
If it costs me $10 to produce a good, and it costs the Chinese $8 to produce the same good, but the government spends $3 protecting the ship that carries the good from Shenzhen to Los Angeles, are we really better off as consumers paying $8 for the imported good and $3 to the government, rather than paying $10 to the domestic producer and nothing to the government?
How much would it cost you to produce a good without police protection? Without a criminal court system to punish people who steal from you and a civil court system to punish those who fail to keep their words?

Crime is all externalities, and crime-control is a common good.
12.7.2008 10:42pm
CiarandDenlane (mail):
I'm not sure it helps to call pirates terrorists, but maybe it would be useful, for the reason suggested by Patent Lawyer, to call terrorists pirates. It sounds like there may be some developed law of piracy that we could borrow in dealing with terrorists.
12.7.2008 10:47pm
John Moore (www):
Lumping piracy in with terrorism is clearly an error. The differing goals of the groups leads to significantly different impact.

On the other hand, how many times can you hang someone?

A pirate: once. A terrorist - oops, US Constitutional protection - rarely if at all.
12.7.2008 10:47pm
MarkField (mail):
I think everyone needs to keep in mind why it is that pirates were considered "hostes humani generis". Zarkov's post alludes to it -- it's because pirates operated in areas which were not subject to any other jurisdiction. There wasn't any government which could control their behavior, so they had to be treated as subject to everyone's. It's not that their behavior was all that atrocious; lots of highwaymen were just as bad. It's the jurisdictional problem which led to the special piracy laws.

Terrorists, in contrast, frequently operate out of places where the law does run (Oklahoma City), but their actions are uniquely bad on their own "merits". It's an entirely different category.
12.7.2008 10:47pm
John Moore (www):
More seriously, doesn't it make sense to consider the history of dealing with pirates when making policy and law regarding terrorists?

International terrorists are clearly more dangerous and destructive as pirates, and at least as black hearted. They should hardly have any more protections that pirates.
12.7.2008 10:49pm
Jody (mail):
I think piracy is not the same as terrorism.

But I see no reason that a pirate cannot commit an act of terrorism (e.g., to oppose government action to clamp down on piracy ala narcoterrorism) or that a terrorist cannot commit an act of piracy (e.g., to fund their terrorism).
12.7.2008 10:49pm
autolykos:

I think everyone needs to keep in mind why it is that pirates were considered "hostes humani generis". Zarkov's post alludes to it -- it's because pirates operated in areas which were not subject to any other jurisdiction. There wasn't any government which could control their behavior, so they had to be treated as subject to everyone's. It's not that their behavior was all that atrocious; lots of highwaymen were just as bad. It's the jurisdictional problem which led to the special piracy laws.


I agree with this. I also think that the death penalty as applied to pirates wasn't meant to be as disproportionately punitive as people are making it out to be. During the heyday of piracy, there were literally hundreds of offenses that could land you at the end of a hangsman's gallows, even in countries like Britain that considered themselves relatively civilized. That piracy was among them isn't particularly surprising (or even noteworthy).
12.7.2008 10:56pm
TokyoTom (mail):
Jon, can you see how the "war on terror" continues to morph into a long-term war on common sense and taxpayers' pocketbooks? Not every problem requires a hue and cry about "terrorists!", much less a government "solution" that further socializes risks and begs any analysis ofthe problem and of the role of government in it. Let the shippers defend their own cargoes.

We saw a similarly unperceptive and even more breathless op-ed by WSJ's neocon Bret Stephens two weeks ago.

In the context of the US's counterproductive engagement with nascent Somali regimes, and calls by shippers (and other lovers of the state) for governments to provide protection, let us not forget the ironies that St. Augustine pointed to centuries ago, about states (the biggest pirates) hypocritically talking up the outrages of much smaller brigands:
Set aside justice, then, and what are kingdoms but great bands of brigands? For what are brigands' bands but little kingdoms? For in brigandage the hands of the underlings are directed by the commander, the confederacy of them is sworn together, and the pillage is shared by law among them. And if those ragamuffins grow up to be able enough to keep forts, build habitations, possess cities, and conquer adjoining nations, then their government is no longer called brigandage, but graced with the eminent name of a kingdom, given and gotten not because they have left their practices but because they use them without danger of law. Elegant and excellent was that pirate's answer to the great Macedonian Alexander, who had taken him; the king asking him how he durst molest the seas so, he replied with a free spirit: "How darest thou molest the whole earth? But because I do it only with a little ship, I am called brigand: thou doing it with a great navy art called emperor."

— St. Augustine, City of God, Book IV
12.7.2008 11:14pm
Jon Roland (mail) (www):
Burgess has it backwards: terrorists are pirates, properly understood, but not all pirates are terrorists.

The 18th century attempts to define piracy as "robbery on the high seas" (James Wilson) doesn't really work, and was not used that way consistently. The term would be better defined as a "warlike act against ones own country by a foreign nonstate actor, or against another country by a domestic nonstate actor". Then treason becomes a warlike act against ones own country by a domestic nonstate actor, felony or misdemeanor a less-than-warlike act by a domestic state or nonstate actor, insurrection a warlike act by a domestic statelike actor, and war a warlike act by a foreign state actor. The various permutations of domestic or foreign, against our country or another, state or nonstate, warlike or less than warlike, partition the space of possibilities and each is covered by its own long-established law.

A president who directs a warlike act against a foreign state without a declaration of war or letters of marque and reprisal is thus a pirate, and so are the men who might carry out such a directive.

A warlike act by a foreign nonstate actor is properly under the jurisdiction of the military, and of a domestic nonstate actor under the jurisdiction of civilian courts.

That leaves a grey area of the actions of foreigners present on U.S. soil, either with or without permission, or if with permission, whether admission was secured through fraud. That would normally make it civil.

One argument I made for how torture could be made legal was to first try and condemn the pirate (terrorist) to death, then defer the execution pending the results of interrogation. Once "legally dead" there would be no limit to what could be done to him, because he would always have the option to be terminated.

Of course the real issue for many of the detainees is the ways they were captured. The theory does require some due diligence in capturing only those caught in the act, and not just in the area. "Kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out" is an easy way to avoid casualties to one's own troops but not a good way to Win the Hearts and Minds.
12.7.2008 11:18pm
Raționalitate (www):
How much would it cost you to produce a good without police protection? Without a criminal court system to punish people who steal from you and a civil court system to punish those who fail to keep their words?

Crime is all externalities, and crime-control is a common good.


As an anarcho-capitalist, I agree with you that protection against piracy is no different than protection against common criminals. As for a crime control being a "common good," I assume you mean public good (as "common good" is a vague term that doesn't have any meaning in an economic sense), but why is it a public good? Police protection is not non-rivalrous, and is definitely not non-excludable. Private security is a very old industry with a very illustrious history, and just because its been usurped by public security functionaries in recent decades/centuries doesn't mean that it's inherently better.
12.7.2008 11:34pm
Ubu Walker (mail):
The purpose of terrorism is primarily to create terror for political purposes by purposefully targeting non-combatants. The purpose of piracy is to steal and extort money and wealth from everyone on the high seas.

Note that the government backed piracy is lawful and not a war crime...privateering (eg letters of marque and reprisal) is legal in our constitution. Is blowing up a merchant marine vessel different than blowing up an oil refinery?

However, government backed terrorism is not lawful...and is often a war crime.
12.8.2008 12:02am
Jim G (www):
"Piracy" really isn't a useful term. These days, it conjures images of people copying music or Johnny Depp in heavy eyeliner.

But calling them "terrorists" doesn't help either. Aside from sheer overuse of the word (see: "terroristic threats"), "terrorist" has been increasingly used not to describe people who have committed acts of violent terrorism, but who are accused of conspiring to do so at some point in the future, or of associating with bad people. Piracy is tied to an act—I can point to people and say "these are pirates," and prove it because they commandeered ships on the high seas (and didn't die in the process, which is often the problem with naming terrorists based on observable acts instead of associations, bin Laden and McVeigh notwithstanding).

"Hijackers" seems to describe the phenomenon well enough without confusing the issue with terrorism.
12.8.2008 12:28am
Ricardo (mail):
From an American perspective, the question of whether ordinary criminal law applies to pirates seems to be answered in the U.S. Constitution:

Article I, Section 8: "To define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the high seas, and offenses against the law of nations."

Why would the constitution give Congress the power to define and punish piracy if they were excluded from the normal framework of law?
12.8.2008 12:41am
Rich Rostrom (mail):
pluribus:
Piracy is an ancient form of crime, as least as old as the United States. and probably much older.
"Probably"???

Given your monicker, I should think you would be at least somewhat familiar with Roman history - which includes the famous episode of Julius Caesar and the Cilician pirates. As a young man, he was captured and held for ransom. He told his captors that he was going to come back and hunt them all down. They thought it was a joke: but soon after he raised a fleet, defeated the pirates, and had them all crucified.

Piracy is as old as commerce at sea. I have no doubt that the Phoenician and Minoan merchants of the Bronze Age encountered pirates.
12.8.2008 12:44am
Portland (mail):

Both are forms of warfare, conducted out of uniform, against civilian targets, in violation of every standard of civilized behavior.


That's a problematic assertion, given that own Constitution grants the government the power to issue letter of marque -- licenses to commit piracy against the civilian ships of countries we do not like.

Pirates are the enemies of states because they challenge the state's monopoly on the use of force and thus threaten the state system itself. They do not "violate every standard of civilized behavior"; if they did, our Constitution would not include the power to enlist them in our wars.
12.8.2008 1:08am
ARCraig (mail):
This debate has actually kinda-sorta reached the floors of the US House of Representatives.

Ron Paul has made a point of advocating the use of letters of marque and reprisal (a power given to Congress in the same clause granting the war power) to authorize government-rewarded and countenanced private efforts to kill and/or apprehend terrorists, specifically bin Laden and those responsible for 9/11. Paul introduced a bill to that effect right after 9/11, which defined the attacks as an act of "air piracy" (which seems to imply that his definition had something to do with equating air travel and sea travel, as well, something that's not unheard of). Such letters were a common anti-piracy tactic used by governments at the time the Constitution was ratified, but dwindled out over the course of the 19th Century.
12.8.2008 1:32am
ARCraig (mail):
Here's the bill, titled the "September 11 Marque and Reprisal Act of 2001"

http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c107:H.R.3076:

Among the findings is this:


(1) That the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 upon the United States were acts of air piracy contrary to the law of nations.



The bill also allows for $40 billion to be used by the President at his discretion to established bounties on bin Laden and other "al-Qaeda co-conspirators". One of the points I remember Paul making is that the current bounties are pitifully insufficient to cover the actual cost of a private effort to locate/capture/kill bin Laden and his ilk.
12.8.2008 1:38am
Kazinski:
Ricardo:

Why would the constitution give Congress the power to define and punish piracy if they were excluded from the normal framework of law?

Because the Constitution gives Congress the power to "define and punish piracy" outside normal criminal law.

Obviously the framers put that section in the constitution because they knew that ordinary criminal law was not sufficient to deal with piracy.
12.8.2008 1:54am
MCM (mail):
Kazinski:

Because the Constitution gives Congress the power to "define and punish piracy" outside normal criminal law.

Obviously the framers put that section in the constitution because they knew that ordinary criminal law was not sufficient to deal with piracy.


Taking the single line you're talking about:

[The Congress shall have power] To define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the high seas, and offenses against the law of nations;


I don't agree that your explanation is "obvious" or even persuasive. Rather I think it's something that was clearly outside the ability of the several States to deal with effectively, so it was expressly granted to the federal government.

This is the same reason Article I also gives Congress the power

To provide for the punishment of counterfeiting the securities and current coin of the United States;


It's not because "normal criminal law" can't deal with it, but because it's something that just makes more sense for the federal government to deal with. Just as the federal government is the one coining the money, the federal government is also the one with the Navy.
12.8.2008 2:25am
tsotha:
If you have one armed ship and demand money from a single merchantman, you're a criminal and will be hanged.

If you have a navy and demand tribute from every merchantman, you're the government and get to hang criminals.


Meh. If my neighbor steals from me it's thievery. If enough of my neighbors get together and take from me it's government. I think the scale of power and violence makes those sorts of comparisons a bit silly.

Count me among those who would like to see terrorists treated like pirates. But I'm not sure what that means, since we don't treat pirates like pirates anymore.
12.8.2008 2:42am
Ricardo (mail):
I agree with MCM's analysis and would only add that the provision for punishing piracy, felonies on the high seas and offenses against the law of nations gave Congress clear authority to punish certain crimes that occur outside of U.S. territory. The high seas specifically refer to bodies of water outside of the territorial waters of the United States. That's an authority that I'm not sure the framers would have assumed was otherwise inherent in the police powers of the national government.

Nowadays, though, American citizens can be punished for torture, child molestation, evading U.S. taxes on foreign business ventures and other crimes even if it pertains to conduct done entirely within the borders of a foreign country. This, it seems to me, is a relatively new phenomenon aside from piracy which Congress has always had explicit authority to punish.
12.8.2008 3:32am
ARCraig (mail):
From what Constitutional power grant is, to take one of your examples, the authority to punish child molesters in foreign countries derived? Congress doesn't even have the power to make that a Federal offense within the US, without some additional special circumstance to bring it under Federal jurisdiction such as interstate commerce, the crime happening on Federal property, etc.
12.8.2008 4:45am
pluribus:
I wrote:

Piracy is an ancient form of crime, as least as old as the United States. and probably much older.

Rich Rostrom replied:

"Probably"??? Given your monicker, I should think you would be at least somewhat familiar with Roman history - which includes the famous episode of Julius Caesar and the Cilician pirates. . . .

From what slender threads are snarky posts suspended. I plead guilty to a stupid use of the word "probably." Should have said "even," or something equivalent. Does that change the meaning of my post? But you follow with a couple of whopping non sequiturs: First, that my poor word choice shows I am not "at least somewhat familiar with Roman history" and, second, that my posting name here indicates I am a Roman history buff. I thought pluribus had some significance in American history.
12.8.2008 8:53am
fortyninerdweet (mail):
Are some of us missing a point here? Aren't the Somali pirates Muslims? Isn't taking property by force from "infidels" sort of OK with those fellers? So if this is a religious thing then, like terrorists, I guess we should now give pirates the same constitutional rights we offer terrorists.
12.8.2008 9:14am
JB:
The difference between pirates and terrorists is that it's easy to tell the former. The latter like to hide among civilian populations, the former do their work on boats in the middle of the ocean.

If you were to establish a rule "When you see a pirate or terrorist, kill them instantly but only if you have incontrovertible evidence of their nature," you would annihilate all pirates long before you killed your 10th terrorist.

Therefore, the solution to the Somali pirates is that used on the Caribbean ones in ages past--put a company of Marines on a cargo ship, and when the pirates come open fire. Any who survive get tossed overboard.
12.8.2008 9:16am
Tracy Johnson (www):
Pirates are the same as Buccaneers except they are Chaotic Evil!
12.8.2008 9:31am
autolykos:

Therefore, the solution to the Somali pirates is that used on the Caribbean ones in ages past--put a company of Marines on a cargo ship, and when the pirates come open fire. Any who survive get tossed overboard.


Haven't you heard? We're doing the exact opposite. When a pirate crew gets stranded at sea, the Danish send someone to save them and make sure they get back to land safely.
12.8.2008 10:15am
einhverfr (mail) (www):

That's a problematic assertion, given that own Constitution grants the government the power to issue letter of marque -- licenses to commit piracy against the civilian ships of countries we do not like.


Just as a note, my ancestors, in the 1600, made a LOT of money with a ship, letters of marque, and a strong resentment towards Catholics......
12.8.2008 11:40am
Elliot123 (mail):
It appears people have a very hard time determining what is terrorism, and what is a terrorist. If nobody can agree about what a terrorist is, how can they agree about who is a terrorist? But we're pretty good at identifying pirates. Why bother muddying the waters?
12.8.2008 1:52pm
Raționalitate (www):
Are some of us missing a point here? Aren't the Somali pirates Muslims? Isn't taking property by force from "infidels" sort of OK with those fellers? So if this is a religious thing then, like terrorists, I guess we should now give pirates the same constitutional rights we offer terrorists.

Somalis are very moderate Muslims, and the pirates who are ransoming ships have shown no indication that what they're doing is for reasons of jihad. They're mostly out-of-work coast guards who are putting their old skills to new use. Not every example of Muslims attacking non-Muslims is an act of jihad.
12.8.2008 2:03pm
ForWhatItsWorth:
Elliot123: "...It appears people have a very hard time determining what is terrorism, and what is a terrorist. If nobody can agree about what a terrorist is, how can they agree about who is a terrorist? But we're pretty good at identifying pirates. Why bother muddying the waters?..."

I still like the conservative response to either ...... BOOM!

But that's me. :)
12.8.2008 6:01pm
ScipioAfricanus (mail):

I think an even bigger mistake Burgess makes is when he talks about a "solution to piracy". You might as well talk about a solution to burglary or battery.


Well, there was a solution to most piracy from the early 19th century until the 1990s, and that was massive armed naval presence across the globe. The Brits effectively removed piracy as a major threat to global commerece and the presence of a 350+ ship US Navy kept that peace after Britain succumbed to the weight of empire. Rome also eliminated piracy in the Med at the height of its power. Now, the US Navy is too small to deal with all the world's maritime problems and very few states have blue water navies or even brown water navies capable of controlling their own coasts.

Appeasement has been used before against piracy, namely against the Barbary priates until the US grew weary of paying a tribute and changed the system. Nations will grow weary of paying tributes again, and the pirates will have longer necks for it.
12.8.2008 6:48pm
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):

Labels: sometimes they matter, sometimes they don't?



Or maybe Jonathan Adler isn't the same person as Ilya Somin?
12.8.2008 7:23pm
Right Wing Nutter (mail):
Re. Letters of Marque and Reprisal

The practice was useful in the 18th and early 19th centuries because the building or conversion, and fitting out of a privateer ship that could hold its own in battle against contemporary warships was possible. That has not been possible since about the time of the Civil War. That's partly why the practice faded out.

For similar reasons, paying someone like Blackwater or Triple Canopy to go after Bin Laden isn't practical. We would be competing against the funding from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, and they are operating in their own back yard. Better to risk pissing off the Paks with the occasional Hellfire shots from Predators. Or maybe laser shots.

In the case of Somali pirates, they are using small boats and captured ocean going fishing boats and merchant ships. Being out spent and out equipped is not going to be a problem for the "privateer" if the Letter of Marque means that they can get access to weapons that would normally be restricted to a government. So IF Congress decides that Somali pirates are sufficiently threatening to U.S. interests but don't want to task the 5th Fleet to the job, a Letter of Marque to a a company with some former SEALs and Marines on the payroll could be effective.

The other reason Letters of Marque went into disuse, is that the bearers were essentially legalized pirates. Most of their income came from selling captured ships and cargo. If the illegal pirates had stolen a cargo, and then the legal pirate stole it from them, the cargo was considered to be the privateer's to sell. That practice would hardly work today, so the privateer would have to function as private security. So the will to foot the bill drops back into the laps of governments and shippers. That will remain the case even if the legal hurdles are cleared away.
12.9.2008 1:25am
b (mail):
"The defining feature of terrorism is precisely that it is committed not for private ends, but to intimidate a civilian population or to influence government policy."

I take your meaning, but, really, are not intimidation and influence "private ends"?
12.9.2008 3:32am

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