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The Pièce de Résistance: A New International Criminal Court

Yesterday, I (Michael C) solved the terrorism problem. Congrats to On Violence!

I wrote that President Obama should announce a new “Obama Doctrine”; a doctrine that would eliminate practices that go against American values, like torture (which President Obama has stopped) and drone strikes (which he hasn’t). I believe President Obama should declare American values--along with the Geneva Convention and U.N. Declaration on Universal Human Rights--the guiding principles of our new foreign policy.

If he did, we could win any current or future wars against terrorism.

Except that...I ignored some huge questions. What do we do with terrorists? Do we kill them in drone strikes? Unlawfully detain them for years? Ignore them? My plan for a new “Obama doctrine” cannot work unless it deals with terrorists currently plotting against America. Fortunately, I have an answer to that conundrum. If President Obama is re-elected, (because no Republican administration will ever go along with this) he should announce a brand new, international organization:

The International Criminal Court for Pirates, Terrorists, and Trans-national Criminals. Or ICCfPTTC.

Yep, I know what you are thinking, “That acronym is terrible.” And it is. But the more important problem is, “Hey, the U.S. hasn’t signed on to the current ICC.” I know that. The Constitution specifies that the Senate may never, under any circumstances, pass an international treaty. (I kid.) Instead Senate republicans refuse to pass any treaty which could possibly limit U.S. sovereignty--with especial concern about the actions of its leaders who, during the last ten years, could be subject to the ICC’s jurisdiction for crimes against humanity. America will never cede its own sovereignty.

The new International Criminal Court for Pirates, Terrorists and Trans-National Criminals (maybe we’ll just call it “The New ICC”) would have nothing to do with the old. Based around either Interpol, or a new “FBI Foreign Branch”, the U.S. would help nations around the world arrest and prosecute irregular/asymmetric/non-state actors that threaten the global order. Intelligence analysts/detectives would develop the cases, then JSOC (or a new, less lethal organization) would arrest the terrorists who continue to plot against the U.S.

Imagine the secondary, tertiary and quartiary effects. We could turn Guantanamo Bay into the full-time prison housing these convicted criminals from around the world. We could end military tribunals and turn the cases over to the new ICC, and we wouldn’t have to worry New Yorkers about trying terrorists in federal courts. We could finally have a place to punish the pirates caught off the coast of Somalia.

And that’s not all! In some countries, tackling organized crime is too much. Think Costa Rica or Mexico or Columbia or Somalia. In those cases, especially with narco-traffickers, the U.S. could now assist under the auspices of an internationally recognized organization. Just like the FBI frequently prosecutes corrupt local and state officials in the U.S., the ICCfPTTC would help states who cannot stop drug cartels on their own.

Finally, the U.S. would have an internationally recognized and ideologically coherent policy. No more violations of human rights and dignity. Further, America could emerge from the black, shadowy world of intelligence, and move into the sunny world of the justice system. Terrorists couldn’t rail against U.S. abuses, because in an internationally recognized system, we wouldn’t have any. Further, the U.S. intelligence system could leverage the investigative powers of every country that signed on, not just the dictatorships who torture suspects for the CIA/JSOC. (Sorry, JSOC folks, “allegedly” torture.)

And countries around the globe would line up for this. Sure, some--like North Korea--wouldn’t, but we could still arrest their narco-traffickers and counterfeiters whenever they leave the country. We could also make membership in the new ICC a requirement for defense funding. (*cough* Pakistan *cough*)

President Obama earned a Noble Peace Prize without any major foreign policy victories for peace. If he could fundamentally re-orient U.S. foreign policy in a liberal direction--classically liberal, not “progressively liberal”--it would do more for his standing in history than anything else. An International Criminal Court for Pirates, Terrorists and Transnational Criminals would accomplish this.

three comments

Why does President Obama, or any president for that matter, need to establish a defense or international relations doctrine? If a military unit reacts to fire in the exact same manner every time an enemy is better able to plan a devastating attack based on those reactions. If we tell people to cooperate with airplane highjackers then those highjackers are able to fly airplanes filled with cooperative passengers into tall buildings. Must the U.S. government react to all threats in a consistent manner?

Would passing off difficult prosecutions onto an international organization really improve world opinion of the United States? Other nations would just see the organization as extension of US power and hegemony. Wouldn’t world opinion be more readily (and cheaply) influenced through not only the export of US jobs, but also the promotion of US labor practices? Our corporations are excellent at utilizing the lax labor practices for financial gain, but we as a nation make no attempt to actually improve the living and working conditions of those workers.

This new ICC would not be an improvement over current military tribunals because domestic standards of evidence gathering and surveillance would and could not be utilized without intensive cooperation amongst signatories and non-signatories to a new ICC. Does a judge in the US have the authority to issue an search warrant in Pakistan or Somalia? Would a new ICC even concern itself with US interpretations of due process? Subjecting terrorists to a civilian justice system would require certain protections and safeguards that the tribunal system does not require.


I like this idea, but it will never happen.

The need for the court isn’t how it would help America, I see it as fulfilling American promise of providing equality for all. And if we now live in a more global world, we need a more global solutions for these problems.


Chris, I really want to answer you first question because I think it is interesting. It seems like every administration in the last twenty five years has had their own “doctrine’ like the Obama doctrine, the Bush doctrine or the Clinton doctrine. I think it is an easy rhetorical short hand for foreign policy strategy.

That said, we should only have such expansive doctrine for twenty or twenty five year plans. That is what the original Monroe doctrine was, with relation to the Americas.

As for why we specifically need an obama doctrine now, I think we severely mis-responded to 9/11. The safety through strength analogy has been misplaced, not to mention we kind of overreacted.

Now should we have a broad plan? Absolutely. Companies, universities, government organizations, people all make five year plans, and have company mission statements. This doesn’t make them predictable, and it doesn’t make us less safe, it simply provides a blue print for all of our government to work behind. A broad strategy outline is much different from specific guidance in how to respond in every situation. It hardly makes us too predictable.

Finally, I believe the best way for the US to get more competitive is to export US labor conditions. That is a much different challenge.