Letters of Marque
A lot of pixels have been lit over the question of private military companies, of which Blackwater is the most well-known. Many have argued that private military companies are evil, even when they are performing acts contracted out by sovereign countries. But relatively few pundits have noticed that fundamentalist terrorism -- in fact terrorism in general -- is really private warfare waged by subnational groups against enemies. Thus, when Hamas shells Sderot, it is never an "act of war"; and consequently Israel, by blockading Gaza response to Hamas' actions is engaging in "collective punishment". The condemnation of Israel is really an equivalent way of saying that a sovereign state should not retaliate against another state for the actions of a private group of individuals, i.e. "Hamas", for actions taken against it.
If America has laws which govern the actions of Blackwater, then who is responsible for the acts of Colonel Khadaffy's son? The Associated Press says Iraqi security forces are accusing him of "behind a group of foreign and Iraqi fighters responsible for this week's devastating explosion in northern Iraq".
Col. Jubair Rashid Naief, who also is a police official in Anbar province, said those attacks were carried out by the Seifaddin Regiment, made up of about 150 foreign and Iraqi fighters who slipped into the country several months ago from Syria.
Naief said the regiment, which is working with al-Qaida in Iraq, was supported by Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, 36, the eldest son of the Libyan leader. "I am sure of what I am talking about, and it is documented," Naief said, adding that he was "100 percent sure" of the younger Gadhafi's role with the terror group.
Assuming the allegations are true, what responsibility does Libya have for the actions of Seif al-Islam Gadhafi? Two historical parallels come to mind when examining the consequences of so-called private acts upon the international peace. The first incident is the Jameson Raid, an attack "on Paul Kruger's Transvaal Republic carried out by a British colonial statesman Leander Starr Jameson and his Rhodesian and Bechuanaland policemen over the New Year weekend of 1895-96."
The Boer government later handed the men over to the British for trial. The prisoners were returned to London, and the Transvaal government received considerable compensation from the Company. Dr Jameson was tried in England for leading the raid; during that time he was lionized by the press and London society, where his defeat was widely interpreted as a victory. Jameson was returned to London and was sentenced to 15 months, which he served in Holloway. The Boer government was paid almost £1 million in compensation by the British South Africa Company.
For conspiring with Jameson, the members of the Reform Committee (Transvaal), including Col. Frank Rhodes and John Hays Hammond, were jailed in deplorable conditions, found guilty of high treason, and sentenced to death by hanging. This sentence was later commuted to 15 years’ imprisonment, and in June 1896, all surviving members of the Committee were released on payment of stiff fines. As further punishment for his support of Jameson, the highly decorated Col. Rhodes was placed on the retired list by the British Army and barred from active involvement in army business. After his release from jail, Col. Rhodes immediately joined his brother Cecil and the British South Africa Company in the Second Matabele War taking place just North of the Transvaal in Matabeleland.
It's highly improbable that the young Khadaffy, even if found guilty of such offenses, will serve in prison. But the other historical parallel that comes to mind is the Manchurian incident of 1931. The Manchurian Incident incident is interesting because the perpetrators were rogue officers within the Imperial Japanese Army who were not acting on direct orders of Tokyo.
The Mukden Incident of September 18, 1931, known in Japanese as the Manchurian Incident, occurred in southern Manchuria when a section of railroad, owned by Japan's South Manchuria Railway, near Mukden (today's Shenyang) was dynamited by Japanese junior officers. Imperial Japan's military accused Chinese dissidents of the act, thus providing a pretext for the Japanese occupation of Manchuria. The incident represented an early event in the Second Sino-Japanese War, although full-scale war would not start until 1937.
One of the justifications for the existence of the modern nation state is that it creates a collective responsibility for large scale belligerence by its citizens. In decades past, it was inconceivable that a group of private citizens should rocket a neighboring country on a large scale without their state being responsible for it. Today, the state has gone from being a safeguard against private warfare to a shield behind which it can be waged. The ironical result has been the weakening of the nation-state system. It is no longer designed to take responsibility for warlike acts, but to absolve it. It no longer prevents private war but makes its conduct a routine. Someone should note that the world's largest private military company is not Blackwater, which is liable under American law. It is al-Qaeda, which is responsible to no law but itself.