Blogs > Liberty and Power > Legal Atavism in the 21st Century

Dec 2, 2007 7:32 am

Legal Atavism in the 21st Century

From The Times [London] 2nd December 2007: ‘US says it has the right to kidnap British citizens’.

This was “made…clear” at a hearing before the Court of Appeal in London. A British businessman & his wife “are wanted in America for bank fraud & tax evasion.”

The unfortunate QC who chose to appear for the US govt was obliged to say things like: “…kidnapping foreign citizens is permissible under American law because the US Supreme Court has sanctioned it.” -- Some more quotes from the report:

“….the law applies to anyone….suspected of a crime by Washington.”

“….acceptable under American law to kidnap people if they were wanted for offences in America.”

“…if a person was kidnapped by the US authorities in another country…no US court could rule that the abduction was illegal….”

In 2005, US govt officials inveigled Canadian officials to arrest this businessman’s nephew on the plane, when he arrived at Toronto airport. He was imprisoned for 10 days. A Canadian judge then freed him, saying the US [In]Justice Dept had set a ‘sinister trap’.

From the comments in The Times:

“….the US has not developed into a civilised country….it [is] backward…”
Comment: Americans describe the US govt’s hegemony as ‘the American empire’, & its foreign policy as ‘imperial’. This is to evoke past empires, eg the Roman & the British. But US policy & hegemony are plain thuggery, pure & simple. The above is one small instance. To say ‘imperial’ here, is simply to evade the true description: bullying & intimidation. The closest parallel to such atrocious behaviour in the ancient world is actually post-Roman: the Vandals & other ‘barbarians’ who simply destroyed Roman civilisation in the areas they invaded (including here: literature & writing; medium & long-distance trade & exchange; buildings; etc.)

The Roman & the British Empires transmitted a law to the peoples subsumed under these terms. Under the British Empire, the common law became part of the lives of all the peoples involved: the Anglophone world is also the common law world. The areas of Western Europe that are now highly developed, are the areas where Roman law was adopted. From there, it eventually went overseas to such territories as Quebec, Louisiana, South Africa, Francophone Africa, Sri Lanka, Indonesia. Roman & common law are structural to the global socio-economic order which has developed over the last two centuries or so, which now involves practically all the peoples of the world.

Americans have had virtually no contact with, or even any knowledge of, this world order, because trade has been such a tiny part of their economic activity, & because of their huge population. As the above small example shows, the US govt, principally in the 20th century, has irrupted into this established world order as a latter-day analogue of a post-Roman Vandal. The justification it offers (here) is essentially lawless, an atavism & a throwback : ‘Because I can.’

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Steve LeVine - 12/2/2007

The insidious dimension of the report, in my opinion, is not the remarkable claim of self-entitlement, nor necessarily the lawlessness described by the previous commenter. It is the lawlessness methodically dressed up as lawfulness.

This is a characteristic of history's most odious regimes, including those you mention but also, in more recent memory, the now-dead Soviet Union and the current Russia.

I am with those who think the U.S. will awaken from this period in a few years astonished at what occurred.

Steve LeVine, author
The Oil and the Glory: The Pursuit of Empire and Fortune on the Caspian Sea (Random House)