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A Question To Ponder

I really like this question posted in a comments thread by USMC Pilot. It is one of those that makes you think:


If a member/s of a terrorist group commits an act of murder, is the entire group guilty, or just the ones who do the killing?

I am not a lawyer and don't have much knowledge of military rules or laws, so I am simply speaking from a common sense perspective, but it seems to me that terrorist groups engage in conspiracy. If a person joins a group that advocates terrorist activity, especially those advocating the murder of innocents, aren't they entering a conspiracy to commit murder? The legal requirements would depend on the specifics of each case, no doubt, but I firmly believe that anyone joining a group known to blow up women and children and chop people's heads off, is conspiring to commit murder. I don't know what the elements of conspiracy are, though. Any lawyers want to comment on this one?

Comments (18)

Generally speaking a crimin... (Below threshold)
Allan Yackey:

Generally speaking a criminal conspiracy can be subject to prosecution if there is an agreement to do a criminal act and there is some substantial action taken to further the conspiracy. For example an agreement to rob a bank becomes subject to prosecution if someone does something like buy a gun. The charges can extend to anyone who actually enters into the agreement.

A conspiracy charge can stand as an additional charge to the actual crime.

There is a related criminal concept called Felony Murder. Felony Murder generally can be charged where there is an illegal act that is a Felony and that results in a death that was not part of the original act or plan. That charge can apply to anyone involved in the underlying crime.
A classic example is the getaway driver for a burglary, where the person who enters the building encounters someone inside and a death follows. It is not necessary that the death be the result of any action of the original criminal actor. If the property owner kills one member of the burglary group the remainder can be charged with Felony Murder.

For most jurisdictions a Felony is defined as an offense that can result in a jail term of more than one year.

I would think that if the t... (Below threshold)

I would think that if the terrorist group's charter goal is to murder all members of a society or religion, then yes they are all guilty when one of them accomplishes that goal.
Esp. if this murder does nothing to discourage membership, but rather seems to encourage it.

I'm not a lawyer, so this o... (Below threshold)

I'm not a lawyer, so this opinion is completely unqualified.

It seems to me that every time we try to view/understand/judge/whatever a terrorist organization with a civilized standard (in this case law) we are committing some kind of fallacy.

Simply put, any organization that advocates the death of (civilized) innocents should not be afforded judgment by the civilized, they merely need to be dispatched immediately with no more consideration that what we afford cockroaches or cancer tumors. Of course, the leads to yet another slippery slope…

The SS and other Nazi organ... (Below threshold)

The SS and other Nazi organizations were convicted of war crimes as whole organizations, not just the individuals in them. So there is precedent.

I spent some time trying to... (Below threshold)

I spent some time trying to understand why this is a question. But, giving that up, I have to agree with Clancy - ...should not be afforded judgment by the civilized....

The conflict here is in the use of the word "terrorist". Our civilized law is intended to provide justice and keep general order in our society. Terrorists operate way outside those boundaries. To call it a conspiracy seems to suggest that terrorism might be civilized.

I do not believe that using women and children as shields in their own begotten war is civilized.

It is a terrible mistake to... (Below threshold)

It is a terrible mistake to speak of terrorist activity in criminal justice terms. Even considering terrorist organizations in the same sense as "organized crime" is insufficient.

It's a war. They have declared it, and they are pursuing it with gusto. Every step we take away from this total war, conferring upon the terrorists rights and privileges not available even to lawful combatants under the Geneva Convention, is a unilateral concession to the enemy.

When Hitler invaded Poland, or Yakamoto attacked Pearl Harbor, they were not engaged in a criminal conspiracy to commit murder. They were engaged in acts of war. And so are Hizbollah, al Qaeda, and all the other terror groups.

I therefore object to seeking legal opinions in the matter at all. What's a lawyer to do? Send them a "cease and desist" letter?

Instead of wringing our hands over how this medieval barbarism might fit into the nice little niches created by our modern criminal justice system, we need to be about fighting the enemy all-out, the way he fights us.

Legally? Only those that c... (Below threshold)

Legally? Only those that commit a crime themselves can be held responsible for it. Those supporting them can be tried for other crimes, of course, such as conspiracy to commit murder, felony murder, or whatever the crime for providing currency to a terrorist group is.

Morally? I'm soulless, and still when faced with the information that money I gave to the ACLU was used for far from moral causes, I felt a tightening in my gut.

You can't get them for asso... (Below threshold)

You can't get them for associating with the group per se, only doing some act in furtherance of an illegal act.

But, at time of war, it's not a really a criminal justice issue; the Pres. has the power to target the members, nothing else appearing, of a group waging war against us.

Lorie:I sent this ... (Below threshold)
USMC Pilot:


I sent this to Jay via e-mail, but since you were kind enough to continue the discussion I will post it here.

Terrorist, a discussion:

There were some interesting comments about my question: if a member of a terrorist organization commits murder, is the entire organization guilty or just the one committing the murder.

One of the first points to discuss would be the difference between murder and killing. Mac Lorry maintains that it is alright to kill if one is in uniform and part of an organized military.

QUESTION: What about the Marines accused of murdering the unarmed civilians? Also, if you are only allowed to kill the armed enemy, what about the civilians under the bombs? If the only civilian casualties allowed are collateral damage when targeting the armed enemy or strategic targets, who gets to decide which targets are OK?

On to the main discussion. If the killing of all members of a terrorist organization is acceptable, how do we then define what makes a terrorist organization? Surely, one would define the KKK as a terrorist organization. It had a stated purpose of killing and subjugating the Black Race in America. Anyone who joined that organization was well aware of its goals. It certainly used terrorist tactics to obtain those goals. Assuming the above to be true, why is Senator Byrd of WV still walking the halls of congress? He was certainly an admitted member of the KKK.

What about the mafia and the “hells angles”? Both organizations used terror tactics to obtain their goals of power and enrichment, yet we chose only to prosecute those that actually committed crimes. Beatings, robbery, even murder where commonly used by both organizations. In this case I believe Lorie’s answer of conspiracy should have been applied, but wasn’t. Perhaps there just wasn’t enough jail space.

Now to my point. Discussions of this nature are fine, but in the end we end up just like a snake eating its tail. This is what is happening with all of the talk about proportionality and limited response. Hezbollah is the defacto government of south Lebanon. If the elected government is unwilling or incapable of controlling the southern part of Lebanon, then they can let Israel handle the situation , join Hezbollah, or assist the Israelis in defeating Hezbollah. In any event it probably doesn’t matter what they do, so they would be better off just staying out of it. Since, Hezbollah is the government of south Lebanon those civilians living under their control are pretty much fair game, as far as acts of war go.

I have noticed that, in their parades the members of Hezbollah dress up in uniforms, which pretty much establishes them as an organized army. Which, of course, means that any of them captured out of uniform may be summarily executed. Actually, that is a mute point since Hezbollah is not a signatory to the GC.

In summary, I would say that most of the discussions about the affairs in Lebanon are mute. Israel is at war with southern Lebanon. How they conduct that war is pretty much their business. The US is a uncommitted ally to Israel, just as Syria and Iran are uncommitted allies to Hezbollah. Discussions about who is and who isn’t a terrorist are academic at best, but pretty much a waste of time. The one most committed to destroying the enemy will win. We like to think of ourselves as the good guys and the enemy as the bad, but even that is a waste of time. If we spent half as much time trying to accomplish our goals, as we do justifying them, we would never fail.

Sorry; the word is "moot", ... (Below threshold)
USMC Pilot:

Sorry; the word is "moot", not "mute".

I'm quite surprised nobody ... (Below threshold)

I'm quite surprised nobody really thought about WHY this question was asked.

Here is why this question was posed:

Take two scenarios:

Scenario 1: A fighter belonging to Al Queda flies a plane into a building, killing hundreds.

Scenario 2: An American serviceman kills an unarmed woman in Iraq.

The person who initially asked this question is trying to make the idiotic point that the culpability of the ORGANIZATIONS represented by these two individuals is IDENTICAL (becuase they both killed innocent bystanders). He is trying to equate the US Military with Al Queda.

Nothing could be further from the truth. And the reason is pure common sense: Americans do not have as their aim the death of innocent bystanders. For Al Queda, this is their primary purpose.

This question is SOPHMORIC LOGIC and not worth contemplating for the time it took to answer it.

rightnumberone -- you are w... (Below threshold)
Lorie Byrd:

rightnumberone -- you are wrong about the person who posed the question. If you have read USMC Pilot's comments here over the past months you could not possibly think that.

USMC Pilot -- re the KKK comparison. I thought about the KKK before reading your comment, but I think there is a distinct difference. While you are right about some of the things the KKK has done, I don't think their stated objectives were ever what you described them to be. I think the terrorists are different in that they openly advocate murder. The KKK claims to exist to promote white Christians or defend their way or life or some such bunk. I don't think they have ever made it a publicly stated objective to kill as many black people as they possible.

As for the mob, I guess the difficulty in prosecuting them is what gave rise to RICO statutes. It seems to me that maybe a RICO for terrorists is in order.

This sounds like Israel's m... (Below threshold)
Michael F:

This sounds like Israel's math. Aren't they killing ALL Lebonese because Hezbollah kidnapped 2 Israeli soldiers on Lebanon's soil? This is also neo-con math. Soon, the US army will practice the same theory in Iran (or Syria depending on what Israel says). As the Middle East turns into chaos, the US will erode rights at home by stealing private lands, illegally wire-tapping phones, banning books like "America Deceived" from Amazon, caging protestors and conducting illegal Search and Seizures. Add in another false-flag operation on US soil (like 9/11 but with nukes), and the masses will beg for the "safety" of One World Gov't.
Last link (before Google Books caves):
America Deceived - Book

This sounds like Israel's m... (Below threshold)
Michael F:

This sounds like Israel's math. Aren't they killing ALL Lebonese because Hezbollah kidnapped 2 Israeli soldiers on Lebanon's soil? This is also neo-con math. Soon, the US army will practice the same theory in Iran (or Syria depending on what Israel says). As the Middle East turns into chaos, the US will erode rights at home by stealing private lands, illegally wire-tapping phones, banning books like "America Deceived" from Amazon, caging protestors and conducting illegal Search and Seizures. Add in another false-flag operation on US soil (like 9/11 but with nukes), and the masses will beg for the "safety" of One World Gov't.
Last link (before Google Books caves):
America Deceived - Book

Lorie:A RICO for t... (Below threshold)
USMC Pilot:


A RICO for terrorist?

I am apparently very poor at making my point. A nation must draw a line at what it will tolerate, and then respond to those who cross the line. It was my intent to show the uselessness of discussions about good and bad, proportional response, or any other such nonsense.

There is no debate over whether or not Hezbollah is a terrorist or criminal organization, because it doesn't matter. Israel has had enough and intends to wipe them out one way or another.

Earlier I said that it would be best if the Lebonees stayed out of the way, but if they were realy smart they would march against Hezbollah from the north in support of Israel. Hezbollah is financed and supported by Syria, and this would be a golden opportunity to rid Lebanon of Syrian influence permanently. Egypt and Jordan have enjoyed may years of peace and prosperity since making peace with Israel, and Lebanon would prosper greatly from doing the same thing. With Hezbollah gone it would be a done deal.

An after thought:I... (Below threshold)
USMC Pilot:

An after thought:

If the Bush administration wanted a real coup, they would send Condi to convince the Lebanese government to support Israel in destroying Hezbollah, thus freeing Lebanon from Syrian influence. Promise them plenty of support in rebuilding the damage done, and lots of tourist.

The very first comment by A... (Below threshold)

The very first comment by Allan did a great job of explaining conspiracy fundamentals. It is one of the most difficult areas of law.

Difficult because juries can be reluctant to punish people who seemingly did not perform a crime.

That mistake comes from thinking conspirators are being tried for the acts of others. That is not true, they are on trial for their owb action of conspiring.

The other difficulty is that a conspirator may have said and done almost nothing. A wink, a nod, any signal that concurs is adequate. Inferences can be made from prior speech and activities. This gets perilously close to constitutional rights.

Despite such problems we have conspiracy laws that work fairly well. And it is a good thing.

Otherwise terrible operations could be committed without punishment simply because the planners were clever and careful.

For my money ... it's how t... (Below threshold)

For my money ... it's how the group responds that makes or breaks the case. If the group publicly condemns the action, and takes steps to judicially punish the offenders, then the group is clear. If the group does nothing, or publicly supports the action, then the group is guilty as a whole.

That is what separates the US Army from Al Qaeda/Hizbolla/Islamica Jihad/etc ... When one of ours goes beyond the accepted rules of engagement, breaks international law, we hold that person or persons accountably through the USCMJ. It's the fact that we punish such offenders that separates us from them.

When Hizbollah violates the rules of warfare by hiding amongst civilians, targeting civilians, failing to wear uniforms, and abusing the dead, nobody holds them accountable. Hizbollah encourages this behavior, and publicly defends it. For my money, that makes Hizbollah as a whole group guilty of the same crimes. Period.

But then again ... IANAL ... That's just my opinion. Worth every penny you paid for it.






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