The conviction of British Cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri (legal name Mustafa Kamel Mustafa) for terrorism in a U.S. federal court today is not the first example of the government of the United States of America claiming the right to apply U.S. law to anyone, anywhere in the world, but it is a good example.
Consider what you would think of a court in another country (say Iran) convicting U.S. citizens of breaking Iranian law, even without leaving the U.S., or ever setting foot in Iran. Not too much, I would think. But Americans rarely conceive that our government's bullying of foreigners goes beyond all reasonable bounds.
It is not clear that Abu Masri is a terrorist. Certainly he believes people who subscribe to Islam should fight to protect Islam from attacks. Certainly his rhetoric is inflammatory.
But I want to focus on a particular problem created by his case (and prior cases like it): the assertion by the U.S. government that everyone in the world is under its jurisdiction.
What that means is that a law passed in America can be applied to anyone in the world. Talk about "taxation without representation;" this is policing without representation. This goes beyond the U.S. tradition of policing Latin America, and later the world, by assassinating national leaders or otherwise installing pro-U.S. puppets to rule countries.
The Supreme Court should throw out the entire case, but they won't.
Looking at the specifics, Abu Masri spent the entire period during which he was supposed to be a terrorist mastermind in the city of London, Great Britain. Born in Egypt in 1958, he first moved to Britain as a student in 1979. He did not leave Britain during the period during which his alleged crimes took place. Each of his alleged crimes took place outside of normal U.S. jurisdiction, the jurisdiction any non-imperialist nation would claim. After much legal wrangling Abu Masri was extradited to the U.S. on October 2012.
The main charge was that Abu Masri masterminded the kidnapping of 16 Western tourists (4 were killed) in Yemen in 1998. He was in Britain at that time. One of his sons was in Yemen, and may have been involved in the kidnapping, but was in a Yemen jail at the time. Suppose Masri was involved. Where did the crime take place? In Yemen. Which government has jurisdiction? Yemen. Case closed. The U.S. has no jurisdiction. Send Masri to Yemen, where I believe they have the death penalty for murder.
The charge closest to home is that followers of Abu Masri attempted to establish a terrorist training camp in Bly, Oregon. But this was 1999, before the attack on the World Trade Center, and the training was to fight against the (pro-Soviet) Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. Since we have the right to bear arms, and again Masri was in Britain, this seems like the kind of case setting a precedent to arrest anyone (in the U.S. and in the world) bearing arms that the government does not like. The U.S. might have jurisdiction over anyone actually in Oregon, but not over the guy in London.
Finally, there is the charge of recruiting (speaking in favor of) young Islamic males to go fight with the Taliban and al Qaeda. That means fighting against U.S. troops. What this judgment seems to say is that it is against the law for anyone, anywhere, to even think about fighting U.S. troops. Tell it to the Viet Cong. Tell it to American Indians. Tell it to the Canadians of 1812. We can kill you, and you can't fight back. No one can fight or bear arms without the permission of the President of the United States.
See what people mean by the term Imperial Overreach?
If someone walked up to Mr. Masri and shot him in the head, I would not take offense. It is the idea that U.S. courts have jurisdiction over everyone in the world that is just plain crazy.
It is a bad precedent, too, because the Superpower status of the U.S. is rapidly slipping away. The U.S. government is bankrupt. Already the wiser people in the U.S. government are trying to cut the fat out of the military budget, only to be hamstrung but corrupt members of Congress.
Will some foreign nation arrest George W. Bush, Barack Obama and crew for war crimes and crimes against humanity, once the U.S. collapses (maybe not full chaotic collapse, but certainly loss of superpower status)? Will some nation declare it is illegal to criticize them in the U.S.? Will the U.N. start bossing us around?
Let's stick to the traditional system. A nation's jurisdiction ends at its borders. Americans don't want to be bossed around by other nations, and other nations don't like being bossed around by the U.S.