Friday, February 27, 2009

A Call for International Reform

No time like the present to fix Interpol

For as long as there have been criminals willing to cross international borders there have been criminals relying on those borders to protect them from conviction.

The International Criminal Police Organization is meant to help countries capture border-hopping criminals by fostering cooperation between police forces in various countries.

In The International, Clive Owen plays Louis Salinger, an Interpol investigator attempting to shut down a bank with a history of engaging in extremely dirty deals across international boundaries. He's backed up by Elanor Whitman (Naomi Watts), a New York District Attorney trying desperately to build their case before a jealous scramble over jurisdiction brings their efforts screeching to a halt.

The executive of the bank in the film are swinging a very dirty arms deal that would sell missiles to Iran that Israel already has the counter-measures for, and leave a path of murder in their wake -- including the assassination of a top candidate for the Prime Ministership of Italy.

Salinger and Whitman find their efforts stymied at numerous turns if not by corruption on the part of individual law enforcement bureaucrats, then by the very structure of Interpol itself.

Contrary to public belief, Interpol actually has very few official powers of its own. It functions mainly as an intelligence organization, giving information to local authorities in various jurisdictions and hoping they'll make arrests on the behalf of the state issuing an arrest warrant.

Operating through a National Central Bureau in each member country -- there are 187 in all -- local authorities can gain access to Interpol's database and can receive advisories whenever a person of interest is within their jurisdiction.

However, the structural difficulties of dealing with various levels of jurisdiction can make purusing an accused criminal through Interpol's channels a very daunting task. Interpol still requires extradiction across international borders. Unfortunately, not all of the countries in Interpol have extradition treaties with one another.

When it comes to high-priority suspects these structural constraints can make it extremely difficult to capture suspects.

Interpol could overcome some of these issues by increasing the level of cooperation in the pursuit and capture of criminals. Establishing a cooperative force to pursue and arrest high-interest suspects across any number of jurisdictions could make it considerably easier for Interpol to conduct its work across jurisdictions.

Naturally, such a force would have to be formed on a voluntary basis, and could not operate in any non-participant state.

But at a time when the window to capture a suspect can close within a matter of hours or days, such cooperation will be necessary to ensure that such criminals can be brought to justice.

The alternative, as explored in The International, may well be vigilante justice -- something that few people would like to see.

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