Are the High Seas a Criminal Paradise?

iStock / kreinick
iStock / kreinick

Over the last few weeks, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has applied for political asylum in some two dozen countries. Some nations turned him down for what he says were political reasons and others declined based on technicalities, but at least a few have granted him an invitation. Couldn’t a fugitive like that just kiss all us landlubbers goodbye, though, and live as a free man in international waters instead?

Not unless he’s a cartoon supervillain. Despite what spy novels and action movies would have us believe, international waters (aka trans-boundary waters or the high seas) are not a lawless free-for-all where The Man can’t hassle you over your monkey knife fights. They’re freer than countries’ territorial waters in the sense that no country can claim sovereignty over them, according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), but that doesn’t mean that countries can’t apply their laws or jurisdiction to events or people out there.

The Law of the Sea

Under UNCLOS, “every State shall effectively exercise its jurisdiction and control in administrative, technical and social matters over ships flying its flag.” So a fugitive in a ship is still subject to the laws and regulations of whatever country the vessel is registered to.

The United States can also assert jurisdiction in international waters in certain situations by other means. The U.S. Code allows the federal government to exercise “Special Maritime and Territorial Jurisdiction” over…

…any island, rock, or key containing deposits of guano, which may, at the discretion of the President, be considered as appertaining to the United States.

…any place outside the jurisdiction of any nation with respect to an offense by or against a national of the United States.

…to the extent permitted by international law, any foreign vessel during a voyage having a scheduled departure from or arrival in the United States with respect to an offense committed by or against a national of the United States.

International law also generally recognizes a country’s assertion to jurisdiction outside its territory if…

…the offense occurs in one country but has effects on another.

…the offender is a citizen of the prosecuting state.

…the offense threatens the vital interests of the prosecuting state.

…the victim is a citizen of the prosecuting state.

…the offense is universally condemned by the international community (piracy, slave trafficking or terrorism, for examples).

When the President can decide that whatever bat poop–covered rock your hideout is on belongs to the U.S. and then send the law after you, the high seas don’t seem like such a safe bet anymore. Of course, if a fugitive is on a boat flying a foreign flag in international waters, the U.S. might be less likely to violate the jurisdiction of that country to avoid a diplomatic mess. But that’s still not a guarantee for a fugitive’s freedom. The U.S. has a long history of “extraordinary or irregular,” the capture and transfer of criminal fugitives or suspects outside of normal means, and sometimes in violation of international law and foreign sovereignty. If the FBI or CIA will slip into another country to nab someone, they’ll probably get over any qualms they have about storming a foreign boat to do the same.

Whiten Your Teeth From Home for $40 With This Motorized Toothbrush

AquaSonic
AquaSonic

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This smart toothbrush can actually tell you how long to keep the brush in one place to get the most thorough cleaning—and that’s just one of the ways it can remove more plaque than an average toothbrush. The brush also features multiple modes that can whiten teeth, adjust for sensitive teeth, and massage your gums for better blood flow.

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Price subject to change.

 

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Possible Iron Age Murder Victim’s Skeleton Discovered In England

Iron Age skeleton found buried face-down on Wellwick Farm in England.
Iron Age skeleton found buried face-down on Wellwick Farm in England.
HS2

An excavation of Wellwick Farm in Buckinghamshire, England, got a lot more interesting when archaeologists uncovered a human skeleton there. The remains are old—dating back 2000 years to the Iron Age—and just as noteworthy as their age is the position in which they were discovered. As the BBC reports, the skeleton was found lying face-down with its hands tied behind its back, indicating it belonged to a possible murder victim.

While conducting surveys in preparation for the construction of Britain's HS2 railway, archaeologists have uncovered artifacts spanning a 4000-year period. In addition to structures like a roundhouse and a circular, wooden monument similar to Stonehenge, the site has yielded human remains. One skeleton was found buried in a lead-lined coffin, suggesting it had been a person of high status. The skeleton found with the bound hands hinted at a much darker story.

Skeleton of high-status person in lead-lined coffin.HS2

Archaeologists aren't sure how the body ended up the way they found it. The bones, which were preserved in the clay soil over millennia, are believed to have belonged to an adult man. The experts say there are limited explanations for why someone would have been buried in such a degrading fashion. He was likely the victim of a murder or execution, though how he died is still unclear. The skeleton has been turned over to osteologists for further examination.

The site being surveyed was used for many purposes between the Neolithic and Medieval periods. The wooden monument suggests it played a role in religious ceremonies, while the roundhouse and animal pits are left over from its days as farmland. It was also used for high-status burials in the Roman era. Any skeletons in a similar state to the one with its hands tied have yet to be discovered.

[h/t BBC]