Iron Man 3: The Crimes of The Mandarin

This post was inspired by an email question from Wayne and a comment from Martin, both of whom asked what crimes The Mandarin could be charged with.  Beware: the answer requires massive spoilers.  If you haven’t seen the movie yet, go see it.

We don’t normally do posts of the “list all the crimes the villain could be charged with” type, since the serious ones such as murder are usually obvious, and for any major villain such a post would quickly become tedious to write and read.  But Iron Man 3’s Mandarin is different for reasons that should be clear to anyone that has seen the movie.  And here again I’ll warn that what follows is a huge spoiler.


Okay, in case you haven’t seen the movie but still want to read this post for some reason, here’s why The Mandarin from the movie is different: he’s an actor hired to play a role, not a villain.  There is no terrorist plot.  The explosions were accidental deaths caused by Extremis users that either “couldn’t regulate” or who suffered the deadly side-effects of the injection.  The Mandarin was just a smokescreen designed to distract from what A.I.M. was really doing, which was setting up the kidnapping and assassination of the President so that the Vice President (now the new President) could give A.I.M. carte blanche to pursue…whatever it wanted to do, ultimately.

So given that The Mandarin was claiming credit for a bunch of “bombings” that he wasn’t actually responsible for, and that he never personally killed anyone (including, apparently, the accountant), what could he be charged with?

I. Sex, Drugs, and Video Calls

To start with, there are the drug charges, since simple possession is a crime.  In Florida it also appears that The Mandarin may also be guilty of various vice crimes despite the women having been provided for him by others.  That’s assuming they were indeed prostitutes and not, I dunno, A.I.M. groupies or something.

Then there’s the accountant I mentioned earlier.  I’m talking about the Roxxon Energy accountant that The Mandarin threatened—and then apparently shot—during his video call with the President.  What The Mandarin could be charged with depends on whether the accountant was also an actor or not.  If he wasn’t an actor, then The Mandarin could be charged with some kind of assault, since the accountant was in fear of his life.  He couldn’t be charged with attempted murder, however, since The Mandarin knew that the gun he was holding was fake, or at least that the bullets were.

But even if the “accountant” was in on it, there’s 18 USC 875(b), making it a pretty serious crime (up to 20 years imprisonment) to demand (across state lines) something of value (e.g. a phone call from the President) by threatening to injure another person.  There’s no requirement that the threat actually be legitimate.  There may also be an applicable Florida statute related to making a criminal threat.

II. Terrorism and Other Serious Crimes

Something Wayne specifically wanted to know about was terrorism.  Most of the federal terrorism laws as such are about attacks against US nationals abroad.  However, there are some domestic ones.  For example, 18 USC 2332f covers bombings of places of public use, government facilities, etc.  The explosion at the theater might have qualified except that 2332f requires a level of intent (e.g. intent to cause destruction of such a place where such destruction is likely to result in major economic loss) that wasn’t present; I think the guy who blew up did so accidentally.  Similarly, the attack on Stark’s home wasn’t really a public place.  It was an isolated private residence.

Of course, then A.I.M. went and a) kidnapped the Iron Patriot in Pakistan and b) killed a bunch of people on Air Force One and kidnapped the President and c) attempted to kill the President.

(a) is definitely international terrorism.  It’s a violent act that would be a violation of the laws of the US or of any state if committed domestically, appear to be intended “to affect the conduct of a government by … kidnapping”, and occurred outside the territorial boundaries of the United States.  That’s just a definition, though, not a specific crime.  Since Iron Patriot wasn’t seriously injured when he was kidnapped, the actual kidnapping might be a little hard to qualify as a crime in the US.

(b) is all kinds of murder, kidnapping, etc.

(c) is attempted murder and more.

Tying (a), (b), and (c) back to The Mandarin, however, is slightly tricky but I think doable.  One common route is conspiracy, which requires an agreement to commit a crime.  But The Mandarin didn’t agree to help A.I.M. test Extremis, and all the videos were made after the fact.  It’s hard to agree to commit a crime when the crime has already happened.

But The Mandarin could be an accomplice accessory after the fact.  He helped A.I.M. get away with its crimes by providing an elusive scapegoat.  He certainly knew that there was criminal activity going on.  His claim was only that he wasn’t directly involved.  But that’s not enough.  Actively helping conceal a crime or actively helping a criminal avoid detection by the police is definitely the kind of thing that can result in accessory liability.  That’s a crime on its own.

More importantly, after his first coverup job, The Mandarin had an ongoing relationship with A.I.M..  He knew what his job was and he agreed to keep doing it.  At that point his liability becomes that of an accomplice, putting him on the hook for the same crimes as the principals, including murder, kidnapping, and attempted murder.  [This paragraph was added and the previous paragraph edited in response to a comment, pointing out an error in the original post.]


The comments also mentioned racketeering.  A.I.M. is certainly an organization, and it certainly committed multiple acts of kidnapping and murder (and probably  also bribery, theft, and who knows what else), so as a member of A.I.M. (in the criminal organization sense, not the think tank) The Mandarin could be charged with racketeering as well.

IV. Conclusion

It’s hard to feel too much sympathy for The Mandarin.  He made something of a Faustian bargain: all the sex and drugs he could handle, and he got to play a bigger acting role than he ever had before, but he had to make a deal with the metaphorical devil to get it.  Since most of the people involved with A.I.M. and its plot are dead or were already convictable based on other evidence, I’m not sure he’ll even be able to get very far by cooperating with the authorities.  He’ll probably spend the rest of his life in jail.  Maybe he’ll end up in one with a prison Shakespeare program.

23 responses to “Iron Man 3: The Crimes of The Mandarin

  1. Not that there needs to be much more added to the laundry list, but isn’t threatening the President a crime in and of itself?

    • It is, but 18 USC § 871(a) is fairly specific. The threat must be to “take the life of, to kidnap, or to inflict bodily harm upon the President of the United States, the President-elect, the Vice President or other officer next in the order of succession to the office of President of the United States, or the Vice President-elect.” I couldn’t recall The Mandarin’s exact speech, but I recall him speaking in terms of “teaching the President a lesson” or similar metaphorical language. A prosecutor could certainly argue that, given the past history of ‘bombings’ that this meant killing the President (and in fact that was the ultimate goal, even if by a different means), but I thought it was iffy enough that I didn’t cover it in the main post.

  2. “Since most of the people involved with A.I.M. and its plot are dead or were already convictable based on other evidence, I’m not sure he’ll even be able to get very far by cooperating with the authorities. He’ll probably spend the rest of his life in jail.”

    Isn’t it all a terrible embarrassment for the American government? The Mandarin claimed to be a Pakistani terrorist and the Americans sent Iron Patriot to Pakistan to go look for him and yet all this time he was in Florida. I would have loved to have known at the end of the movie how it was explained to the American people that this was NOT the Mandarin who was behind the whole thing but an American company working with the American Vice President. I imagine Trevor continuing his role as the Mandarin and pleading guilty to a laundry list of crimes that he wasn’t strictly speaking guilty of in exchange for nice cell in which to live out the rest of his life. I got the impression that nobody outside of A.I.M. knew who the Mandarin really was and, as you said, they are all dead so the American authorities might want to keep it that way and have the Mandarin cop for everything. Of course, the Vice President would be tried separately as he probably did not know that the Mandarin was not the person in charge of A.I.M.

  3. I’m not sure how much the Vice President was in the dark about who was really behind things. AIM obviously got their leverage over him due to the possibility of Extremis restoring his granddaughter’s leg. So I would think he’d be aware AIM was involved.

    As for the Trevor taking the fall so the Government can avoid egg on their faces, that would rely on Tony Stark staying quiet, I think.

    • James Pollock

      Since munitions-manufacturing is tightly regulated, and the primary customer is the U.S. government and its subsidiaries, and Stark gets his money primarily by inventing and selling munitions, I think that Stark can be “persuaded” to keep his own counsel on the matter.

      • Doubtful.

        Remember: Stark got out of weapons in the first movie. Which was what got him into trouble with Stane and later Washington as well. He’s gotten a bit of a pass from the latter, owing to (a) providing James Rhodes with his own powered combat armour and (b) helping to save the planet in highly visible fashion in Avengers. Helping Rhodes to rescue the President from A.I.M. later on…well, that adds to the tab Washington owes Stark.

        If Stark thinks everyone except the crooks are best served by full disclosure, the White House and the Justice Department are going to listen. Carefully.

    • Philo Pharynx

      And Trevor keeping quiet or being made to keep quiet. I can see Trevor insisting on taking the stand at his trial (over his lawyer’s protests). I can see Trevor as a defense lawyer’s worst fears for a witness, speaking far too much and far too unpredictably for his own good. The only possible benefit from having him take the stand might be for sentencing. A jury might see that he was far from the mastermind of the operation and sentence him much more lightly than without his testimony.

      However, as a viewer I’d love to see them include both Tony and Trevor’s testimony in Iron Man 4 or in bonus DVD material.

  4. The bombing at the theater was intentional. Not by the person who exploded, but by the person who injected him with an overdose of Extremis right outside the theater. Even if a bomb himself wasn’t guilty of terrorism, but the person who lit the fuse in a crowded place was.

    • It wasn’t intentional. The bad guy was visibly surprised when the other guy started to explode; furthermore, he stuck around to beat the crap out of Happy Hogan, something he probably wouldn’t have done if he thought an explosion was imminent (yes he can and did heal, but there are limits and furthermore he could have been exposed). It was just another mishap, though its possible that AIM started insisting these drug / weapons deals (for lack of a better word) take place in certain locations like famous public places so that IF thing go wrong they can capitalize on it by claiming it as a Mandarin attack.

      • Mister Andersen

        No, he wasn’t surprised by tge guy exploding: his dialogue very obviously indicates disbelief in the bomb’s ability to regulate useage of the booster. If he’s surprised by anything it’s that he got too distracted giving Happy a beatdown to remember to get out of the killzone in time.

  5. Isn’t attacking Air Force 1 an act of war against the US? And working for somebody who does that to lead the investigation astray is aiding them. So how about a charge of treason?

    • An act of war on behalf of what nation? A.I.M. was an entirely domestic operation. And while it may have set out to assassinate the President, it was not trying to start a revolution or otherwise overthrow the government, so I’m not sure a treason charge would be applicable.

      Compare, for example, John Hinckley, Jr., who was charged with a variety of things (e.g. attempted assassination of the President, assault on a federal officer), but not treason.

      • Yet two rebels from the Whiskey Rebellion were convicted of treason. And 18 USC § 2381 talks only about war, not necessarily on behalf of a nation.

      • I think the Hinckley case is much more analogous than the Whiskey Rebellion. It was an attempted assassination rather than a large scale (500 armed men) armed insurrection, and it took place in the modern era rather than in the late 18th century.

        Another example might be the Fort Hood shooting. Nidal Hasan was charged with murder, not treason.

        Regarding war: you’ll have to explain how A.I.M.’s conduct amounted to waging war against the United States and not ordinary criminal acts. Not every hostile act against the government or even the US military is an act of war, or else somebody shoplifting from a PX would be guilty of treason.

      • They were trying to assassinate the President for the express purpose of replacing him with the Vice President, who was a member of their conspiracy. That right there is treason and probably an attempted (if secret) coup de tat.

      • Anyway, at a minimum, the Mandarin couldn’t be charged with treason because he isn’t a US citizen, national, or even (I suspect) a resident alien. My impression was that he was a British citizen brought over by A.I.M. He doesn’t owe the US a duty of loyalty and so can’t commit treason.

  6. A.I.M was also large and armed. We don’t know how many, but necessarily at least dozens.

    As far as war is concerned, the attack was made with a military weapon, which was stolen from a soldier in the field during a combat situation. And the action was made against a whole military aircraft, not just the person of the president. The aircraft at that time served as a command center.

    Last but not least the attack was made with a political intent.

    • A.I.M. was large and armed, but it wasn’t carrying out an insurrection en masse. The attack against Air Force One was single-handed, and the assassination attempt only had one victim (until Stark and Rhodes arrived).

      An attack against a military or government target does not an act of war make, nor treason. Another example: Timothy McVeigh was not charged with treason. For a modern example of what it takes to garner a treason indictment: Adam Yahiye Gadahn, an American senior member of Al Qaeda.

      Political intent actually makes the case for terrorism (rather than war) stronger.

  7. I always thought that Accomplice After the Fact was *not* liable for any of the prior completed crimes . . . it was a separate crime (ie, something like Obstruction of Justice). If the ‘prior’ crimes were actually still ongoing in some legal sense, then M would be liable under a standard Accomplice Liability theory. But in the OP, it seems to be taken for granted that those prior crimes are indeed completed.

    What’s the cite/authority for finding M liable for all those prior crimes under Acc. After the Fact theory? (Note, IAAL, but not a Crim Lawyer, and have not taken Crim Law/Procedure in a quarter-century.)

    • Ack! You are correct. Accessories after the fact (which is the correct term) are not liable as accomplices but instead charged with a separate offense, these days typically defined by statute as something like “hindering.” But, thinking about it more, I think that the Mandarin could be treated as a true accomplice for all of the crimes after the first. For the first he was arguably only an accessory after the fact, assuming he was brought in as damage control. After that he had an ongoing relationship with the principals. I will update the post to reflect this change in reasoning and post an update in our RetCon series.

  8. With regards to the terrorism crimes, what about providing material support to an FTO (assuming 10 rings was a designated FTO during the movie) or provding material support to terrorists (A.I.M)?

    • And how long has the Ten Rings-AIM relationship been in play?

      • I don’t recall the Ten Rings ever being mentioned in the movie. As far as I can tell the Ten Rings were finished off in the first movie, and the Mandarin never even pretended that he was representing them in any way. There doesn’t seem to be any connection between the Ten Rings and AIM, and anyway the Rings were already getting weapons from Obadiah Stane. Those “terrorists” that the Mandarin / Trevor was seen hanging out with in a couple of videos were probably just more actors, AIM men disguised as Islamic extremists, as likely were their victims (with regards to the Roxxon accountant, apparently during the credits you can see him get up after the video is finished, so he was in on it too). Taking Trevor at his word that he didn’t know anybody died, its pretty likely that every single thing was fake.

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