DS9 "Rules of Engagement":

T'LARA: This hearing will come to order. We are here to consider the request of the Klingon Empire that Lieutenant Commander Worf be EXTRADITED for trial on charges of murder. Advocate Ch'Pok, you may present your charges.

CH'POK: The Klingon Empire makes the following allegations against Lieutenant Commander Worf. That on Stardate 49648, while commanding the Starship Defiant, he knowingly fired upon and destroyed a Klingon civilian transport ship near the Pentath system. That as a result of that action, four hundred forty one Klingon civilians were killed. It is my intention to prove that Mister Worf was grossly negligent in his command of the Defiant. That his lust for combat overrode his good judgement. I ask only that he be returned to us to face the judgment of his own people. Thank you.

SISKO: The Advocate neglected to mention in his opening statement that at the time in question, the Defiant was under attack by two Klingon warships. This was a combat situation with hundreds of lives at stake. It was at that moment, when suddenly the transport ship decloaked in front of the Defiant. Worf gave the order to fire, not because he was reckless or negligent, but because he believed he was firing on a warship. We intend to show that the destruction of the transport was a tragic, but unavoidable, accident.

T'LARA: I will hear formal evidence beginning tomorrow afternoon at fifteen hundred hours.

DS9 "The Way of the Warrior":

SISKO: They've decided to condemn the Klingon invasion. In response, Gowron has expelled all Federation citizens from the Klingon Empire and recalled his ambassadors from the Federation.

KIRA: You're saying he cut off diplomatic relations?

SISKO: He's done more than that. The Klingons have withdrawn from the Khitomer Accords. The peace treaty between the Federation and the Klingon Empire has ended.

It wasn't until a year later that the Khitomer accords were reinstated. The Episode "Rules of Engagement" occurred during the time the Khitomer accords were not in effect. Further as Kira states there are no more diplomatic relations, Federation citizens were expelled, Ambassadors were recalled, and as Sisko stated there wasn't a peace treaty in effect.

Just a few episodes earlier the Klingons attacked DS9 (almost a state of war). Two episodes before this the Klingons were laying mines in the area.

DS9: "Rules of Engagement":

SISKO: Advocate, how would you describe the current relationship between the Federation and the Klingon Empire?

CH'POK: There is no formal relationship between our two governments.

SISKO: What would you call us? Informal friends? Informal enemies?

CH'POK: I would say there is potential for either label, but at the moment neither is entirely accurate.

SISKO: Hmm. Interesting. Would you agree that at the moment, it is difficult for us to trust each other?

CH'POK: Difficult, but not impossible. There are things that transcend our differences. For example, we trust that this case can be decided fairly. We have faith in Admiral T'Lara's judgement.

SISKO: I'm glad to hear you have such a profound respect for the Admiral. But would it be fair to say that outside this hearing you do not entirely trust us?

CH'POK: Well, it is only prudent that we question your motives now that we are no longer allies.

SISKO: Of course. And it is only prudent of us to question your motives. After all, aren't there times when you feel it's in your best interest to deceive us?

So CH'POK gives reason for why he and the Klingons would want to bring these proceedings. But this is not a reason for the Federation to entertain this trial. Furthermore there is a request for extradition, which would require a treaty.

Khitomer Accords Article IV:

Article V: Both Parties agree that any former grievances they had with the other are now forgotten. If any individual under the rule of one Party commits an act of revenge or retribution on the other Party, that individual will be extradited to stand trial under the laws of the aggrieved Party.

Why would the Federation allow such a trial and a request for extradition under these circumstances?

STU, EU, and writers notes are welcome.


4 Answers 4


In short, because this isn't a trial, it's a hearing to consider whether to honour the request of the Klingon Government to surrender Worf to their jurisdiction.

As you've pointed out, the judge lays out the setting for us in the opening of the show;

This hearing will come to order. We are here to consider the request of the Klingon Empire that Lieutenant Commander Worf be EXTRADITED for trial on charges of murder.

Although the Federation and Klingon govt aren't at war (nor allied) at this point in the show, it's pretty clear that the UFP are keen to avoid a diplomatic incident. The alternative, presumably would be that the Klingons could use this either as a casus belli or to threaten to take Worf into custody themselves. Obviously neither is acceptable to the brass hats back on Earth.

  • 1
    So what you're saying is that the Federation is willing to extradite a Federation citizen and a decorated Starfleet commanding officer, with no legal mechanism in place for it, because of threat of war? Why wouldn't Sisko simply motion up that without the Khitomer accords in place the court has no jurisdiction in this hearing?
    – JMFB
    Commented Jun 12, 2015 at 19:37
  • 4
    @JMFB - Evidently so. Note that in the real world, the incident that formed the basis for the episode (e.g. the downing of Flight #655) happened between two countries with no formal legal ties, and yet the US has paid over $130M in ex gratia payments to the families involved.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jun 12, 2015 at 19:50
  • 1
    Actually the legal ties existed. Both parties to the UN and the International court.
    – user16696
    Commented Jun 12, 2015 at 20:03
  • 1
    @cde - Via third parties, certainly. But not with each other.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jun 12, 2015 at 20:09

In real life an extradition treaty is not needed for extradition to happen. While a treaty is nice and forces a state to act under its own laws, a state can choose to extradite if it suits it's needs. They can request reciprocity, like a prisoner exchange, or other concessions (lift on trade bans, cede territory). It could be done as a good faith effort to curry favor. Extradition is just as much a political tool as it is a legal tool. Look at Cuba considering extradition of an alleged NJ cop killer, as a way to have even more trade bans lifted by the US. No treaty in place, no legal requirement or duty to act on Cuba's part.

As @Richard has pointed out, the UFP likely sees this as a political sacrifice for the greater good. It helps that the crime Worf is framed/set up for is killing Civilians, instead of a battle.

As for the Accords, any lawyer worth their salt would point out that 'If any individual under the rule of one Party commits an act of revenge or retribution on the other Party' applies only to actions that are connected to the Pre-Accord hostilities, as noted by the prior statement of 'Parties agree that any former grievances they had with the other are now forgotten'. Worf had not fired as revenge for the forgotten grievances. The crime is is outside of the Accords reach.


Before the Khitomer Accords were signed, interstellar relations between the Klingon Empire and the Federation were guided by Interstellar Law.

KLINGON AMBASSADOR: The Chancellor of the High Council is dead - the result of an unprovoked attack while he traveled to see YOU under a flag of truce on a mission of peace. Captain Kirk was legally arrested for the crime. May I remind you that he and Doctor McCoy boarded KRONOS ONE of their own free will. None of these facts are in dispute, Mr. President. ...

KLINGON AMBASSADOR In the meantime we expect the Federation to abide by the articles of Interstellar Law you claim to cherish. Kirk and Doctor McCoy WILL stand trial for the assassination of Chancellor Gorkon. ...

PRESIDENT Out of the question. Ambassador Sarek, there must be some way to extradite these men -

AMBASSADOR SAREK (heavily) Mr. President, I share a measure of personal responsibility in this matter, but I am obliged to confirm my esteemed colleagues legal interpretation: Kirk and Dr. McCoy were properly arrested, and the Klingons are within their rights to try them.

PRESIDENT And what is the position of the Romulan government, Ambassador Nanclus?

AMBASSADORT NANCLUS (wily) In the absence of specific instructions from my government, I must concur with my colleagues.


KLINGON AMBASSADOR I am waiting for your answer, Mr. President.

PRESIDENT This President is not above the law.

Now, this example is not exactly the same; in this case, Kirk and McCoy were standing on Sovereign Klingon Territory (the Chancellor's ship) and the UFP wanted to extradite them out. It would be like Snowden walking into the US Embassy; they don't need permission of the country in which the embassy is located to press charges.

However, this exchange tells us a few things about Interstellar Law. First off, the Klingons have Kirk and McCoy in their possession on Klingon territory, and yet the President still thinks that their trial is "Out of the Question." He then polls the other ambassadors in the office, Sarek and Nanclus. Sarek says that Kirk and McCoy were arrested in line with Interstellar Law, and that the Klingons can try them. Ambassador Nanclus bows out, saying that he won't pick a side without instructions from his government.

This tells us that the President of the UFP was hoping to have the support of the other superpowers against the Klingons. If the Vulcans (essentially the UFP lawyer, and a commonly assumed impartial party even when anyone else would be expected to recuse themselves) and the Romulan Empire had stated that they didn't believe that the Klingon Empire was upholding their end of Interstellar Law, that would have given the President a legal way to demand their return. But both the Vulcans and the Romulans stated that the actions of the Klingons were legal (or legal enough, in the Romulan Empire's case, to avoid going out on a limb without specific instructions).

In the end, the President has to concede defeat and state that his office is not above The (Interstellar) Law, despite there being no peace treaty in place.

Another thing: the conspiracy couldn't have counted on Kirk and McCoy beaming over themselves, and Kirk being gone was KEY to their conspiracy. The direction of the trial implies that the conspirators intended to tie Kirk up in legal red tape, (participating in "Lawfare", war via law) hopefully getting his commission suspended for the duration of the coup, with the "Captain is responsible for his crew" defense. They were dependent on a scrupulous Federation following procedure and Interstellar Law long enough to finalize their plans. Having Kirk HIMSELF was a bonus.

How does this apply to Worf? (I mean, other than Michael Dorn being the lawyer for Kirk.) In both cases, the Klingons used a technical violation of Interstellar Law and the Laws of War during a time of political instability to hamstring The Federation. In Kirk's case, it was to remove a capable and dangerous opponent during a coup attempt. In Worf's case, it was to shame the Federation into ceasing protection of Cardassian convoys. In both cases, it was intended by the Empire that the Federation tie it's own hands with Interstellar Law and the Laws of War.

Finally, this is actually what happens in the real world. Sovereign entities like the USA and Iran in the referenced Air Flight 655 incident. Even without formal agreements between the two Sovereign entities, there are still the Rules and Customs of War, Admiralty Law, and International Law, all of which have evolved over the centuries between Sovereign entities. In fact, that was exactly the case Iran made, per Wikipedia:

According to Iran, the U.S. had previously issued a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) warning aircraft that they were at risk of "defensive measures" if they had not been cleared from a regional airport and if they came within 5 nautical miles (9.3 km) of a warship at an altitude of less than 2,000 feet (610 m). IR 655 had been cleared from a regional airport and was well outside those limits when it was attacked.(§4.62) Even if the plane had been an Iranian F-14, Iran argued that the U.S. would not have had the right to shoot it down, as it was flying within Iranian airspace and did not follow a path that could be considered an attack profile, nor did it illuminate Vincennes with radar.(§4.60–4.61) Prior to the incident, Vincennes had entered Iranian territorial waters,(§4.65) and was inside Iranian territorial waters when it launched its missiles.(§1.27) Even if the crew of IR 655 had made mistakes, the U.S. Government remained responsible for the actions of the crew of Vincennes, under international law.(§4.56)


As far as we know, the Federation has no law that prohibits extradition to an unrecognized government. Additionally, as far as we know, the Klingons have no rule against requesting extradition from an unrecognized government, so legally, this was okay. Murder is generally illegal in both countries, so it's not a matter of legal in one area but not another.

And since murder is illegal in the Federation, if the Federation did not consider extraditing Worf, legally, the would be harboring a murderer, which is probably a crime in the Federation.

To top it off, if the Federation did not extradite Worf, that could be viewed as harboring a war criminal, in the same way that some South American countries harbored retired nazis.

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