DOJ to Charge Captured Somali Pirate in New York or DC

How absurd is this? The Department of Justice is going to prosecute the captured Somali pirate in federal court in New York or Washington.

Can we think of any more ways to waste money? On Saturday, a judge in Somalia's State of Puntland handed down 20 year sentences to ten pirates captured in another hijacking last October. In September, other pirates were sentenced to 15 years. Swift and certain justice, Somali style.

The pirate will come here, be declared indigent so taxpayers will fund both his prosecution and the defense, and the case will take years to wind through the courts on jurisdictional issues alone.

Deterrence? What pirate isn't going to think 20 years in a U.S. prison is a cakewalk compared to the conditions in a prison in Somalia or Kenya?

Another case of retribution gone wild.

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    Drumhead? (5.00 / 1) (#6)
    by lousy1 on Mon Apr 13, 2009 at 06:48:48 AM EST
    What possible defence could the captured pirate present? Unless he is claiming to be operating under the auspices and directions of an established state his guilt is clearly established.

    If sponsored, his action would be considered a casus belli

    A court martial is sufficiently efficient to adjudicate guilt. Unfortunately modern vessels lack yardarms.

    He could try (1.00 / 0) (#7)
    by Bemused on Mon Apr 13, 2009 at 07:37:24 AM EST
     an affirmative defense such as duress. We know  very few of the facts at this stage. A claim that he was forced to participate against his will due to credible threats against him or his family might depending on his role in negotiations have some plausibility.

      That shows one of the numerous  reasons why a nation exercising extraterritorial jurisdiction is problematic. what if he claims persons in Somalia witnessed such threats bit those people do not wish to come to the USA to testify against pirates. In our system he has a right to present witnesses in his behalf, but what if he can't subpoena them?



    I just saw the only story about (5.00 / 1) (#9)
    by inclusiveheart on Mon Apr 13, 2009 at 08:01:10 AM EST
    the roots of Somolian piracy this morning that I've seen so far in the coverage of this story.  It was on CNN and filed by Dr. Bob Arnaut who has been following the story for a few years apparently.  In a nutshell, most of the pirates are poor fishermen who are controlled by an organized "mafia" who are in charge of brokering the deals once a ship and/or hostages are taken.  The piracy started after the water off the Somolian coast was over fished and polluted by other nations (Japan probably was a big culprit here) and the fishermen were left with little to live on.  They decided to start taking ships in an effort to scare the foreign boats out of their fishing waters.  At some point they took a boat and were paid a ransom and thus an industry was born in Somolia.  The degree to which the fishermen participate freely in this highly lucrative industry at this point is definitely a question.

    Vice Versa (none / 0) (#22)
    by waldenpond on Mon Apr 13, 2009 at 10:48:19 AM EST
    It would likewise be incorrect to think US citizens would not be threatened and could safely go to the region to testify.  It is equally important for me that witnesses are protected.  It would be absurd for the US to send the hostage victims to testify.

    That''s a good point (none / 0) (#44)
    by Bemused on Tue Apr 14, 2009 at 07:55:14 AM EST
      A proceeding in which both the prosecution and the defendant have the ability to compel the presence of witnesses is needed. Even where the proceeding was on neutral ground before an international tribunal that might be difficult to achieve.

    they missed one? (5.00 / 1) (#10)
    by Salo on Mon Apr 13, 2009 at 08:11:05 AM EST
    Yeah off colour but still true.

    It's pretty clear (5.00 / 2) (#12)
    by jbindc on Mon Apr 13, 2009 at 08:49:16 AM EST
    Section 1651 of Title 18, U.S. Code controls:

    Whoever, on the high seas, commits the crime of piracy as defined by the law of nations, and is afterwards brought into or found in the United States, shall be imprisoned for life.

    There's also Section 1653:

    Whoever, being a citizen or subject of any foreign state, is found and taken on the sea making war upon the United States, or cruising against the vessels and property thereof, or of the citizens of the same, contrary to the provisions of any treaty existing between the United States and the state of which the offender is a citizen or subject, when by such treaty such acts are declared to be piracy, is a pirate, and shall be imprisoned for life.

    So, what's the problem?  If folks here don't like what they are going to do, what is your suggestion?  Let them go?

    Maybe that time will be credited (2.33 / 3) (#15)
    by connecticut yankee on Mon Apr 13, 2009 at 09:20:45 AM EST
    toward a green card.  You just know the dude will ask for amnesty when his sentence is up.  

    Youve got an entire continent of people wondering how to get a US visa and ahab here just hit the jackpot.

    To whom did sd. pirate give himself up? (none / 0) (#1)
    by oculus on Mon Apr 13, 2009 at 12:45:14 AM EST

    Absolutely right (none / 0) (#2)
    by Mikeb302000 on Mon Apr 13, 2009 at 01:12:49 AM EST
    This is some distorted version of justice or vengeance or whatever the hell they think they're doing. Typical short-sighted action.

    Here's. what I had to say about Pirates today. It's my response to anyone who wants to start calling Obama a "war-time president," which I've already been seeing among the gun crowd who love force and intervention.  I say "lighten up."

    What jurisdictional issues? (none / 0) (#3)
    by shoephone on Mon Apr 13, 2009 at 01:37:01 AM EST
    I agree that American taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for such a prosecution, however... doesn't international law regarding piracy provide for this exact action?

    Sounds pretty lousy, but... (none / 0) (#4)
    by ricosuave on Mon Apr 13, 2009 at 02:26:52 AM EST
    it sure sounds better than sending him to Guantanamo or Bagram.  Aren't there other options, though, like an actual court martial (not a drumhead or something phony)?

    But (none / 0) (#5)
    by Socraticsilence on Mon Apr 13, 2009 at 02:38:12 AM EST
    Technically other trying him under the law of the Sea, given that his alleged offenses were commited in international waters against US interests wouldn't we have jurisdiction?

    Maritime law should (5.00 / 2) (#8)
    by inclusiveheart on Mon Apr 13, 2009 at 07:48:57 AM EST
    apply here.  I don't think the boat the pirates tried to take or that lifeboat were registered in the US.  I don't know whether they were in international waters or in Somolian waters.  The company that owned the boat is Dutch.  Even if the US is operating within its rights within the scope of maritime and other international laws, that's not why they are bringing the pirate here.  This is a show trial.  They're trying to make sure that CNN gets the story that puts them in the best light in these high profile cases.

    Registered in the U.S. (none / 0) (#17)
    by gyrfalcon on Mon Apr 13, 2009 at 09:31:59 AM EST
    It is a Dutch company, but its ships are registered in the U.S.  They were way, way out in international waters (500 miles offshore, I read) when the attemped hijacking occured.  The captain they took hostage is a U.S. citizen.

    I don't know squat about maritime law, but it's hard to see how any other country has jurisdiction over this but the U.S.

    That said, I hope we don't get a "show trial," which would just be bad for everybody, IMO.


    A Captain should be able to hang him. (none / 0) (#11)
    by Salo on Mon Apr 13, 2009 at 08:12:09 AM EST
    But That probably won't fly.

    Not to mention... (none / 0) (#13)
    by kdog on Mon Apr 13, 2009 at 09:03:12 AM EST
    we're talking about a 16 year old kid here....if it was up to me I'd give him asylum in the US and a chance at some kind of life, hold the prosecution.

    16 (5.00 / 2) (#18)
    by CST on Mon Apr 13, 2009 at 09:44:24 AM EST
    I don't think anyone under 18 should be tried as an adult.  Ever, for any reason.

    They aren't adults - they shouldn't be treated as such.

    That's why we have juvie.


    See (none / 0) (#14)
    by jbindc on Mon Apr 13, 2009 at 09:13:15 AM EST
    This is where the "liberal" argument loses me (and a lot of people) - excuses are made for people who do bad things.  Do I feel sorry for these people?  Yes.  Can I even imagine what abject poverty drives people to do?  No.  

    But, sorry - you do not get to board a US ship, with a US crew, and take a US citizen hostage (and threaten to kill him) and try to steal the goods.

    This would be the same as excusing someone who was poor for going in a liquor store and committing armed robbery.  Maybe their desperation could be a mitigating factor, but they should not get to get off scot-free.  

    As my father used to tell me:  "You may have a good reason for doing what you did, but that does not excuse your bad behavior."


    For an adult... (none / 0) (#16)
    by kdog on Mon Apr 13, 2009 at 09:21:10 AM EST
    I'd tend to agree with you, but we're talking about a child here....a 16 year old child.  I'm inclined to give him a clean-slate second chance at a life in America....it's the high-ground way to go.

    That's Euro-American of you (5.00 / 1) (#23)
    by Cream City on Mon Apr 13, 2009 at 11:04:31 AM EST
    since he's an adult in his homeland.

    Interesting point (5.00 / 1) (#27)
    by jbindc on Mon Apr 13, 2009 at 11:20:28 AM EST
    While I understand our laws are clear about adults vs. minors, the fact that this person is considered an adult in his homeland and was charged with committing adult crimes is an interesting conundrum.  I see a potential can of worms that could be opened with this argument, but it does beg the question that are future terrorist/pirate/criminal enterprises going to  deliberately get 16 and 17 year-olds (adults in their own society) to commit illegal acts, and then wrap themselves in the excuse that "he's just a child" and shouldn't be held accountable?



    Not much of a conundrum (none / 0) (#29)
    by Inspector Gadget on Mon Apr 13, 2009 at 11:38:20 AM EST
    If they want to put him on trial as an adult, do that in the country where he is considered an adult. The US courts consider him a child.

    Then (none / 0) (#31)
    by jbindc on Mon Apr 13, 2009 at 11:45:12 AM EST
    He wouldn't get 15-20 years, or life, as prescribed by US law.  He would be executed.

    Yes, that's the point. (none / 0) (#35)
    by Cream City on Mon Apr 13, 2009 at 12:17:42 PM EST
    See #34.

    they did that (none / 0) (#30)
    by CST on Mon Apr 13, 2009 at 11:39:20 AM EST
    with child soldiers in Sudan as well.  That doesn't change the fact that we are prosecuting him here and not in Somalia.  The fact that other countries have different laws and customs should not be the blue print for our country's actions.  It's kind of like saying "well in Afghanistan they use Sharia law so we should stone them to death or else they will deliberately come here to get away with adultery".  Obviously the scale is vastly different and that would never happen, but the principle is the same.

    The chance that someone might take "advantage" of our more fair laws is the price you have to pay to live in this society.


    Yes. So the point is (none / 0) (#34)
    by Cream City on Mon Apr 13, 2009 at 12:16:29 PM EST
    as noted above, that he is better off being prosecuted here -- even as an adult, although I doubt that will be done, or his age will give him a break here that he won't get in his homeland.

    Perhaps that is part of the decision to do so here.


    Better a cage here... (none / 0) (#37)
    by kdog on Mon Apr 13, 2009 at 02:49:22 PM EST
    than a cage there, no argument...I just question the need for a cage at all for 16 year old entry-level pirate...a second chance feels so much better.

    When one of the crew-members was asked to describe the pirates...he said they were hungry.  Not evil, not blood-thirsty, not ruthless...but hungry.  Does that not tell us anything?


    Tells us they should've packed a lunch. (none / 0) (#38)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Mon Apr 13, 2009 at 03:03:29 PM EST
    And the boat they captured was filled with food aid. If all they really wanted was a meal, they could have waited until it docked, like everyone else.

    Hard, really, to discern someone's level of evilness, bloodthirstiness and ruthlessness when they're pointing an AK47 at your head. It's a lot easier after they've decided to pull the trigger...


    I thought that aid... (none / 0) (#39)
    by kdog on Mon Apr 13, 2009 at 03:20:05 PM EST
    was headed to the Sudan, not Somalia.

    From the AP: (none / 0) (#40)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Mon Apr 13, 2009 at 03:29:56 PM EST
    The American ship had been carrying food aid bound for Rwanda, Somalia and Uganda
    Regardless, if it wasn't, would that make the thievery OK?

    (That was a rhetorical question, I'm pretty sure I already know your answer.)


    Stand corrected... (none / 0) (#41)
    by kdog on Mon Apr 13, 2009 at 03:37:15 PM EST
    and never ok, but sometimes understandable, and in rarer instances justified.

    pretty bad incentive (none / 0) (#20)
    by txpublicdefender on Mon Apr 13, 2009 at 10:09:08 AM EST
    I feel sorry for the kid.  I do.  And I don't think he should be tried as an adult or locked up for the rest of his life.  But, if we decide to give asylum to, and not prosecute, the kid for participating in a hostage taking on the high seas, then every Somali out there is going to think that this is the way to get asylum in the U.S.  That doesn't seem like a good idea to me.

    I see your point... (none / 0) (#21)
    by kdog on Mon Apr 13, 2009 at 10:19:04 AM EST
    though I think, regardless of what fate awaits this kid, piracy is where many Somalis are gonna earn their living for the foreseeable future...its really the only game in town.

    agreed. (none / 0) (#19)
    by cpinva on Mon Apr 13, 2009 at 10:03:28 AM EST
    They aren't adults - they shouldn't be treated as such.

    he needs to be tried as a minor, and sentenced as a minor, jailed until he's 21. then send him home.

    except, i don't think our law on piracy makes any distinction between adults and non-adults. not sure how you work around that retroactively.

    ultimately, whatever happens to this one individual is moot. until such time as somalia has an actual functioning government, it will remain a haven for every illegal activity you can think of.

    Perhaps Peter G will explain (none / 0) (#24)
    by oculus on Mon Apr 13, 2009 at 11:06:24 AM EST
    whether there is a mechanism for trying a 16 yr. old as an adult under federal criminal procedure.

    Sea marshals (none / 0) (#25)
    by Cream City on Mon Apr 13, 2009 at 11:09:23 AM EST
    Some ship crews are arming, if their home countries allow it.  This is not always wise, if the crews are not well-trained.

    I think we need sea marshals much like the air marshals since 9/11 -- armed, trained marshals who look like passengers or crew and are randomly placed, so that pirates don't know where or when they might be dealing with them.

    2 sides to a coin (none / 0) (#26)
    by Jlvngstn on Mon Apr 13, 2009 at 11:20:01 AM EST
    Here is what I worry about.  While I agree with the decision to free the captain by using deadly force (although it pains me to see any life taken), I worry that too harsh a sentence for the last suspect creates a tenuous situation for future hostages.  

    While most Americans may see it as a strong deterrent, I see it as a potential achilles heel. If an overly harsh sentence is passed down it may cause the next hostage takers to take the hostage below the ship, execute him or her, leave their weapons below deck and come up with white flags and arms up to surrender.  

    If the penalty is too severe the pirates may figure, "I am going to spend the rest of my life in prison any way" and take that anger/fear out on the hostage.  Gambling with people with nothing to lose is risky.  

    I would prefer handing him over to the Somalian authorities for them to prosecute thereby moving some of the hostility toward their own gov't.

    A five-ten year sentence may be fitting, a 20 year or worse sentence may be opening pandora's box.

    One of my favorite things (none / 0) (#28)
    by jbindc on Mon Apr 13, 2009 at 11:32:03 AM EST
    I get to pull out not one, but two more West Wing quotes for this topic:

    Bartlet: Did you know that two thousand years ago a Roman citizen could walk across the face of the known world free of the fear of molestation? He could walk across the earth unharmed, cloaked only in the words "Civis Romanus" I am a Roman citizen. So great was the retribution of Rome, universally understood as certain, should any harm befall even one of its citizens

    This won't be popular here, but that's my basic philosophy for US foreign policy - no one gets to hurt US citizens without facing retribution.

    And I applaud Obama for this move. I think he was following this kind of advice.

    Bartlet: I am suggesting, General, that you, and Admiral Fitzwallace, and Secretary Hutchinson, and the rest of the national security team take the next sixty minutes and put together an American response scenario that doesn't make me think we are just docking somebody's damn allowance!

    it's gotten a lot bigger (none / 0) (#36)
    by cpinva on Mon Apr 13, 2009 at 02:44:47 PM EST
    the face of the known world

    since caesar's time. and everyone in the known world 2000 years ago didn't have ak-47's and RPG's readily available.

    two things that must be done, both very difficult:

    a. get the somali government up and running, so it's able to control its own shores.

    b. go after the "mother" ships, the ones towing the fast boats out to sea.

    these people come from a trainwreck of a country, surrounded by countries that are only just a little better. they have little to lose, and much to gain, by being pirates.

    only when the cost is greater than the potential profit, will this stop.


    True, but (none / 0) (#42)
    by jbindc on Mon Apr 13, 2009 at 03:42:06 PM EST
    since caesar's time. and everyone in the known world 2000 years ago didn't have ak-47's and RPG's readily available

    We also didn't have the mass communication to relay that someone was in trouble.  It would take months for news to filter back to Rome, and then more months to gather a posse or army and get to the location where the wrong was committed.  Yet, citizens were still free to wander because those that would try to harm someone knew that retribution would come - even if it took years.


    I agree in principle (none / 0) (#43)
    by Learned Hand on Mon Apr 13, 2009 at 06:26:19 PM EST
    But the history nerd in me wants to quibble; by "roman citizen traveling the known world" that would mean rich elite Roman man who was somewhere within a part of the Empire under control of loyal Roman Generals and Legions. I mean our hypothetical Roman citizen could not exactly walk unmolested through a village in northern Gaul circa 0 BC and say "I'm a Roman! Nyah nyah!"

    And on the other hand, if a country such as the United States seems too protective/harsh in dealing with people that harm its citizens, you run the risk of more people resenting Americans and their presence in other countries. I am not saying this is one of those scenarios; I am very pleased with the outcome of this case.


    The EU has an agreement to give them to kenya (none / 0) (#32)
    by connecticut yankee on Mon Apr 13, 2009 at 11:46:45 AM EST
    and weve handed at least 7 pirates over to them as well.   I say we stick with that.