April 21, 2009

Pirate In New York For Trial

What a pity – his rotting corpse should already be hanging from the yardarm of USS Bainbridge.

The pirate suspect arrested in the hijacking of the Maersk Alabama was all smiles on arriving in New York City late Monday, escorted by a phalanx of law enforcement officers.

None of the officers would confirm his identity, but his arrival for trial in the United States had been widely expected.

The suspect arrived at the Jacob K. Javits Federal Office Building in Manhattan, which is linked to a federal detention facility where he was expected to be held pending an appearance in federal court. The timing of that appearance was not immediately available. He was walked through the rain, surrounded by media, as well as officers from federal and New York City law enforcement agencies.

This is, once again, a failure by the US government. Just as we have too often treated terrorism like a criminal justice issue rather than a military issue, we are now doing the same with piracy. Thomas Jefferson knew pirates for what they are – the enemies of all humanity – and treated them accordingly by dispatching Stephen Decatur and the US Marines to Tripoli to deal with them. He didn’t bring them back to the US for trial. We should not be setting this precedent now.

And what we also should not do is follow the line of nonsense put forth by Tony Karon in Time.

A New York trial for Muse is unlikely even to prompt others to refrain from acts of piracy. There is no fear of America among young Somali gunmen, who demonstrated that attitude in the most grisly fashion in the streets of Mogadishu in 1993, during the infamous "Black Hawk down" incident. That event has achieved mythic status in the Somali imagination. Instead, the trial is more likely to prompt Muse's peers to seek symbolic retribution — possibly even prompting them to make his release the condition for freeing some future group of hostages they capture on the high seas. Until now, the Somali pirates have scrupulously avoided harming their captives; their capture has been simply a business transaction. That may soon change. An escalation in the confrontation between the pirates and the ships of richer nations will present a golden opportunity to the Shebab to exploit popular nationalist sentiment and turn the business of piracy into a coastal jihad.

A more likely way to turn local sentiment against piracy would be, for example, to put those responsible for holding a shipment of food aid destined to feed the starving in a famine-plagued region on trial in an African court. Somali piracy needs a Somali solution — beginning with the creation of a political order capable of enforcing law and order and protecting Somalia's sovereignty, and offering young Somali men alternative livelihoods. Putting captive pirates on trial may be part of the solution to the piracy problem, but it will only be effective if the courts and laws are seen as legitimate by the communities from which the pirates hail. Putting them on trial in New York may satisfy the desire by many in the U.S. to send a harsh message to those that dare mess with Americans. But it only raises the likelihood of more, and more dangerous, pirate attacks.

Yeah. Right. Sure. That ranks right up there with suggesting that terrorists be tried in Islamic courts under sharia rules as a means of getting the Muslim world to accept the legitimacy of actions taken against them. What such lunacy instead points out is the need to treat these pirate attacks as the military problem they are – and the importance of bombing the bases and sinking the vessels used by pirates in addition to following the rules in the old “Rocks & Shoals” code to be vigorously enforced.

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