Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Somali pirates allowing themselves to be captured?

Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse, the lone Somali to survive the Maersk Alabama incident, was indicted today by a Manhattan grand jury on ten charges, including piracy and kidnapping. He will be arraigned in a District Court on Thursday, with his trial expected to commence in the fall. Muse faces life in prison if convicted on the piracy charge. Reuters reports that one of his lawyers is looking into the chance that Muse was "kidnapped and taken hostage" by American forces, a somewhat specious allegation given that the Somali man had been part of the armed group holding Captain Richard Phillips against his will.

Meanwhile, in The Netherlands, five other Somalis accused of attacking a vessel registered in the Dutch Antilles, are being prepared for their own trial under Dutch laws. The men were captured after a January incident involving the cargo ship Samanyulo, and at least two of the accused seem quite happy to be incarcerated in a European country. The Telegraph has a piece in which one of the men says that life in a Dutch jail is "good" in comparison to what things were like back home in Somalia.

The attorney of another is quoted as saying that his client is relieved to be in a Western prison where he feels safe. "His own village is dominated by poverty and sharia law but here he has good food and can play football [soccer] and watch television. He thinks the lavatory in his cell is fantastic." This accused is apparently considering sending for his wife and children to come to Holland as soon as he's released - which presumes the man will plead guilty and/or be sentenced to a prison term. His lawyer considers the man to be a Robin Hood driven to piracy to support his family.

All of this has led an international criminal law attorney, Geert-Jan Knoops, to wonder whether pirates will voluntarily surrender to Western naval forces in order to get to a better life, even one behind bars. It's not such a strange idea, and one that you can bet has been discussed in detail by a variety of legal experts prior to all the naval warships deploying to the seas off the Horn of Africa. Indeed, it's one of the reasons we've seen some nations hand over captured pirates to Somali authorities, or release them outright. It's the unwritten worry that once these suspects are brought to a Western nation to face legal trials, they'll never go home again.

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