Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Reactions As Accused Somali Pirate Pleads Guilty In US Court

Over a year after he was apprehended by US forces in the Indian Ocean, Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse yesterday pled guilty in a New York court to charges relating to the attack on the box ship Maersk Alabama. This marks the first time in over a century and a half that the U.S. has prosecuted a piracy case in its legal system. Muse will be sentenced in October and prosecutors are expected to seek a prison term of at least 27 years. The lone survivor of the pirate gang that boarded the vessel, Muse is reported to have told the court - through an interpreter - that, "What we did was wrong. I am very, very sorry for the harm we did. The reason for this is the problems in Somalia."

In the wake of Muse's admission of guilt, one Somali source told the BBC that he has "serious concerns" about the case, and about whether foreign nations have the jurisdictional authority to try suspected pirates in their courts. Jamaal Cumar is described in the BBC report as "a US-based Somali official", though his actual capacity is not spelled out and there are few other online references to Cumar acting on behalf of the Somali government.

Cumar tells the BBC that, "he had been trying to work out why the US would have any authority to try Muse's case and those of several other suspects in custody in the US." He is quoted as saying, "The Somali government's position has always been that we questioned the jurisdiction of this case. We felt that it was an exercise in extrajudicial practice of the law and we asked the US to return those pirates back to Somalia."

What makes Mr. Cumar's media appearance odd is that he clearly has his priorities skewed. He fails to grasp the ability under both national and international laws for sovereign nations such as the United States to prosecute those accused of engaging in pirate attacks on vessels at sea, which are legally defined as incidents that happen outside the jurisdiction of littoral nations. The attack on the Maersk Alabama occurred in international waters, meaning that those involved (like Muse) have no protection from Somali laws, whatever those may be.

As well, one might think that Cumar would be more concerned about the plight of other Somalis accused of piracy. As EagleSpeak noted yesterday, a court in Yemen condemned six Somalis to death for their actions in seizing an oil tanker in April of last year (around the time the Maersk Alabama was attacked). There appears to be no media outcry from any Somali officials about that case, least of all from Mr. Cumar. As someone opposed to the death penalty for crimes like piracy, I would prefer the Yemeni officials were to do what the Americans will likely do, and incarcerate the pirates for lengthy terms. Though I would safely bet that Muse will fare much better in a US prison.

One other reaction about Muse's case comes from his mother: As reported in The Washington Post, Adar Abdirahman Hassan told the Associated Press from her home in central Somalia that she was pleading with President Barack Obama for leniency to her son. She felt that he had been "duped" into becoming involved with the attack by "adult friends" and thought that the he had pled guilty because Muse was afraid he would be sentenced to death in the US for his actions.

"Please, please President Obama," Hassan says, "Please, American people, please release my son and grant him citizenship to help us."

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