Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
April 14, 2009
WAR/LAW: Should The Surviving Somali Pirate Be Tried...In Juvenile Court?

It's so hard to do satire these days, because the truth is so often beyond parody. The last of the heavily-armed pirates who stormed the Maersk Alabama, held a paralyzed U.S. Navy at bay for three days and repeatedly threatened to execute their hostage unless they were paid millions in ransom may well be tried in the United States for piracy. This is probably the right call, since this is piracy against American ships, although really it would have been better if all the pirates had been killed on the spot. Where this gets bizarre is the suggestion that an act of piracy on the high seas should be treated as a juvenile crime because the pirates reportedly were somewhere between age 16 and 20:

Jo Becker, a D.C.-based advocate for Human Rights Watch, said if the pirate suspect is in fact 16 or 17 years old, "he would certainly be entitled to protections under international law that allow for lower culpability of juveniles involved in crimes."

Becker says international law recognizes that people under 18 are "less developed, less mature, and more easily manipulated by adults."

Ideally, Becker said, an underage suspect would be tried in a juvenile court, with special protections given his age. "He would need to have access to family members. Throughout the whole process, there needs to be a special view to his rehabilitation," she added.

People like Ms. Becker are precisely why it's a bad idea to take anybody alive in these situations. And of course, concern about pressure from the 'international community' may come into play:

Kenneth Randall, dean of the University of Alabama School of Law, said the suspect's age may not affect where or how he is charged, but is likely to impact his eventual sentence.

"When it comes to international attention, they do have to be mindful of the mitigating circumstances of his age," said Randall.

Yes, I look forward to a Somali pirate becoming the next Mumia or Zacarias Moussaoui. Hooray for the legal profession!

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:30 AM | Law 2009-14 • | War 2007-14 | Comments (11) | TrackBack (0)

The surviving pirate surrendered himself BEFORE the final showdown, but you nonetheless say, " would have been better if all the pirates had been killed on the spot." So you're in favor of cold-blooded murder?

Posted by: Al at April 14, 2009 12:53 PM

Isn't the standard punishment for pirates "walking the plank"? Sounds a lot cheaper in these tough economic times.

Al, as for cold blodded murder...I don't think that applies to pirates/terrorists. So, yes!!!!

Posted by: maddirishman at April 14, 2009 1:03 PM

Al - Of course, you have to accept surrenders, my point is that we'd be better off if he had not surrendered and gone down as his comrades did. That said, I would approve of a legal rule that allowed summary trial and execution on the spot of anyone captured in the act of piracy on the high seas; it's consistent with historical practice and it's not as if there's any question of the guy's guilt.

Posted by: Crank at April 14, 2009 2:36 PM

We are remarkably unsure how, as a society, we wish to assign responsibility to the young—lowering drinking and voting age to 18, raising the age of consent from 14 to 18, and doing our best to maintain the status of student into the 30s. We'd be better off, I feel, had we left age of majority at 21, while recognizing that knowledge of common law should be expected from a younger age.

By way of reference, the Anglo-Saxons used 12 as the age when adult responsibility before the law was assumed, although usually withholding maximum penalties until the offender had reached 15. As far as pirates go, we'd be wise to use A-S practice as a guide.

Posted by: Dai Alanye at April 16, 2009 12:44 AM

Just wait until he is 18 to execute him. The U.S. does not execute minors. I would go along with no execution if he was under the age of 14 at the time of the crime. A 16 year old has enough smarts to know what damage an AK-47 or RPG can do. We are not playing a game of tag with these pirates. We are playing for keeps.

Posted by: yetijuice at April 16, 2009 12:47 AM


Are you suggesting that because there appears no doubt that this guy was involved in pirating -- there is no argument about mistaken identity, etc. -- that any other facts relevant to a conviction be ignored? Let's assume he is 16. It seems to me that, as a default, that the prosecutors consider whether juvenile court is the proper forum. Based on what we know now, going there would be absurd. But, should we just ignore the issue? What if it turns out that the pirate kingpins (or whatever they are called) were forcing this guy into pirating by holding his family? Maybe that alone would not be enough to take him to juvenile court, but your rush to conviction and sentence is, frankly, pretty poor legal reasoning.

Posted by: Magrooder at April 18, 2009 4:15 PM

It's not legal reasoning at all. It's a recognition that treating piracy like ordinary domestic crime is a fool's errand. Piracy, like terrorism, is best approached as an act of war. If you have no mercy on pirates, eventually you can be rid of them.

Posted by: Crank at April 18, 2009 5:05 PM

"If you have no mercy on pirates, eventually you can be rid of them."

and, of course, that's the exact problem.

Why would journalists and the State Department want to be rid of pirates?

1) They prey on commerce, always a good thing
2) They keep the military tied up
3) They make the military look bad and incompetent
4) They provide the motivation for lots of employment in the "address the root causes" industry. Lots of conferences can be held and lots of development aid will flow to Somalia as long as the pirates aren't wiped out.

Progressives aren't stupid, they just genuinely have different interests than those of the country as a whole.

Posted by: Steve Johnson at April 19, 2009 10:22 PM


As you once threw at me, "when your only tool is a hammer, the world looks like a nail."

There is no meaningful distinction when you classify issues as "war" or "legal." It is an easy way to avoid thought and arrive at the conclusion you want. but even wars have rules. I suppose you believe that no rules of behavior limit the US in the "war on terrorism," but fortunately, we have adult supervision over the DOJ and the cowboys at the CIA

Posted by: Magrooder at April 19, 2009 10:59 PM

I agree that every situation has rules. I do not agree that every situation has the same rules, and any effort to put international relations into a criminal-justice straitjacket is facile and ultimately juvenile. The value of deterrence - as compared to the various other values that animate the criminal justice system - is much more vital in the arena of warfare, and especially in the arena of non-state-actor transnational violence like terrorism and piracy.

Posted by: Crank at April 19, 2009 11:07 PM

I agree that all situations do not have the same rules, but there are certain fundamental principals applicable in all or nearly all situations; no torture, for example.

Your position sounds more like vengeance and than deterrence and indiscriminate killing is not likely to be a deterrent in piracy or terrorist situatiions

Posted by: Magrooder at April 20, 2009 8:30 PM
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