Going on the Account: Those Who Do Not Dance the Hempen Jig

Please forgive me if I seem confused; I’m still trying to take in the fact that piracy charges against those who attacked the USS Ashland were thrown out today.

Forgive my language, but as they say in the Blogosphere… WTF?

I’m trying to imagine how Judge Jackson, serving in the Fourth Circuit, could have possibly decided that the state “failed to establish that any unauthorized acts of violence or aggression committed on the high seas constitutes piracy as defined by the law of nations.”  This is especially surprising, considering Judge Jackson’s military background and the association of jurists within the Fourth Circuit of being a bit conservative; if the judge had not served and ruled from within the Ninth or Second Circuit, I might not have thought the universe had warped so badly…

I’d have to read the briefs filed by the defense, because the initial reports as issued by the US Navy are pretty clear-cut, which means there must have been some dramatic recounting by the Somalis as to what occurred.  For the charges to be dismissed, DoD would have to have somehow failed to produce evidence of the battle damage the pirates did to the Ashland (no matter how cosmetic), and proved that the crew of the skiff were unarmed and did not engage in hostile action.

Even with that, the law’s pretty hard to ignore on the activities the Somalis may have been engaged in.  Title 18 of the US Code, Section 1652, sets the bar so low for what constitutes piracy that failing to prove that case would be very difficult for any newbie Judge Advocate General, let alone any decent prosecutor.

And yet the six who engaged in action against the Ashland will not see a mandatory life sentence for engaging, which gives hope to the five facing similar charges for their action against the USS Nicholas.  The pirates are likely to face imprisonment should they be convicted of other pending charges, so we’re looking at some time, and even if by the end of the process these folks face no time here, their being off the waves would be at least some accomplishment.

But still, not being charged for a crime that’s very hard to deny?  As is asked in any good court case or mystery, cui bono?

Is there perhaps a strategy in play to make the buccaneers of the Modern Age of Piracy assume that if the US takes you in, you’re looking at a soft going off the account?  Compare what happened to these eleven folks with what happened to the pirates who were stopped from storming the Moscow University; maybe there is a subtle message being given here regarding the application of “soft power” to this situation.

(And the first one of you that makes a “soft power” joke, you’re on my list…)

Consider this scenario:  Word gets out that getting picked up by the USN sees you serving a fairly low term for seizure and hostage taking, maybe 7-to-15 years.  (Murder and homicide, I’m assuming, is off the table.)  Knowing this, when pirates encounter US-flagged ships, they become more willing to trust the mercy of the system, knowing that being off the sea lanes a few years as opposed to a lifetime is preferable than a lot of other fates out there.  And when they get out, a number of personal options may or may not suggest themselves, but in the meantime their days as seadogs for that period have come to an end; and with enough such pirates taking on this deal, the seas are pacified and commerce can flow freely.

It’s simple and maybe too nuanced considering American policy approaches over the last 30 years, but it makes for an interesting assumption…

If this is the case, it’s a radical departure from how major powers treated pirates in years gone by.  The last well-known clemency offered a pirate was to Jean Laffite being thanked for his assistance at the Battle of New Orleans; before that, you’d have to go back to Grace O’Malley’s meeting with Queen Elizabeth I for a similar welcome ashore.  And these were special, talented individuals; whatever else you can say about the eleven Somalis in US captivity for these two cases, none of them were Henry Morgan…

But do such actions have a chance of accomplishing the set goals of CTF-151?  Is there some math being considered that looks at the operation and considers this from the respect of a project triangle (which is probably the last great philosophical revelation of the 20th century, IMHO), that to accomplish their goals, they are willing to look for a good and cheep approach to the matter?  (This is opposed to going all guns ablaze, a good and fast approach that’s hard to justify amidst the current deficit worries…)

The last time the US was this willing to befriend privateers was before the Somers Affair, which had its purpose considering we were a small upstart force compared to the Royal Navy, and even then the American government was more often than not somewhat wary about any such engagements.  If we’re engaged in some form of payoff for pirates, which Thomas Jefferson heartily disapproved of, then we’ve certainly traveled a few times around the block, to put it mildly…

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