Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Where Will Captured Somali Pirate Get Justice?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Where Will Captured Somali Pirate Get Justice?

Article excerpt

Justice Department officials are examining a trove of evidence against the lone surviving Somali who allegedly helped hold an American captain for ransom off the coast of Somalia.

With a host of potential witnesses - the crew who retook the Maersk Alabama after the pirates boarded the ship, the crew of the destroyer USS Bainbridge which shadowed the pirate lifeboat, and Capt. Richard Phillips himself - the evidence against the alleged Somali pirate is likely to be particularly strong, analysts say.

The case offers President Obama an opportunity to punctuate the Navy's swift military response Sunday with an equally bold legal response - by affording the Somali suspect the full protections of a United States court of law. The concern is that aggressive US defense lawyers might tie up the case in a flurry of motions - including questions about the suspect's potential status as a minor.

"Everyone agrees that pirates are bad, but the issue is what are you going to do with them," says Michael Passman, a lawyer with the Chicago firm Cassiday Schade and author of articles on piracy and the law.

Justice Department officials declined to comment Monday on the status of the case, and whether the suspect would eventually be sent to the US for trial. One matter that could complicate the case is the pirate's age. Defense officials estimate that all four alleged pirates were between the ages of 17 and 19. Under international and US law, younger defendants are generally not held to the same level of culpability as adults. Proving the precise age of the suspected pirate may be difficult, given the level of disorder in Somalia.

The high profile of the case, however, would make it unusual for the Obama administration to pass it on to Kenya, which has agreed to prosecute piracy cases in the Horn of Africa region, analysts say.

Until last week, no US ship, sailor, or citizen had been targeted by Somali pirates, who redirect largely defenseless merchant ships to the Somali coast and begin multimillion-dollar ransom negotiations. …

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