President Barack Obama "meets" with speechwriter Cody Keenan, who dressed as a pirate for an Oval Office photo taken for use in the President's humorous speech to the White House Correspondents Association dinner May 9, 2009. "But as I said during the campaign, we can't just talk to our friends. As hard as it is, we also have to talk to our enemies, and I've begun to do exactly that," the President said in his speech.Thanks to Jenn of Per Omnia Saecula for directing me to the White House Flickr Feed for this gem.
Pirate Attacks are up since last year, there are still lots of ships being attacked, captured, defended, pirates being tried, etc... in both the Gulf of Aden and in Southeast Asia. But in this installment of Pirates in the News I'm going to focus on just a few high profile issues, for more minutitae of merchant sailors returning to Batavia, Illinois and the like, check back later because today we have...
Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse, pirate and now accused ringleader of the attack on the Maersk Alabama, was indicted today in a New York City court. The indictement on 10 charges is here.
Here's how I imagine this is being played out:
Jeff Goldblum, Chris Noth and Ice-T arguing with Richard Belzer about why it's suddenly a homiside in their division? Then suddenly their Lieutenant, Anita Van Bueren comes in and settles them down just before the combined squinting, glaring and snark tears a hole in the fabric of the universe. Despite all their differences, they see through the BS and we are all made richer for their squabling, as Ice-T made an important point about the young Somali man's humanity.
Meanwhile... in the office of the district attorney, a gaggle of law-bunnies surround increasingly grizzled D.A. Jack McCoy who is transparently concerned about how this will affect his re-election campaign.
Will he seem hard enough on foreign pirates who somehow have fallen under his jurisdiction???? All the law bunnies are there, the blonde ascerbic one, the blonde one who everyone hated, the bruinette from way back, the bruinettes from the 90s, Mariska Hargitay who was never a lawyer on the show but is there for whatever reason. The placeholder male A.D.A. steps up to the plate with the brief crafted by the zombie of the bruinette who was written out of the show by being decaptiated in a car accident with Benjamin Bratt, "what's the only way we can say that the New York DA's office is hard on piracy, I mean, other than the fact that everyone else who boarded that single ship was gunned down ruthlessly by super-powered snipers, we need to make an example of this young man..."
And that's about as far as I'm going to script that out until NBC returns my calls about writing for the show. But really courts? it's not good enough that he would be guilty of piracy but he has to be HEAD pirate? really guys? but dear reader, are you with me that the "pirate leader" thing feels a little like one of Sam Waterston's entertaining but reaching gambits from America's favorite imitation-law show? on a lighter note, you know he'd end up singing the star spangled banner in his summation, or at least do a spoken word version destined for YouTube greatness.
But probably the most telling thing about Muse is that smile:
That smile has disconcerted many, isn't this man a dangerous criminal? an enemy of America?
On trial in America Muse is hardly facing death for the first time, why shouldn't he smile? He's famous, he's going to be treated at least with consistency, and prison in America is very likely a better option than jail in Africa. That said, two more articles came to my attention today:
Somali Pirates Embrace Capture as a way to Europe tells us a little more about that smile, in the Netherlands pirates on trial for their crimes are exclaiming their intentions to stay in the country, applying for asylum, which would be very difficult legally to reject.
"Life is good here," said one of the defendants, named Sayid, about his experience in a Dutch jail.
"I appeal to the government not to send me back to Somalia. The people who live here respect human rights. I wish to settle here."
Willem-Jan Ausma, a Dutch defence attorney who is representing another pirate, described his client's relief to be in a Western prison.
"My client feels safe here. His own village is dominated by poverty and sharia [Islamic law] but here he has good food and can play football and watch television. He thinks the lavatory in his cell is fantastic," he said.
Mr Ausma has told the Somali that he will be considered for a residence permit after serving his sentence, expected to be a maximum of four years in prison.
"He intends to send for his wife and children as soon as he is released from prison. He knows he cannot easily be sent back to Somalia. He loves it here in the Netherlands," Mr Ausma told the NRC Handelsblad newspaper.
Mr Ausma has also warned that ongoing piracy trials in the Netherlands, France and the United States will encourage pirates to commit crimes, for the purpose of being captured, rather than deterring attacks on Western flagged vessels.
"Anything is better than Somalia," he said.
Is this a shock? no. But it highlights the reasons people turn pirate to begin with, the hope for a better life, it is a legitimate opportunity, one of the only ones available in the area. It is natural that these men would want to continue their efforts to improve their lives and the lives of their families however they can and until better options emerge in the region, they're still going to do this. This segues into the next eye-catcher:
"There are growing indications that wealthier pirates ... may become new warlords and create extremist organizations" that could further destabilize the lawless east African nation, he warned.
He did not elaborate, but called for international efforts to help stamp out the threat, including by setting up a Somali coast guard.
"We need to establish a well equipped, trained coast guard to prevent pirate boats before they go into deep sea," he said, speaking in English. "Pirates can be apprehended best while they are still on ground and preparing for expedition."
Senior U.S. and European officials echoed the call for efforts to move beyond naval action.
"The solution to piracy is a stable Somalia. As long as there is no rule of law, we can only try to mitigate the problem but not eliminate it," said Capt. Chris Chambers, director of the multinational naval force based in Bahrain.
A stable Somalia may not look like the old colonial nation-states though, it is clear that a national identity never really took in Somalia, and the more intimate cultural and social definitions that provide structure, sustenance and services however minimal are where a man's loyalties will reside in this region.
It would be a mistake to assume that dropping a new national government on Somalia whole-cloth is going to make sense without providing representation to groups and regions that can provide real improvement in the life of their constituents. Until basic needs can be met on the ground, things like a national assembly or unified Somalia will not be particularly appealing, or perceived as anything other than the hopeful dreams of unwelcome interlopers.