So, apparently I'm not the only person to get emails offering Canadian pharmaceuticals or random free stuff. The federal government is not above the email ruse to bring an alleged pirate to justice.
The Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit just handed down a decision upholding the prosecution of an alleged Somali pirate or pirate-helper. The case is United States v. Ali.
Per the opinion:
Ali Mohamed Ali, a Somali national, helped negotiate the ransom of a merchant vessel and its crew after they were captured by marauders in the Gulf of Aden. Though he claims merely to have defused a tense situation, the government believes he was in cahoots with these brigands from the very start. Ali eventually made his way to the United States, where he was arrested and indicted for conspiring to commit and aiding and abetting two offenses: piracy on the high seas and hostage taking.
The government says Ali is a pirate; he protests that he is not. Though a trial will determine whether he is in fact a pirate, the question before us is whether the government’s allegations are legally sufficient. And the answer to that question is complicated by a factor the district court deemed critical: Ali’s alleged involvement was limited to acts he committed on land and in territorial waters—not upon the high seas. Thus, the district court restricted the charge of aiding and abetting piracy to his conduct on the high seas and dismissed the charge of conspiracy to commit piracy. Eventually, the district court also dismissed the hostage taking charges, concluding that prosecuting him for his acts abroad would violate his right to due process. On appeal, we affirm dismissal of the charge of conspiracy to commit piracy. We reverse, however, the district court’s dismissal of the hostage taking charges, as well as its decision to limit the aiding and abetting piracy charge.
Piracy is a universal crime, which under international and U.S. law, subjects the offenders to worldwide jurisdiction. Practically speaking, this means that a Somali pirate faces the same prosecution for his conduct in the Gulf of Aden as if he committed the acts in San Francisco Bay.
Piracy is a very old crime and there is a dearth of case law analyzing the due process issues associated with these prosecutions. As such, every opinion with universal criminal jurisdiction tends to cite United States v. Yunis, 924 F.2d 1086 (D.C. Cir. 1991)(aircraft piracy) and, of more recent vintage, United States v. Shi, 525 F. 3d 709 (9th Cir. 2008)(as the court noted, Shi is technically not a piracy case, but it did involve violence in the maritime realm)(posted here).
Apparently Mr. Ali was not just a pirate-helper, but was also the self-proclaimed Director Generatl of the Ministry of Education for the Republic of Somaliland. The federal government invited him to attend an education conference in Raleigh, North Carolina. He was arrested at Dulles International Airport enroute to that conference. "Little did he know it was all an elaborate ruse."