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April 14, 2009

Enough dead teen pirate porn already

I'm relieved that the Navy SEALs rescued the American hostage from Somali pirates. Their skill and professionalism was indeed impressive.

But really... Two days after the rescue, the banner headline on the front page of the Washington Post should not read "3 Rounds, 3 Dead Bodies." And if that's the front page headline, surely they don't need a second story about pirate-shooting in the same edition.

The American public is relishing the deaths of the pirates to a degree that's downright unseemly. Even Mother Jones has a post entitled "Obama is the pirate-killingest president ever."

Gates said the four pirates involved in taking Phillips hostage were 17 to 19 years old -- "untrained teenagers with heavy weapons." The pirate whom Reza wounded in the hand asked the USS Bainbridge for medical attention, effectively surrendering. [WaPo]

All the jubilation is distracting from some serious questions about U.S. policy towards piracy.

The on-scene Navy commander aboard the USS Bainbridge reportedly gave the order to fire because the hostage's life was suddenly in danger. If that's true, then of course the SEALs did the right thing.

Despite the blanket coverage of the SEALs who fired the shots, very little has been reported about the evidence that moved the commander to order the shooting. So far, nobody has explained why the commander decided that the hostage was in jeopardy at that particular moment.

The standoff was dragging on and there was intense political pressure to resolve the situation. Maybe he just seized an opportunity to get three clean kills.

Given the international significance of this incident I hope that a full and impartial report will be made available to the public in English, Arabic, and Somali. When the police shoot hostage takers, they're held accountable for their decisions. We need the same level of transparency when the military goes after criminals on the high seas.

Imagine if some American criminals were holding an innocent Somali hostage in international waters. We'd demand answers if the Somalis shot them. It would be the responsible thing to do and we'd feel entitled to a full accounting of what happened to our people.

But realistically, nobody's going to ask the commander to justify his decision. He spared the politicians some difficult choices about whether to authorize lethal commando raids to liberate hostages, as the French have done.

It's creepy to see so many Americans are exulting over the fact that the United States military managed to shoot three teenagers, albeit three very dangerous teenagers who may have been about to kill an innocent hostage. Even if authorities did the right thing, it was a sad, sordid necessity, not a glorious adventure.

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Comments

I'm surprised the SEAL teams (and their commanders) allowed so many operational highlights of their mission to come to daylight.

From a military perspective, it's a bad idea to tip your hand.

That said, I agree all the man-love is nauseating considering 3 teenagers who grew up in desolation and with little hope for anything had to be blown away.

With all that defense money spent on new technologies, where are the star trek inspired 'set phasers to stun' guns?

"I hope that a full and impartial report will be made available to the public, in English and Arabic."

Good luck with that.

Good post. It's weird seeing even progressive guys like Ezra Klein ooohing and ahhhing over it like it's some kind of video game. "Sad, sordid necessity" is probably the best way of describing killing people under these circumstances, and the panting by some people who should know better over the coolness of it all is kinda sickening.

Are you crazy? By holding a weapon to an innocent hostage, these "pirates" forfeited any right to protection that may have had. The only issue the seals should have considered was whether they could end the situation without danger to the hostage. That the gunmen were teenagers is utterly irrelevant. They were old enough to wield AK47s, to engage in piracy, and to threaten an innocent man with death; they were old enough to be shot dead.

Why Arabic but not Somali?

What age has got to do with it? A bullet doesn't care whether it's shot by a 17 year old or a 34 year old.

give me a break...

I am not 100% sure of this, but I recall reading that it is always open season on pirates. My usually-correct memory says that one of the crazy rationales advanced for our treatment of "enemy combatants" was that they were just "land pirates", and thus pirate law applied, and pirate law is really, really harsh.

As in, all that dubiously-legal stuff we did to people we captured in Afghanistan? If they were pirates, no problem.

Another source for this (the one I used to explain it to my son) was that in Civ 3 (a game that normally promotes pretty progressive governing), if you see a pirate ship, you can sink it, no problems.

Wikipedia confirms my memory, so it must be true :-). Hard to tell, maybe we're supposed to give them a trial before we shoot them, but it is clear that pirates have fewer legal rights than anyone else.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hostis_humani_generis

I am sorry but I really disagree with one point made in this post. If Americans were holding another country's citizen hostage and they shot them I wouldn't demand a thing. A pirate is a pirate no matter if they are ours or theirs and no matter if they are middle aged or teenagers. The media is making it a big deal true but that doesn't change what the situation was on that lifeboat and some how I bet most people, if it was their loved one was being held by pirates, would have no objection to what our Navy Seals did.

I agree that the james-bondian drooling has to stop and it's tragic about their ages (the one who gave up is said to be "perhaps 16"?). What this really highlights is the need for stronger efforts at rebuilding a state(or states) in the region. This is what you get when nation building is ignored and international gunning running is allowed unchecked.

However, if you are choosing to hold somebody at gunpoint, I think that ethically justifies shooting you if other options are exhausted or cannot be further explored given the situation. Five days is a long time to avoid negotiation or surrender.

If there were American criminals holding a Somali at gunpoint and snipers had a clear shot on the Americans, I'd have no moral qualms with the choice to shoot the Americans. Of course it's preferable to have a peaceful resolution, but the very fact that someone is held at gunpoint means he or she is in imminent danger.

Nah, pirates are like mercenaries that turn on you. The above post is right it is always open season on pirates. That's the price you pay for being a pirate (or a faithless mercenary).

"Imagine if some American criminals were holding an innocent Somali hostage in international waters. We'd demand answers if the Somalis shot them."

And if the answer was "...because we thought we could get them all and end the situation" that would be perfectly all right.

Right and wrong, I think.

You're right that the glory-holeization of anything involving americans shooting non-americans is sickening. The Post is just porn-ing it up. THere's no 'heroism' in shooting someone with a rifle who is so close that a good catcher could, throwing from his knees, hit him with a baseball.

BUT...

they were pirates on the open sea, with a hostage. Since no one is saying the Navy did anything awful (torture, desicrate the bodies, etc), I don't need an explanation. it sucks they were so young, but that's not the Navy's fault.

Anytime someone is killed (by necessity or not) it is a tragedy and I would hope that there would be some discussion of the larger issues. What is so sad is that so very few articles have mentioned what drives Somali teenagers to be pirates in the first place. While obviously piracy and what they are doing is wrong and being done for the enormous financial reward, someone might mention the complete failure of the Somali state, economy, social structures and education system and what that has done to the Somali people over the past few years.

Our fascination with killing is abnormal. I will agree with you on that.

You need to be careful how you use the term "teenagers" in this situation. You are applying the connotations and definitions of American teenagers onto these Somali individuals. Americans between 17-19 are probably not mature, however Somali's of this age have already lived almost 40% of their lives based up life expectancy. These were not kids just out of high school.

Also, let me play devil's advocate and say that these guys were "economic terrorists" and we have a policy of not negotiating with terrorists. You also state that if the roles were reversed we would be demanding answers and explanations. However Somali has no government.

I am as liberal as the next guy, but to sympathize with the pirates is what causes liberal foreign policy to lack broad support here at home. These pirates have murdered innocent civilians of other nationalities and reasoning with them is not an option. Additionally, these are not poverty stricken individuals that have been driven here out of lack of options. These pirates are millionaires and this is nothing more than organized crime.

You know, I consider myself progressive. But I have no sympathy for the dead pirates. People are happy because an innocent captain who risked his life for his crew has been freed. Get a clue! The captain was heroic and walked the walk of being a leader by offering himself as hostage to save his crew. Talks with the pirates broke down and they were pointing an automatic weapon at his back while he was tied up. How can you *not* admire the US Navy Captain for making the correct decision at that point in time to attempt to save the merchant captain's life by taking out the pirates? What is wrong with you?

I would agree that there is no reason to plaster pictures and slogans on the front page of every newspaper in the country. Teenagers or not, these kids chose their destiny by taking a hostage and holding him at gunpoint. They knew the consequences.

This was certainly political. It might prove to be a deterrent, but most of these "pirates" have little to lose so my guess would be that it will prove more harmful than good for any future incidents. I'd heard that Maersk offered several million to the captors for the captains safe return but the military chose to end it differently. Who knows. If the captain had been a member of my family, I would be thankful that he survived and made it home safely. It is truly sad that there are so many people in impoverished countries that have to resort to this sort of thing to survive, but I can't feel terribly sorry for the outcome. 3 kids chose their destiny and chose very poorly. I'm happy to see a good outcome.

This article is is a waste of server space. Pirates (in reality terrorists - we don't call people who commandeer airplanes "pirates" how is a ship any different) don't have rights. They aren't US citizens, they sure as hell don't afford us or their own countrymen any rights for that matter. I would imagine in a rugged place like Somalia, your middle-aged at 15 so I don't think age is a valid consideration here. Even in the United States minors who undertake "adult-like" endeavors are treated as such by the justice system. Regardless, it is open season on pirates. I and I would argue many others (unless they're winy "cause-heads")likely feel as though there would be no need for explanation if the Somali pirates were replaced with Americans under these EXACT circumstances. It is cause for celebration - America finally did something right.

Another question that no one is asking is why are these Somali teenagers so desperate that they'll risk death to attack container ships in international waters from small boats, armed only with rifles? One of the first orders of business in war is to know what drives your enemy so you can disarm them, ideally without having to go into battle. But we don't know shit about what kind of desperation drives these guys.

Pirates are like any other hostage taking criminals. They shouldn't be killed unless the hostage is in imminent danger. I don't see the moral difference between a gunman holed up a mall vs. a gunman holed up in a lifeboat. Summary executions are barbaric.

I'm not saying that it was necessarily wrong to kill those pirates. Depending on the circumstances, it may have been the only way. But it's still sad and we shouldn't let all this jubilation distract us from tough political choices.

If we're going to adopt a policy like France's--commando raids to free hostages--then we should be upfront about what our policy is and take the political heat. This isn't something we should leave to commanders on the ground. Politicians are accountable to the public in a way that military commanders in the field can't be.

If there were Americans involved, you can bet the US would insert itself. They wouldn't just take Somalia's word about what happened. What's wrong with scrutinizing the decisions of people in authority. The commander made a huge decision on the world stage, he works for us, and we deserve a meaningful report on how this situation was handled, not just a bunch of boo-yeahs.

I would consider myself liberal but the way I see it is the only good pirate is a dead pirate. I don't care how old they were or how poor they grew up, when you pick up an AK-47 and point it at someone you have to accept the possibilities of being shot.

"Maybe he just seized an opportunity to get three clean kills."

What's that old joke: FBI hostage negotiations last as long as it take to get a clean shot.

It was that sort of deal in this situation.

My dad was offered the job a sniper during The War, and he said the base line thinking was really simple: "As soon as you can, you blow the guys head off. And then you leave. Quietly."

I'd surmise the same thinking was going on here.

The standoff was dragging on and there was intense political pressure to resolve the situation. Maybe he just seized an opportunity to get three clean kills.

Setting aside the coverage of the incident, I think it is important not to speculate on what happened. What I read indicated that observers saw through a window in the lifeboat that the kidnappers had a lowered AK-47 assault rifle pointed at the hostage.

I belive that the Somali pirates are low ranking members of a larger organization. Like any organized crime, they are likely doing the dirty work for someone else. Likely Somali warlords. The pirates are a symptom of a bigger problem in Somalia.

Sorry, these young men were willing to kill for money. I am not going to be fretting about a commander willing to kill to save someone's life. If American criminals were holding a Somali hostage and were shot by Somali police, I imagine our response would include some questions about where to ship the bodies with a sotto voce "good for you" in there somewhere. These are pirates, killers and teen years and poverty are no excuses. There are millions more Somalis who grew up in the exact same dire poverty who did not choose to kidnap and threaten murder in exchange for money. These youths chose their death. They were willing to kill many more people for a get rich quick act of piracy. Save your pity for people who deserve it.

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