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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

Pirates (in reality terrorists - we don't call people who commandeer airplanes "pirates" how is a ship any different)

Because of the reasons behind the attack. The Somalis were motivated by principally economic motives, hence they are pirates. An individual who hijacks a plane seeks primarily to spread fear.

The Somali pirates do not want to spread fear... in fact, quite the reverse, since otherwise maritime traffic would go to more lengths to defend themselves, or avoid the Horn of Africa altogether.

Also, regarding people's feelings about the kidnapping. We are human beings. We are hard-wired to be made angry when we see innocent people being threatened by another. We are also hard-wired to feel positive emotions immediately following situations where those threatening innocents are harmed. I think calling out human beings for feeling very human feelings adds nothing to the conversation about the event and doesn't increase our understanding of the situation.

Good job. Bob Herbert has a piece in today's NYT that deals with the culture of gun violence in the USA. This pirate thing is just an opportunity to stroke our lizard brains..

This isn't about whether you feel sorry for the pirates, or whether piracy should carry the death penalty.

I have two main points here: i) What happened was horrifying, not glorious. ii) Our political leaders need to nail their colors to the mast, so to speak, and stop hiding behind commanders in the field. Do we kill pirates to save hostages, or don't we? Under what conditions? Who is accountable for these decisions?

My personal feeling is that the US stupidly turns every problem into a war. Crime is ordinary, war is extraordinary. When you frame problems as wars it's an invitation to sloppy hyper-emotional thinking.

These were criminals, maritime hijackers. I don't feel particularly sorry for them personally, but I do think it's an incredibly sad situation. It's not a cause for backslapping and celebration. It's a second-best outcome. The best outcome would have been to capture everyone alive, interrogate the hijackers, and try them. (The fourth pirate will be tried.)

Aaron, ME -- you guys have got it backwards. We are on firmer legal ground shooting a pirate, than we are when we shoot a "terrorist". What I remember, and what I read in Wikipedia, suggest that pirates have fewer legal rights than anyone -- including bona fide terrorists. What we did sounds very much like it was in conformance with the rule of law.


"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."

Well, hello? There are no American pirates going around kidnapping innocent Somali workers for ransom, nor any Somali equivalent to official US military authorities to shoot them, nor any single group that Somalis universally regard as "our people" The country has been in a state of civil war & chaos for the past 18 years... that is the point.

This is truly ignorant opining, Lindsay, the kind of gibberish we hear daily from conservative crackpots. Your Apology Porn is no antidote to the media's predictably prurient Violence Porn.

Spend a few days with your spouse/brother/father kidnapped in a boat drifting toward the Somali coast, with a gun pointed at his back, then come back and tell us how much force should be used against his captors.

dr2chase, thank you for the link-- I hadn't realized just how much pirates were considered an entirely separate legal category, though now that I've read that Wikipedia page it makes sense.

Still, it seems (from that entry) as though the protections that pirates give up are the protections of their home country; there are no extradition or sovereignty issues with the US going after them. But if it's wrong for US police to gratuitously shoot hostage-takers in the US, it would seem that it's wrong for them to do the same here.

Re "gratuitously": There's obviously a wide range of opinions here about how much benefit of the doubt the commander deserves. But Lindsay seems to be making the threshold point that if you make three people be dead, you still have to do the effing paperwork no matter how much discretion you rightly had in your decision. And in an international incident, doing the paperwork includes some transparency.

I don't get the age thing - who cares - they were armed, dangerous criminals. If they were in their 30's you could have used the "but they were father's too...."

Look, I agree with your point about some of the media coverage that seems to go way of out of the way to glorify it all, but I find some of the "did they really have to kill them"/"they could have captured them"/etc. stuff that I've been hearing to be too much. I mean, the primary concern is the completely innocent hostage who is in very real danger of getting his brains blown out. Suggesting or implying that his life should have been risked even further by not taking the pirates out with clean shots when the chance is there is not only wrong, but it also unnecessarily gives more ammunition to the "liberals always blame America" crowd.

The fact that something's legal doesn't necessarily make it ethical. I'm guessing the piracy laws were written a very long time ago when our ideas about the value of due process and human life were quite different. Maybe it's time for a rethink. The UN is meeting in the next couple weeks to discuss anti-piracy tactics.

Piracy off the Horn of Africa has been a problem for quite a while. Remember when Blackwater was making noises about getting into the pirate hunting business? Shipping companies and authorities were horrified at the idea of getting into an arms race with the pirates. Until then, most hijackings were non-violent. The ships had various security devices (eardrum popping horns, fire hoses, etc.) to repel pirates and special anti-pirate tactical training.

If the pirates got beyond that, they'd seize the ship and negotiate a ransom and the insurance company would pick up the tab. An acquaintance of mine described the process, he works for a shipping company, pirates were a regular headache for him but not an international crisis. It wasn't right, but it was a manageable problem. People weren't getting killed. Piracy was worked into the cost of doing business. It's like mugger money in New York. These boats and their cargos are so valuable that paying the odd ransom to a pirate if you're unlucky is a manageable expense.

I know it seems unthinkable if you're just starting to pay attention to the issue in the context of a massive military operation, but that's how they saw it. I'm all for better escorts for ships, but it makes me very nervous to hear people talking about how the only good pirate is a dead pirate and how pirates should be shot on sight whether they've got a hostage or not.

I agree that there has to be some sort of official "policy" about dealing with these acts. Will it make ANY difference to those that participate in similar acts? I doubt it. These folks have very little to lose and will do anything to survive. They chose to die by violence as aggressors. Sadly, they would likely die by starvation or other means had it not been for the military action. Yes, it's sad and is not a reason to celebrate the death of others just to sell papers. What would we be talking about if the hostage had not been released and taken to Somalia never to be seen again? Monday morning quarterback is always easy.

Jeez, was wondering when a post like this would come.

There's no need for any reports. There's little need for lawyers.

This isn't a complex moral issue. Not a complex military one either. Kill every pirate in those waters, in a combined US/EU/Chinese whatever naval operation.

Semper fi, lads.

TB is right on the money. The Bainbridge commander and SEALs did the right thing no matter if the criminals were planning on shooting the hostage at that moment or not. The hostage was being held at gunpoint by pirates for f***'s sake. His life was in danger the whole time, Lindsay. Get a grip. Their job was to get that hostage out alive at the earliest opportunity, period. Not just if 'all other options' have been exhausted. Please. And I would have no more sympathy for American criminals holding hostages in a foreign country. Same situation.

The bottom line: as long as you're holding a hostage, your life isn't be worth a nickle. Due process can start once you no longer have an innocent person's life in your hands.

Your other point is right on though. The media drooling is disgusting.

I agree that the "sniper porn" stuff is deeply disturbing, but the rest of the post is way off base. As a few others have point out, pirates exist within their own section of legal doctrine. You may disagree with it, but nevertheless it is a standard of international law. There are very very few "protections" for pirates.

Secondly, I'm not exactly sure what "imminent danger" could mean. Presumably one of the pirates could have shot the hostage at any moment, with little or no warning even. I suppose we can debate whether or not there was reason to believe they [i]would[/i], but even I think that's overly academic.

Finally, I think your equivalence is too crudely constructed. For a similar situation to occur; a) the America captors would have to be pirates, b) American based piracy would have to be a relatively large, well-known, and growing problem and, c) the particular situation would have had to have played out over a matter of days, with little to no disagreements over the factual particulars. In such a scenario, I very much doubt thatwe would raise much of a fuss over the killing of said Americans, and if we [i]did[/i], I suspect the rest of the world would, rightly, regard us as overly sympathetic to international lawlessness, so long as it was perpetrated by Americans.

"albeit three very dangerous teenagers who may have been about to kill an innocent hostage" - dear Lindsay, i will have to argue with you here, albeit i am a liberal who hates all right-wing cheering and chickenhawking about this issue.

We, as you well know, live in a real world. While the hypothetical angle is always available for those willing to exercise their minds - the scenario where american criminals would hold hostage an innocent somali citizen in international waters is impossible for many reasons. Not that it is technically impossible, but logically. Imaginary american pirates would never operate that far from US shores and would never waste their effort on hijacking a somali hostage on, apparently, a small used boat, since i seriously doubt there are any more significant somali ships to hijack. Your comparison doesn't have legs to stand on, and frankly you "albeited" the hell out of your own argument.

But let me continue about the paradigms of the real world. It absolutely does not matter whether these 4 pirates were 19, 17, or even 5... the fact that they were only the brainwashed mindless henchman ordered around by their handlers doesn’t not change the nature of this conflict - innocent american (or any) life taken hostage by those who had no legal or even remotely justifiable right to do so. For all i care the pirates could've been cute little puppies ! I only can imagine the level of outcry ! 3 cute puppies shot by navy seals ! Oh, the horror !

And what if, god forbid, this hostage was your father ? Would you feel the same then ?

You know that if anyone starts smashing your front door with an ax in the middle of the night and you happen to have a gun (i don't think you do, me either) - you have a right to kill this unwanted guest, and i hope you would do so. I am sure the fact that this lumberjack is 15 years old will not stop your finger from gently pulling the trigger, even more than once, and kudos to you.

Now, this somali pirate hostage situation is no different. I wish there were heavy guns on any and every civilian ship in this region, and they would blow to pieces any and every pirate boat that even thinks about approaching to these ship. That simple. Again, it doesn't matter who drives those boats, 17-your old uneducated poor men with skewed perception of reality, or cute puppies - they are still aggressors with no right to threat life and wellbeing of others. It stops right here.

May be there was political pressure to finish this, may be captain's life was not in “immediate danger”, but isn't being held hostage for several days by armed people who do not care whether you live or die - dangerous enough ? How crazy is the idea that to be shot it is not enough for armed hijackers to take a hostage, but also they must point a gun and their victim, and only then navy seal sniper has a right to act ?

How about US had a right to destroy these idiots the very first minute ? How about this ships' crew having a right to riddle these young (somewhat misguided, but when raised in completely different conditions capable of becoming respected scientists, artists and writers) men with bullets the very first moment they found themselves under attack ?

What justification are you talking about ???

Who these guys were, how old they were, what hopes and dreams they had - means absolutely nothing for the captain who was in mortal danger the entire time this situation lasted.

These boys crossed the line that separates the innocent from guilty. They were armed. They were ready to kill. They could've surrendered but they did not.

"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." - Lindsay, are you being serious ? "little evidence" ??? I kinda thought the "evidence" was on our TV screens for few days.

I am sorry, but you just wrong in your assessment and understanding of this case. Ridiculously wrong. And i don't care if right-wingers celebrate pirate deaths with more tea parties, it would be unfortunate, but it would be a byproduct of absolutely correct actions by our military.
it is all in the "albeit", Lindsay.. ;)

So:

LB says that panting over killing someone is creepy and that, given the importance of the incident, she'd like us to get a fact-finding report on what went down and what justified the decision. For this she gets accused of "apology porn," especially on the second point? You don't think that the guys who did this aren't already filing an after-action report? What in heavens' name is wrong with us taxpayers seeing the report (with redactions of names, etc.)? The disproportionate level of bile directed at two points that seemed unexceptionable and even vanilla is really eye-opening.

I personally think hostage takers should be shot, period, if we have the shot. I suppose that is barbaric. I used to think it was noble-sounding to say that we shouldn't exult in their deaths. Not so much anymore.

I think that we actually should feel pride in the good guys winning.

Part of the problem with the liberal mindset is its spoilsport nature. The other side revels in barbaric destruction of the most graphic sort. We get to defend ourselves and if successful, get to be grim and appropriately somber about it. No thanks. No fight can survive on such a starvation diet for the spirit. A real fight to defend cherished values requires inspiration, requires pleasure in victory and yes, glory.

The men (young or not) who chose to kidnap innocents and put them directly in harm's way should have been picked off with a Dragunov first chance.

It sounds good to mourn these lost boys, but I am losing patience with empathy for the devil.

If you can't glory in the utter defeat of violent thugs who threaten innocents, then what can you feel pride in?

Yeah, add me to the list of liberals who isn't exulting over this, but doesn't really care too much that the pirates were taken out. The priority was getting the hostage out unharmed. Mission accomplished. I understand the feelings behind the post, but honestly it reads like every right-wing parody of liberal thought. It's one thing to understand the circumstances that could drive people to engage in acts like this, but it's still criminal behavior and their age doesn't change that.

"Our political leaders need to nail their colors to the mast, so to speak, and stop hiding behind commanders in the field."

I'm sorry, but I think that sentiment is just the flip side of Bush's self-serving conflation of strategic policy and tactical policy. To state it simplistically, strategic decisions should be the realm of politicians who have to keep a broad set of interests in mind. But military commanders should be given a relatively high level of deference with regards to tactical issues, because that's their area of expertise.

Struggling to find the outrage in this.

Pirates took hostages. Navy shoots pirates dead.

End. Of. Story.

Or are these now "alleged" pirates?

Jeesh. Aren't there some *real* problems we could be using our gray matter on?

I agree that the press is giving it too much play. It is sort of the opposite of the occasional missing pretty girl story, insofar as the ending is happy for the hostage.

From what I have read, Obama gave the captain the green light to use lethal force whenever he felt it necessary. They probably were just waiting for a clean shot. So what.

What I do find troubling are the reports I am reading that the coastal waters off of Somalia have become the dumping grounds for European nuclear waste and European fishing trawlers have scoured the area clean of fish so the native fisherman have been decimated. None of this makes piracy right or acceptable, but it does explain why it is that it takes place so much there. No economy, no way to sustain itself monetarily or with sustenance, no government to stop the raping of their waters or to stop the piracy of international shipping.

This has been going on for years now. I am surprised it took this long for the U.S. to figure out it is a good story.

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.

I don't like such a blanket statement. The circumstances of those kids' lives are likely very complicated. How does this square with child soldiers across Afica? To what extent were they under the control of some warlord? All that being said, kidnapping someone is bound to get you shot. I won't be losing sleep over these 3.

The thing that bothers me most about this is the propagandistic media coverage of it. Isn't SEAL activity supposed to be hush-hush? Tom Clancy should write a book about this.. & Harrison Ford should star in the movie version.

Actually aircraft hijackers are technically committing 'air piracy'. There was a bit of a 'huh?' factor at first, but then people realized that it still involves seizing a vessel by arms for ransom or political purposes and transporting it to an unwanted destination. Folding it under the existing piracy treaties made it much easier to insist that no country give hijackers safe harbor, not even if they're supposedly trying to help that country somehow.

Carjacking is also very close to piracy, but there are enough differences that it doesn't really apply. The vessel isn't moved internationally, the victim is usually forced out of the vehicle instead of being held for ransom, etc.

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

This seems likely. But I can't imagine anyone would have a difficult time writing up a report justifying the action.

Our political leaders need to nail their colors to the mast, so to speak, and stop hiding behind commanders in the field. Do we kill pirates to save hostages, or don't we? Under what conditions? Who is accountable for these decisions?

What's the rush? What's the advantage? Isn't that information more important for the Navy to have, and not us? Should we be worried about abusive policies towards pirates that undermine our liberties and principles?

I understand your uneasiness with US eagerness to apply military solutions to criminal problems, but this appeared to be handled like a classic hostage negotiation situation with the SEALs playing the role of SWAT.

I know it seems unthinkable if you're just starting to pay attention to the issue in the context of a massive military operation, but that's how they saw it.

I think this larger context is what many readers are missing. Snipers seem like a clean way to solve a relatively simple problem. The complexity of the situation, and possible negative consequences, weren't presented adequately by the press.

Jimmy Jazz wrote: "I understand the feelings behind the post, but honestly it reads like every right-wing parody of liberal thought."

Yeah, EXACTLY. Reading Lindsay's post made me cringe because it was so pc. It's probably why I felt my energy dissipating and by the end of the post I was worn out.

Another poster commented on the full range of emotions that emerge over a situation like this. I agree it's unseemly for the headline to read like a marine recruiting poster. No argument there. But each of us as citizens, why wouldn't we feel a flash of pride in defeating such a fundamental violation? Why not glory in it?

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