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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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I have heard that the fisherman of Somalia (precursors of the pirates) have had their livelihood destroyed by "illegal" fishing in Somalia territorial waters by fishing boat from other countries. Somalia being unable to police their own lands much less their own waters.

I have also heard that the pirates first started by capturing fishing boats as a way to stop the illegal fishing by nationals from other countries. Then things grew from there.

So since their country couldn't restore order in their fishing grounds and the world bodies couldn't or wouldn't do it, they took matters into their own hands. I wonder what good Americans would do in similar situations.

We have to distinguish between actions that are considered acceptable in terms of international law, and the posturing and gloating that the media are engaging in. They're two different things, and this post is about the latter.

I agree that rescuing hostages using lethal force has to be allowed (and the utility of accounting for it by showing that it was to rescue a hostage is a corollary to that). At the same time, if you live in a country when three desperately poor people are put to death for kidnapping and attempted murder and you jump up and down and crow about your manly efficiency -- well, then you're on the road to hell and have almost reached your destination.

I'm asking whether you think it's ethically justifiable or wise to give the authorities on the scene carte blanche to shoot hostage-takers.

Yes, I do.

Do you think it's okay to shoot armed hostage-takers only after negotiations have failed

A hostage's life shouldn't hinge on "negotiations" with armed thugs. The word "negotiations" conjures up images of dignitaries seated around tables. I'm sure that's how the pirates viewed the situation, thus their self-righteous indignation about the US not playing "fair". But it ain't the same thing by a damn sight. They're criminals. And what they were engaged in was a shakedown, not negotiations. If the rescuers have an opportunity to free the hostage(s) by force, they should be able to do that, regardless of any so-called "negotiations" that may be ongoing.

or is it okay to just shoot first and ask questions later?

Love your cliche. In this case, yes. And if you believe otherwise, then my advice to you is don't take any hostages.

And whatever answers you decide raises further questions about how to make sure that these powers aren't abused.

Okay, granted. And normally I'm sensitive to situations where powers might be abused. But this just doesn't seem like one of those situations. Are there any examples in history where someone was mistaken for a hostage-taker? Certainly not these guys.

I'm sure people are shot while holding hostages all the time. Are you normally up in arms over it? Or, is it the excessive media attention paid to this case that has got you bothered about it here? I'm really asking.

Do you understand what is happening in Somalia and what the current state of the country is? Do you have any idea what the mindset of these people are? I would encourage you to read the book "A Long Way Gone' to get a small glimpse into the lives and minds of child soldiers. You should do a little more research before making a case in defense of the Somali pirates. I would also encourage you to speak to Somali refugees. I was a teacher to several Somali refugees, and there is much to be learned from their accounts rather than what the media does/does not tell us.

Thank you for saying this. You're absolutely right. Crowing over the death of a human being is wrong. I think anyone whoe searches their conscience knows this to be true. I'm not saying the actions of the snipers were wrong. But the the crowing is.

Listen America is a civilized country - ethically we should strive to preserve all human life. I'm not convinced that the desperate young men with guns had immediate plans to kill the captain. In fact, two of them were sticking their heads out getting fresh air. The fourth pirates had just given up - that would have had a major effect on the remaining ones. They were in rough seas that would have made them all seasick. They were being towed by one of the ships and dependent on them for food and water and being buzzed with airplanes and spotlights at night. They were surrounded by three warships.

It seems very likely they would have given up very soon. An empty threat on the radio or what may or may not have appeared to be a gun pointing towards a hostage as reported by a sharpshooter is not an impartial or strong convincing report of imminent danger.

It's not right to torture *anyone*: not hijackers, not torturers, not pirates, not terrorists, and not serial killers.

And it's not right to kill unnecessarily - Self Defense - Sure

These were likely illiterate humans.

American leads by example not by guns.

i don't have time to read through every post here, so i don't know if this was dealt with already but here goes.
at least two people commented on the age of these Somali teenagers and how being 17 in Somalia is different than being 17 in America, that it's more like middle age. are you serious? what, we measure the life expectancy of Somalis in dog years now? how many 19 year old americans have served in Iraq over the past 6 years? another person said, why not glory in it? because we shouldn't see glory in even a seemingly necessary killing. another person said these kids chose poorly. i'm wondering if maybe you should have to write an IQ test before you're allowed to post in a comments section. of course they made bad choices. what if their choice was starve or survive? there are others who said that their situation was no cause for piracy, that there are many Somalis who are not resorting to criminal activity. i wonder what their solution is for all those responsible for gutting the US economy, who are soaking up trillions of taxpayer dollars, who have, and in most cases, continue to live a life of privilege. they will probably be the cause of untold thousands of deaths, from suicides to closed hospitals, and lost health insurance, etc. they also chose poorly, and now we are saying, well, here, try again.
i also have to wonder if it just doesn't boil down to the same old same old. these were just some black kids from a sorry ass African nation. USA! USA!
the point being made here is that we should not be celebrating the killing of these kids like your country just won the gold medal for being the most spectacular at spilling someone's brains on choppy waters. we should be trying to figure out how to end piracy. i'll give everyone a clue: don't treat it like a global war on terror where the pirates are selfish bastards who hate our way of life. there is a story here that goes far beyond these kids and their immediate actions. but i suspect that's a moot point as no one wants to take the time to learn about that because first of all, that would require some empathy, and secondly, too many people are trying to figure out what the next hot stock pick will be.

my wife says i will not win any advocacy awards with this post. best wishes everyone.

I've been amazed by the public reaction through out this. Pirates are not a threat to or vital national interests. We shouldn't be talking about taking military action against them. It's stupid and a waste of already over taxed resources.

We're a very bloodthirsty people. We enjoy killing as much as the average Roman. We become orgasmic at even the tiniest displays of lethal power. It disgusts me.

I still find the story hard to believe. Sea-born snipers shooting three armed men inside a covered boat with a single shot to the head of each. That just isn't credible. Nor is it credible that time was taken to get the captain's decision at a moment of imminent danger to the hostage. I think it was a well planned, close-in operation to execute them. Nothing inherently wrong with that, but why the incredible cover story.

Since we're making judgments about the value of a hostage taker's life, how much additional risk should we be willing to demand that a hostage endure in order to get the hostage taker out safely? If the odds of the hostage's death go from 10% to 50% by keeping them in danger for a few extra hours, how does that stack up against the value of the hostage taker?

It seems to me that we have no right to ask a hostage to be exposed to any more risk than he or she has to. Yes, it's better to get everybody out safely, but I don't see exposing the victim to any additional risk as acceptable. The pirates are responsible for their own safety. I can't imagine telling a victim's family, "We could probably have gotten him out, but we wanted a chance to save the guy who had a gun to his head, so we left him in there."

One more sad thing is that most Americans don't even know where Somalia is located at, or how dire of a situation the country is in.

It's creepy to see so many Americans are exulting over the fact...ah, don't you mean your peers - the media...

How long have Somali pirates been operating? Former targets have paid huge sums of money, apparently making this an attractive enterprise for young men. Being young, the deaths of these three teens will not be a deterrent to others. The area is too large to mount any major military offensive. In any event, last year 92 ships were attacked, none American. Now it's an American target and so the US media is intensely focusing - like this is new news... because of course, we are the center of the Universe. A full accounting? OK, bad guys continued an ongoing course of misconduct and we shot them? Why? because bad guys continued an ongoing course of misconduct so we shot them.

Waste of space to attempt to make this a cause celebre ...

>If Americans were holding another country's citizen hostage and they shot them I wouldn't demand a thing.

Eric Prince, izzat you?

Just to make a key, obvious, but unspoken point: one wonders how many of those who call themselves "progressives" who have come down hard against Lindsay's points, and seem to insist on depicting this episode as some sort of triumph, are die-hard supporters of Obama?

It's really, really hard to see how someone who thinks of progressive principles and policies first would see any real glory in the killing by sniper fire of untrained teenagers from a mere 100 feet away. Again, as Lindsay says, it is at best a tragic necessity. Nor would a genuine progressive have any issue with wanting a full account of the exact circumstances of that killing to establish its necessity.

What we are seeing here, I think, is the corruption of the progressive movement through its co-option by the personality cult surrounding Obama. There are no stable principles in this crowd; all must be re-interpreted through the prism of Obama's greater glory.

I should think it's obvious enough that that is what is going on with that awful and proven sycophant Ezra Klein. But I can't think of any other explanation of the sort of attacks Lindsay has undergone on this thread for bringing up issues that should be so standard and unsurprising for anyone who is an authentic progressive.

Remember when the "skinnies" dragged our dead soldiers thru the streets? Black Hawk Down ring a bell? Payback is Hell! Open season on pirates(muslim thugs), should be the order of the day. I want the Navy Seals to remember one thing - ONE SHOT, ONE KILL.

What was done with the priates bodies?

Simple thought experiment:

Suppose that this incident had, in all its details, gone down under Bush instead of Obama.

How many, do you think, of the current crop of self-proclaimed "progressives" who are attacking Lindsay for her argument would then instead embrace it, and indeed expand on it?

I find it both very amusing, and very sad, that so many people here completely miss the point of Lindsay's post.

For those getting off on the video game headshot uberglory of it all, please re-read this:

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.

And then get back to to your Half-Life save point and let grownups think about policy.

Are you a pirate yourself? This is the most ridiculous article I have read about the incredible rescue of Capt. Phillips. For you to even question our military is the most unpatriotic thing I have heard in a long time. Do you think that we need to explain to the Iraqi's every time we kill an insurgent? Do we need to explain to the families of murders why the police gunned him down as he ran at them with a gun? Your article is sad. Sad that there are people like you who question the actions of the worlds strongest military in saving one of our own. Would you have rather them killed Capt. Phillips THAN we kill them? Would that have been justified enough? I think the Wash. Post's headline was heart warming. It made me feel jubilation for the Phillips family, proud to be American, and made me want to congratulate each one of those SEALs that executed those pirates. We SHOULD be celebrating the deaths of these pirates. I don't care if they were between 17-19 years old. When I was 10 I knew that it was wrong to harm people. They didn't have a bright future, they had a future of crime. How many CEO's do you know that were former pirates? Instead of questioning the military's actions, we should be honoring them for a job well done. They should receive medals for their actions, not condemnation. Glory Glory to the USA. I hope the sharks are enjoying their Somali pirate feast.

instead of boosting americans self esteem with pirate porn, may I suggest sit ups?

Three lives for one isn't a great deal in my opinion. 16, 17, 18 years old, that's pretty young. Maybe we're projecting our concept of what a teenager is onto the situation, but at the same time we're also projecting our own moral standards.

If I had to choose between seeing my family and friends starving and dying because they can't afford food or medication, and taking one guy hostage, I'm not sure what choice I'd make. Unless you can say with certainty that you'd sit and watch your people die, I don't see how you can say killing these pirates is okay. Sure, they had a choice, and sure, it was morally wrong by our culture's standards, but that doesn't mean it's not understandable.

Yeah, really I think it's a waste of time mourning the death of these bastarda. I consider myself progressive, yet don't quite see the downside of killing any hostage-takers, even AFTER negotiating the hostage's freedom.

When you have an AK-47 pointed at you back, you have all the evidence required. When you threaten others with death, you should rightly expect to be killed. End of story. It doesn't matter whether they were 17 or 47. This response by the military was long overdue, and I'm frankly thrilled that Obama, unlike Bush, had the balls to do it.

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

Really? If they were American criminals, I couldn't care less if some Somalis shot them. I tend to be liberal in my views for the most part, but I am not going to do any handwringing over this incident.

Would you just take the Somali government's word that someone they shot was actually a hostage-taking criminal? Maybe you believe Kim Jong Il when he says that those Sky TV Reporters were spying for South Korea when they were apprehended in the border zone.

Lindsay, in your own example, which I quoted in my comments above, you specifically referred to "American criminals" holding Somalis hostage. Now you're trying to blur the issue by asking me how I know the Americans were criminals. Your example already presumes that they were. C'mon Lindsay, I expect better from you than this.

Maybe if you wrote "Imagine if some American citizens were shot by Somali soldiers (militia, whatever) who claimed that the Americans were criminals holding a Somali citizen hostage. We'd demand answers from the Somalis who shot them." While an improvement, it would still be a failed analogy, because the Somalis tried to seize a merchant vessel, were repulsed, and then made off with the ship's captain as a hostage.

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