By JACK BOUBOUSHIAN
(CN) – The Somali man who helped pirates negotiate hostage ransoms should face claims of hostage taking, as well as aiding and abetting piracy, the D.C. Circuit ruled.
“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,” the 32-page opinion begins. “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 insists he is not a pirate. Members of his clan boarded a Danish-owned merchant ship, forced it to sail to Point Ras Binna, and held its crew hostage for 71 days, but Ali says he acted only as an¬†interpreter, negotiating a $1.7 million ransom for the ship and its crew.
“As it happens, ‘pirate hostage negotiator’ is not the only line on Ali’s resume,” Judge Janice Brown wrote for a three-judge appellate panel. “In June 2010, he was appointed director general of the Ministry of Education for the Republic of Somaliland, a self-proclaimed sovereign state within Somalia. When he received an email in March 2011 inviting him to attend an education conference in Raleigh, North Carolina, he agreed. Little did he know it was all an elaborate ruse.”
Ali was arrested as soon as he landed in Dulles International Airport in Washington D.C, and charged with aiding and abetting piracy, conspiracy to commit piracy, and hostage taking.
A federal judge limited the aiding and abetting charge to Ali’s actions on the high seas, however, and eventually¬†dismissed¬†the conspiracy charge, as well as the hostage-taking allegations, because she found that prosecuting Ali for these acts would violate his right to due process.
Brown and her colleagues with the D.C. Circuit reversed in part Tuesday, ruling that Ali can be tried for aiding and abetting, and hostage taking.
Ali was only on the high seas for “minutes” until the Danish vessel entered Somali territorial waters, but the aiding and abetting piracy statute does not include any geographical limit, “strongly suggesting a facilitative act need not occur on the high seas so long as its predicate offense has,” Brown wrote.
In addition, “it is self-defeating to prosecute those pirates desperate enough to do the dirty work but immunize the planners, organizers, and negotiators who remain ashore,” she added.
Ali may also be held liable for taking hostages because the court has jurisdiction to rule on Ali’s extraterritorial acts, according to the ruling.
Although Somalia has not signed the International Convention Against the Taking of Hostages, the treaty “expressly provid[es] foreign offenders with notice that their conduct will be prosecuted by any state signatory,” Brown wrote, quoting 9th Circuit precedent.
Ali will not, however, face conspiracy charges, the court ruled.
“Under international law, prosecuting Ali for conspiracy to commit piracy would require the United States to have universal jurisdiction over his offense,” Brown wrote. “And such jurisdiction would only exist if the underlying charge actually falls within UNCLOS’s [U.N. Convention on Law of the Sea] definition of piracy,” which it does not.”