Monday, April 30, 2012

Pirate or Hostage Negotiator

I have mixed feelings about the news in this article and worry this verdict may have the unintended consequence of politicizing and squelching the role of hostage negotiation, increasing the likelihood a hostage will be tortured and/or executed.

Jury convicts Somali man of piracy in US yacht, German ship hijackings
Washington Post, April 27, 2012

A Somali man was convicted of piracy on Friday for his role as a hostage negotiator in the hijacking of a German merchant vessel and U.S. yacht. The four Americans aboard the yacht were shot to death by pirates, and the crew on the other vessel was tortured to get a higher ransom.

Mohammad Saaili Shibin was convicted of the 15 charges he faced, including kidnapping, hostage-taking and weapons charges. He faces a mandatory life sentence. [...]

At issue is whether piracy is defined solely as robbery at sea ... or whether it involves a broader more contemporary definition that includes facilitating a pirate attack as prosecutors believe.

U.S. law refers to piracy only “as defined by the law of nations.”
At first glance, the case seems black and white - the defendant is a pirate. But this particular pirate is a hostage negotiator acceptable to and employed by other pirates. Chicken or the egg - which came first - hostage negotiator or pirate?

If a kidnapper demands a certain negotiator (for whatever reasons) is that negotiator now subject to arrest and prosecution? Does this mean hostage negotiators may only represent the victim? How much time will be lost negotiating whether or not the negotiator is acceptable to both sides?

Does this precedence place hostage negotiators in a lose-lose position?

Kidnapping is an abhorrent practice. The reality is the act itself hurts the victim and the victim's family and friends. But taking it out on hostage negotiators, regardless of how loathsome their clients may be, seems like a slippery slope to hell.

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