Somali Charged with Piracy; Will be Judged by the “Law of Nations”

The captured Somali pirate faces five criminal charges, including conspiracy to take a U.S.-flagged ship by force and piracy. The complaint is here (PDF).

Piracy is one of the oldest crimes under federal law and the statute, 18 U.S.C. § 1651 is unusual:

Whoever, on the high seas, commits the crime of piracy as defined by the law of nations, and is afterwards brought into or found in the United States, shall be imprisoned for life.

First, there’s no futzing with the sentence like most modern criminal statutes. If he’s guilty, it’s life imprisonment. No adjustments for his alleged youth or sad circumstances.

Second, there’s this law of nations business. The U.S. has not joined the 1982 Law of the Sea Treaty. However, Article 15 of the 1958 Convention on the High Seas, to which the U.S. is a party, defines piracy in substantially the same way. Is that enough to determine how “the law of nations” defines piracy? I guess we’ll see.

~ by Gabriel Malor on April 23, 2009.

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