Sunday, April 20, 2008

"Captain Kidd, Human Rights Victim?"

Abu Muqawama seconds John Burnett, ripping on Britain in today's NY Times about its lax security policy toward piracy on the high seas:

"The British government... to the incredulity of many in the maritime industry, has taken a curiously pathetic approach to piracy. While the French were flying six of the captured pirates to Paris to face trial, the British Foreign Office issued a directive to the once vaunted Royal Navy not to detain any pirates, because doing so could violate their human rights... The British attitude has come a long way since the days when pirates were chained to pilings at Wapping and left there until the tidal water of the Thames ebbed and flowed over the bodies three times. So much for Britannia ruling the waves."
It's a well-written editorial, and Burnett's book is a must-read for anyone concerned with the resurgence of maritime piracy. However, the critique of Britain here is off the mark. Of course pirates have human rights - do we really wish to return to the days of gibbeting? And Captain Kidd was a human rights victim by today's standards - the conditions of his imprisonment before his execution included a year of solitary confinement and were said to have driven him partially insane.

What Britain should be scolded for is not pointing out that pirates have rights (as do all criminals, however heinous their behavior), but letting them go to avoid responsibility for protecting their rights. Britain fears not that detaining them would violate their rights - of course criminals can be detained, tried and punished, as France is correctly doing - but that if it keeps them in custody it will be responsible for a costly trial and detention. Much better to turn them loose now to countries like Somalia, where they will face torture and grisly death at the hands of the Islamic justice system.

Britain's behavior is Machiavellan, not pathetic, and certainly not an example of a soft, lilly-livered country upholding the rights of the accused.

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