Ali post-script – Potential Rehearing en banc

As readers will note from the last two posts, the Federal Court of Appeals in Washington DC ruled in US v. Ali, that piracy may include aiding and abetting committed from shore (i.e. not on the high seas). As per custom, a three-judge panel issued this ruling. Ali’s attorney has now filed a Petition for Rehearing en banc (by the entire court). Federal Courts of Appeal are reluctant to grant rehearing en banc because of the drain on judicial resources. This is especially true in the DC Circuit which has only granted rehearing in a single case in each of the last few terms. Nonetheless, the DC Circuit has indicated some interested in Ali’s petition for rehearing as last week it ordered the government to respond. Rehearing of the case could result in the same or different outcome. But it would also raise the profile of the case for possible hearing at the US Supreme Court.

The DC Circuit’s Ali Decision

DC Circuit Court of Appeals

DC Circuit Court of Appeals

On June 11, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia decided the case of United States of America v. Ali Mohamed Ali, a case about which I have written extensively. This post will provide a brief factual and procedural background of the case, briefly discuss the DC Circuit’s treatment of three of the four charges against Ali, and explain how and why the court rejected my argument about a high seas requirement for facilitators of piracy.

Background

Ali Mohamed Ali, the Minister of Education for the semi-autonomous Somali region of Somaliland, negotiated the release of eleven hostages aboard the Bahamian-flagged, Danish-owned merchant vessel CEC Future. Regrettably, in the era of piracy off the Horn of Africa, this is not an uncommon occurrence. What is interesting about Ali’s case, however, is that he negotiated the ransom from Somali territorial waters, never facilitating while on the high seas. Nonetheless, the United States government built a case against him, planned a fairly elaborate ruse to invite Ali to an education conference in North Carolina, and arrested him on the tarmac when his plane touched down in Washington, D.C. on April 20, 2011.

After a number of superseding indictments, a grand jury charged Ali with conspiracy to commit piracy, aiding and abetting piracy, conspiracy to commit hostage taking, and aiding and abetting hostage taking. Ali filed a motion to dismiss and was successful on a number of counts, with the lower court dismissing the conspiracy to commit piracy count, narrowing the aiding and abetting count to acts of facilitation that occurred on the high seas, and dismissing both hostage taking charges as a violation of due process.

On appeal, the DC Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the conspiracy to commit piracy charge, but reversed the dismissal of the hostage taking charges and held that the United States may assert universal jurisdiction over acts of facilitation that take place entirely within the territory of another state.

Conspiracy to Commit Piracy and Hostage Taking Charges

Of the four charges considered by the court, three were relatively uncontroversial. In affirming the lower court’s dismissal of the conspiracy to commit piracy charge, the court relied on the Charming Betsy canon, concluding that because “UNCLOS [art. 101]’s plain language does not include conspiracy to commit piracy,” the government cannot charge conspiracy to commit piracy “as defined by the law of nations.”

As for the hostage taking charges, Ali’s principle argument was that asserting universal jurisdiction over hostage taking – a non-UJ offense – the government violated Ali’s right to due process under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. constitution. However, the court concluded that the Hostage Taking Convention provided global notice that an alleged hostage taker could be haled into court. That, combined with the fact that 18 USC § 1203, the American hostage taking statute, asserts jurisdiction over all offenders “found in the United States,” was enough to sustain Ali’s hostage taking charges. This section contains some interesting discussion of the relationship between United States and international law, but it remains to the side of what I believe the most interesting aspect of the Ali case: whether universal jurisdiction exists over facilitators of piracy who never leave the territorial jurisdiction of a state.

Aiding and Abetting Piracy

In considering whether “piracy as defined by the law of nations” allows for universal jurisdiction prosecutions over territorial facilitators, the court considered the text of UNCLOS art. 101, the context provided by surrounding provisions, as well as the relevant drafting history. Though it did not consider the underlying policy implications of criminalizing piracy, the structure of the court’s argument closely mirrored that from my law review article. However, the similarities between our analyses went no further.

The court begins with a textual analysis of art. 101, which takes only three sentences and is re-printed in full here:

Explicit geographical limits – ‘on the high seas’ and ‘outside the jurisdiction of any state’ – govern piratical acts under article 101(a)(i) and (ii). Such language is absent, however, in article 101(c), strongly suggesting a facilitative act need not occur on the high seas so long as its predicate act has. So far, so good; Charming Betsy poses no problems.[1]

Although the court could have ended its analysis there, it turned to Ali’s contextual arguments concerning arts. 86 and 105, introducing the relevant Part in UNCLOS and describing states’ power to capture pirates, respectively. Regarding art. 86, the court concluded that it was not meant to limit the provisions of the Part to high seas acts, but rather to explicate the meaning of “high seas” for the purposes of the Part. As for art. 105, the court explained that “the provision’s reference to the high seas highlights the broad authority of nations to apprehend pirates even in international waters.” The court further asserted that Ali’s argument that art. 105 limits universal jurisdiction captures to the high seas “proves too much, leaving nations incapable of prosecuting even those undisputed pirates they discover within their own borders.”

Finally, the court considered UNCLOS’s drafting history, or, as it phrased the inquiry, the “drafting history’s drafting history.”  The court traced UNCLOS back to the 1932 Harvard Draft Convention’s explicit pronouncement that acts of facilitation must take place on the high seas to be subject to universal jurisdiction. The court found this evidence unpersuasive, stating that, “[e]ffectively, Ali would have us ignore UNCLOS’s plain meaning in favor of eighty-year-old scholarship that may have influenced a treaty that includes language similar to UNCLOS art. 101. This is a bridge too far.”  Indeed, the court stated that it would not completely address the drafting history, as the plain meaning of UNCLOS art. 101(c) was clear.

The court concluded that UNCLOS art. 101, and by extension 18 USC § 1651, and by further extension 18 USC § 2, all allow for universal jurisdiction prosecutions for acts of piratical facilitation which take place entirely with another state’s borders.

In the end, the D.C. Circuit’s analysis and my own departed ways at the very beginning, perhaps even before.  In conceptualizing piratical facilitation as a form of liability distinct from piracy rather than piracy in and of itself, the court was able to resolve the textual argument in one short paragraph. From there, the court sought independent justifications for the limitation in the context and drafting history, where I looked to the context, drafting history, and underlying policy rationale to resolve the ambiguous language.


[1] Omitting the internal citation to the general proposition that inclusion of language in one section of a statute and exclusion in another should be taken as purposeful.

DC Circuit publishes Ali appeal

This morning, the DC Circuit published an opinion concerning the scope of permissible charges against Ali Mohammed Ali. In the opinion, the DC Circuit affirmed Judge Ellen Huevelle’s decision to dismiss one count for conspiracy to commit piracy, but reversed the dismissal of the hostage-taking charges and a limitation of aiding and abetting piracy to acts committed on the high seas.

I agree with the DC Circuit’s decisions regarding the conspiracy and hostage taking charges, but it will come to no surprise to readers of this blog that I disagree with the aiding and abetting reversal, which was based on the conclusion that aiding and abetting piracy under 18 USC § 2 (and by extension 18 USC § 1651 and UNCLOS 101(c)) can occur from within the territorial jurisdiction of another state. I argue differently in my forthcoming law review article in the San Diego International Law Journal, and I am mostly unpersuaded by the Court’s opinion. I plan on writing more about this subject after I have a chance to read the opinion more carefully.

Interestingly, the Associated Press left out the reversal limiting the scope aiding and abetting charge, reporting only that “the three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed the dismissal of the of hostage-taking charges, while upholding the decision to dismiss the conspiracy to commit piracy charge.” Perhaps adding, “reversed the lower court ruling limiting piracy to acts committed on the high seas” would have seemed too controversial.

Forthcoming article on private security

Yvonne Dutton, an Associate Professor of Law at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law (not to mention a friend and colleague), has a law review article forthcoming in the Duke Journal of Comparative & International Law on regulating the private maritime security industry. Here’s the abstract:

Since only mid-2011, states have increasingly authorized their shippers to hire private armed guards to protect them as they travel through pirate-infested waters. Estimates indicate that in 2011, the percentage of ships employing armed guards rose from approximately 10% to upwards of 50%. Primarily, the guards are hired out by the 200 to 300 private maritime security companies (PMSCs) that have been created overnight to capitalize on this new opportunity. This article recognizes the importance of protecting innocent seafarers from violent pirate attacks. It also recognizes that the worlds’ navies may not be able to protect each and every ship and crew from being attacked. Nevertheless, it argues that states should not be permitted to include private citizens in the fight against piracy without first ensuring that those guards will abide by governing laws and norms and be held accountable should they fail to do so. Yet, as the article shows through a comparison and analysis of the laws and guidance of five states, only some states appear to be providing any guidance regarding the necessary training and qualifications that armed guards must possess or how and when they may lawfully use and transport weapons. This article argues that states need to do more. At the very least, it urges states to agree on vetting and monitoring procedures to make certain that any guards who are hired by shippers are well trained and prepared to safely transport, store, and use weapons. States are responsible for the fight against piracy, and if they want to include private contractors in that fight, then they should act responsibly and regulate and monitor the guards’ conduct. Otherwise, in a world where each state is creating its own rules or even no rules at all, the likely outcome is chaotic and violent seas — and perhaps the next “Blackwater” moment.

The full article can be accessed here.

When the Use of Force is Lawfull: The 100 Series Rules are Released

After a lengthy incubation process, the 100 Series Rules have finally been released. Courtesy of the author, David Hammond, we have obtained a copy here.

The Logo of the 100 Series Rules

The Logo of the 100 Series Rules for the Use of Force

The 100 Series Rules are an international model standard and example benchmark of best practice for the use of force in the maritime security and anti-piracy fields for application by privately contracted armed security personnel (PCASP) and private maritime security companies (PMSCs) on board ships.

The Rules are set out for the benefit of the Master, Ship owner, charterer, insurer, underwriters, PMSCs, PCASP and interested third parties, providing guidance on lawful graduated response measures and lawful use of force, including lethal force, in accordance with the right of self-defence in the context of maritime piracy, armed robbery or hijacking. The Rules aim to provide for transparency of rules, clarity in use and accountability of actions in those situations, and hope to fill gaps in these areas often lamented by the stakeholders of maritime industry and maritime security.

The 100 Series Rules have been developed for the benefit of the entire maritime industry and under-pinned by a thorough public international and criminal law legal review of what is “reasonable and necessary” when force is used, as a lawful last resort, in self-defence.

Further details about the 100 Series Rules can be found at www.100seriesrules.com.

New UN Assistance Mission in Somalia

The United Nations confirmed their commitment for the future of Somalia by establishing a new fully integrated assistance mission, UNSOM. The mission will start deploying in June 2013, for an initial period of one year. For a background on the debate which preceeded the Security Council decision, see our previous post here as well as additional reporting on What’s in Blue.

A view of Mogadishu's Old Town - Courtesy of Clar Ni Changhaile - The Guardian

A view of Mogadishu’s Old Town – Courtesy of Clar Ni Changhaile – The Guardian

UNSOM’s mandate focuses on governance, security sector reform, disengagement of combatants, development of a federal system, preparations for elections in 2016, and coordination of international donor support. Notably, it also contains a strong component of rule of law and human rights elements. UMSOM, to be headquartered in Mogadishu, would help build the Federal Government’s capacity to promote respect for human rights and women’s empowerment, promote child protection, prevent conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence, and strengthen justice institutions. Further, it would monitor, help investigate and report on any abuses or violations of human rights or of international humanitarian law committed in Somalia, or any abuses committed against children or women. In addition, UNSOM will also work  towards the implementation of the Somali Maritime Security Strategy and work with Somali authorities on maritime challenges, including capacity-building and development.

While the UN mantained a presence in Somalia for the past 15 years, the approval of the new assistance mission is another sign of the UN growing engagement in Somalia. Following the downfall of Siad Barre in 1991, the UN unsuccefully deployed a peacekeeping presence in the country from 1992 to 1995, with the UNOSOM I and II missions. Earlier this year, the UN approved the extension of the AU-backed AMISOM peacekeeping mission for another year  and partially lifted the 20-year arms embargo imposed on the country. AMISON will play a fundamental role in the operation of UNSOM, particularly by ensuring the necessary levels of safety and security in the country. Last week, the UN also approved a package of projects in support of anti-piracy efforts in Somalia and other affected States in the region, including Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Maldives and the Seychelles.

USAID Budget to Somalia Proposed to Double

As we noted here, some within the US Congress are pushing for the US Agency for International Development budget allocation to Somalia to be increased. A February visit to the region by USAID’s top official, highlights this new emphasis. Although, it is likely that USAID will experience some significant budget cuts in the coming year due to austerity measures and a general distaste for foreign assistance in difficult economic times in the U.S.,  the pain will not be felt equally by all USAID projects. Under President Obama’s proposed 2014 fiscal year budget, Iraq will experience the largest reduction in USAID funding down 91 percent to $22.5 million. The flip side of that coin are countries like Myanmar, with a 62 percent increase to $75 million.

Importantly, USAID’s Somalia projects will double in size to close to $50 million.  This is a significant sum of money to allocate to a country with limited structural and institutional capacity. As noted in a summary of the administration’s proposed foreign affairs budget:

Somalia ($49.4 million): The end of the political transition in 2012 and the formal recognition of the Government of Somalia in January 2013 represent the beginning of a new political phase. The FY 2014 request will assist Somalis in reestablishing viable governance institutions, which are essential to alleviating humanitarian suffering in the broader Horn of Africa. Increased resources will focus on stabilization and reconciliation efforts; nascent political party development; civil society efforts to promote peace, good governance, and consensus-building; and programs in education, livelihoods, and economic growth.

In addition to this sum, is the administration’s proposed contribution to the UN Peacekeeping operation in Somalia:

The FY 2014 request also includes $136.6 million for Support Office for the African Union Mission in Somalia (UNSOA). UNSOA will continue to provide a logistical support package for the Africa Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) for up to a maximum of 17,731 uniformed personnel including the reimbursement of contingent-owned equipment including force enablers and multipliers. The logistics package provides equipment and support services similar to that provided for a United Nations 48 peacekeeping operation. UNSOA is working very closely with the UN Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS) and AMISOM to help create the necessary political and security conditions in Somalia, working in concert with the international community and other UN bodies.

It is not entirely clear, but there may be an additional line of expenditures for contributions to AMISOM:

Somalia ($70 million): FY 2014 funds will be used to continue voluntary support to AMISOM, including training and advisory services, equipment, and transportation of forces from current and new troop-contributing countries. Given the newly recognized government of Somalia and the security gains and expansion made by AMISOM, increased support to the national Somali military forces is critically important. Accordingly, PKO funds will be used to professionalize and provide operational support to Somali security forces, to ensure their capability in contributing to national peace and security in support of the international peace process efforts, and as part of a multi-sector approach to post-conflict security sector reform. Funds to pay the United States’ portion of the UN assessment for support of the UN Support Office for the AMISOM (UNSOA) are being requested in the Contributions to International Peacekeeping Activities account.

Evidently, the U.S. government sees promise in the recent governmental reforms in Somalia and hopes to support reform efforts with significant contributions. Peacekeeping funds are intended to foreclose any gains by the terrorist group al Shabaab. However, the USAID designated funds are to be focused more on job-creation and improving the economy. These are the efforts most important to preventing the spread of piracy at its roots, before young, unemployed Somalis can be tempted to seek their fortunes at sea. Although the proposed budget must be approved by Congress, and there will likely be significant modifications in the coming months, I would venture that the proposed expenditures in Somalia will remain largely intact.