Sunday, April 12, 2009

Saving Captain Phillips: Pro and Con

Richard Phillips, 53, of Underhill, Vermont, captain of the Maersk Alabama, is freed from pirate captivity off the coast of Somalia. U.S. Naval forces killed three of his captors and captured the fourth. Happy Easter.

In their report on this incident Reuters includes this:

Andrew Mwangura, coordinator of Mombasa-based East African Seafarers Assistance Program, said the rescue would change the stakes in future pirate attacks.

"This is a big wake-up to the pirates. It raises the stakes. Now they may be more violent, like the pirates of old," he said.

Pirates have generally treated hostages well, sometimes roasting goat meat for them and even passing phones round so they can call loved ones. The worst violence reported has been the occasional beating and no hostages are known to have been killed by pirates.

At a news conference, Maersk Line Ltd. President and CEO John Reinhart said he talked to Phillips by phone and quoted Phillips who said: "John, I'm just the byline. The real heroes are the Navy, the Seals, those who have brought me home."

It's not clear if Hillary Clinton finds the rescue as laugh-inducing as she did the original hostage taking. See here for video:

It's a serious business, this likelihood of escalation with pirates.

I turned to an expert for his take. Below is some of what he thinks:

gjohnsit, "Somalia pirates are an American policy blowback," Daily Kos. 10 Apr. 2009
[F]or most Americans, every event is new and unprecedented in the world. That's because most American's grasp of history is deplorable.

An embarrassingly large percentage of Americans are completely unaware that this isn't America's first global war with terrorism. To make matters worse, a large percentage of the public that is familiar with our first global war on terrorism is under the false impression that we won a clear victory.

And now Somali pirates have dared to take an American hostage.

Given the level of concern and outrage in the media and on the blogs you would never know that America is more responsible for pirates in Somalia than anyone else.

gjohnsit's diary:
[A]merica is hardly a blushing virgin in the arena of pirating. During the American Revolution the new government authorized privateers to operate against British shipping. More than 300 British merchant ships fell victim to these legal pirates.

George Washington himself was an investor in a privateer operation. Banker and tobacco baron Robert Morris owned several privateers during the war. During America's colonial days corrupt governors openly exchange safe haven to pirates for a piece of the action. But this is all ancient history, right? It can only teach us that trying to stop pirates with a naval blockade is doomed to fail. If there's one thing we've learned about Americans in the last couple decades is that we are "smarter" than everything history can teach us.

[I]'ve been writing articles about Somalia for about three years, and almost no one on DKos, or any other blog for that matter, has bothered to care.

[T]here were 72 functioning hospitals in Mogadishu when the islamists controlled the city. Now there are only two. The Mogadishu airport and harbor were opened up to commercial use for the first time since 1991, and the price of an AK47 had fallen to less than half due to lack of demand.

However, the Bush Administration had heard that the ICU was full of al-Qaeda terrorists. Where did they get that information from? Why the very same warlords that the ICU just chased out of Somalia (the same ones that killed American soldiers in 1993).

So the Bush Administration decided that the ICU had to go. Somalia couldn't be allowed to have peace in our time.

[D]uring the [Ethiopian] invasion the Bush Administration had refugees renditioned into other countries where they were tortured and "disappeared".

Meanwhile our military was busy bombing refugees in the hopes that some of the ones we killed were actually hostile to America beforehand.

[S]o what does this have to do with Somalian pirates? Well, remember how the ICU virtually wiped out the pirates on the Horn of Africa?

The resulting chaos from the American-funded invasion has allowed the pirates to return. And make no mistake, those pirates are being funded by local warlords. Some of whom I believe were receiving CIA funds just a year or so ago.

Now that you've been educated about the situation, you can now return to being "outraged" by the actions of the pirates against us "innocent" Americans who never did anything wrong. Or maybe you might just want to see pictures of pooties.

Anything to avoid acknowledging how our nation has caused the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.

The poster's comment on solving this problem:

A naval blockade won't change things. Blowing up some rubble in Somalia from thousands of feet won't fix things. Killing a few thousand more Somalians won't fix things.

The only thing that will fix things is to allie ourselves with a powerful social and political movement in Somalia that is also against the pirates - the Islamists.

The ICU, for 6 months, brought peace to Somalia and eradicated the pirates. They can do it again.

Of course it won't be easy. We've spent the last few years demonizing the ICU. Ethiopia lost several hundred soldiers in a failed occupation effort in Somalia and will oppose this as well.

Therefore I don't expect us to take this step easily. When we finally do, after all other efforts have failed, I suspect it will be done by the backdoor, maybe through Eritria or Saudi Arabia.

OK, so the Daily Kos hosts a writer who desires a return of The Council of Islamic Courts. It's probably too late for that great solution now that we arrogantly shot and killed three pirates. It will be an escalation of tensions to come. If we had just left well enough alone, the FBI hostage negotiation team could have resolved this dispute without violence, and thing could have continued as they were. Because we are ignorant of history, and violent cowboys, now all Hell will break loose, the pirates will no longer feeding hostages goat meat and it won't be a party on the beach with a gaggle of Bob Marleys.

It's pretty clear that America started all this:
"During the American Revolution the new government authorized privateers to operate against British shipping. More than 300 British merchant ships fell victim to these legal pirates. George Washington himself was an investor in a privateer operation."
Why did the American colonies go to war against the premier naval power of the day in the first place? The colonists could have continued negotiating and within a hundred years or so, like Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, they could have gotten their independence without firing a shot. and what's with making all those English ships come all the way across the Atlantic ocean just so they could be captured? The English government has a good case of pursuing war crimes charges against America at the Hague. And the only reason the "colonists" were in America in the first place was to steal resources and to kill Indians. More war crimes. Genocide, in fact.

"It can only teach us that trying to stop pirates with a naval blockade is doomed to fail."

That's hard to argue against, given all the trouble we've had with the Barbary pirates in the past 200 years. All we really gained from it is that Marines are referred to as "Leather Necks." What? Well, it's just co-incidence that the Barbary pirates were Muslims, and that the Koran states one must "Kill the unbelievers wherever you find them Cut off their heads and their finger-tips." Q. 9: 5. Yes, Marines were beheaded so often in their struggles against the Barbary pirates that they took to wearing leather neck braces in battle. Cf Joshua E. London, Victory in Tripoli. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley; 2005.

But that's all historical stuff that we don't know about because we're ignorant.

We do know how great was the rule of the ICU [Council of Islamic Courts.]

The ICU, for 6 months, brought peace to Somalia and eradicated the pirates. They can do it again.

Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer described al-Qaeda’s operational control over the ICU:

The Council of Islamic Courts is now controlled by al-Qaida cell individuals, east Africa al-Qaida cell individuals. The top layers of the courts are extremist to the core. They are terrorists and they are in control. They are creating this logic of war, and that’s a problem. (David Gollust, “US Says al-Qaida Elements Running Somali Islamic Movement,” Voice of America, December 14, 2006

The ICU, headed by Hassan Dahir Aweys, who is listed by the US government as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist, has partnered with al-Qaeda to set up terrorist training camps to wage jihad all over Africa. According to a Reuters report, as many as 4,000 foreign jihadists had been trained and were fighting as part of the ICU’s front against the TFG. The ICU has also given shelter to three al-Qaeda terrorists directly responsible for the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.

(For more info on the ICU’s background, see Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Bill Roggio’s article, “A New Terrorist Haven”.)

If America hates them, they must be good. But not all Americans hate the jihadis:

The Islamic Courts also had supporters in the United States. Last Saturday, 1,500 Somalis gathered in Minneapolis’ Peavey Park for a demonstration in favor of the Sharia regime and against American support for the Ethiopian and Somali forces that toppled it. Hassan Mohamud, imam of St. Paul’s Al-Taqwa Mosque, who teaches Islamic law at William Mitchell College of Law and is also president of the Somali Institute for Peace and Justice, the group that organized the demonstration, won cheers from the crowd as he thundered: “We ask the president of the United States, Mr. Bush, and his administration to stop supporting the terrorists. Ethiopian troops are terrorists.” Mohamud has praised the Islamic Courts regime for bringing “peace and security to a large part of the country within 16 days where the international community could not help the Somalis for 16 years.” When asked if Somalis based in Minnesota were supporting the jihadists financially, Mohamud responded: “What I know is that they have overwhelming support inside of Somalia because of the peace and law and order. If you have the support of your people inside of Somalia you don’t need any support from outside."

Peace, order, and good government. I can go for that. And morality too.

"The Islamic courts' militia are trying to close all entertainment centres of the district," one local resident Ahmed Dhuhulow said.

Three people died yesterday and another nine today in clashes that caused inhabitants to flee the area and shops to close, witnesses said....

Leaders of Mogadishu's influential Islamic courts oppose Western and Indian films which they say promote immorality in the mainly Muslim nation.

Robert Spencer writes:

Late in 2003, a Somali journalist named Bashir Goth wrote in the Addis Tribune about a group of Islamic clerics known as the “Authority for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.” This group, Goth complained, was “trying to impose draconian moral codes on Somaliland citizens.” He concluded: “It is time we have to speak out. If we don’t do it today, we won’t be able to do it tomorrow. Because there will be no tomorrow as our country descends into 7th century Arabia.”1

That descent, when it came, was swift. Criticizing the warlords on Islamic grounds, and declaring Somalia’s traditional Islamic culture to be not sufficiently Islamic, a jihadist group affiliated with al-Qaeda, the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), began to make major advances in late 2005 and early 2006, particularly in southern Somalia and the Mogadishu area. “The existing government is not an Islamic one,” explained Islamic Courts Union leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys in October 2005, “and we will be having our own Islamic faith and we will be very strong in influencing our people.”2 Later, while the ICU was in power in Mogadishu, the group’s first vice chairperson, Ar-Rahman Mohomood Jinikow, declared: “We will only approve a constitution based on theology, because an Islamic constitution is the only one that serves all of us justly…. Secular constitution, whether it is democratic or any other, is never fair and right, and Muslims have only one constitution which is entirely based on Allah’s Qur’an that will avail all Muslims in the world now and the Hereafter.”3

In April 2006, the Islamic Courts declared jihad against the country’s warlords. At a Mogadishu rally, Sheikh Nur Ollow of the Courts declared that the warlords were “unholy elements” who were “serving the interests of non-Somalis who could not care less about our well-being, culture and religion”—a clear reference to the United States, which had noted the group’s connections with al-Qaeda early on. “It is time to help those who want peace and harmony among Somalis and the teachings of the commands of Allah and the words of the Prophet,” continued Ollow. “We will not be governed by a few warlords financed by the enemy of Islam.”

In early 2006, the battle was joined in earnest, and by mid-2006, the Islamists had taken full control of Mogadishu. In subsequent months, they conquered most of the remaining pockets of organized resistance to their rule in the southern portion of the country. ICU forces seized the port city of Kismayo in late September, firing on demonstrators who turned out to rally against their regime.5 In late November, the President of the northern region of Puntland announced that he too would henceforth rule according to Islamic law.6 Aweys, who became the group’s leader around the same time it began to gain significant power in Somalia, struck an explicitly anti-American posture and spoke of the Islamic Courts’ effort to take control of Somalia as part of the global jihad, vowing to fight America and its allies “everywhere, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Sudan.”7

[T]he regime received an endorsement from none other than Osama bin Laden. In a message circulated on the Internet in late June, bin Laden exhorted Somalis: “You have no other means for salvation unless you commit to Islam, put your hands in the hands of the Islamic Courts to build an Islamic state in Somalia.”10 Meanwhile, foreign Islamists were hastening to aid the new regime in Somalia. The United Nations Security Council reported in November 2006 that the Islamic Republic of Iran was supplying weapons to the ICU in an attempt to obtain uranium in return.11


The hostile takeover transformed Somalia’s foreign policy. The ICU became a voice in the international jihadist movement, joining those who called for the murder of Pope Benedict XVI after his remarks in Regensburg, Germany, in August 2006 were widely interpreted as an insult to the Islamic prophet Muhammad.

Tensions with Ethiopia, meanwhile, increased almost immediately after the ICU took power. The group’s leader Sharif Sheikh Ahmed declared on July 2nd that “Ethiopians have been illegally crossing our border since earlier last month and now they are in some parts of our territory but, God willing, they will regret it.” Calling Ethiopia “the enemy number one of the Somali people,” he urged Somalis to fight back.18 Ethiopia initially denied sending troops, but Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi stressed the new Somali government’s ties to the al-Qaeda-linked jihadist group Al-Ittihad.19 And by the end of July, Ethiopian troops were entering Somalia in significant numbers, with the Islamic Courts Union regime renewing calls for jihad in response.

The ICU responded with more threats. “We call on Ethiopia to withdraw its forces from Somalia, otherwise be ready for full-scale war,” Aweys said in late August. “We say again that Ethiopian intervention in Somalia will never be accepted; no one can dare divert us onto a path other than Sharia law.”20 The ICU also threatened the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which in late 2006 endorsed a plan to send Sudanese and Ugandan peacekeeping forces to the Somali border. The ICU’s education minister, Fuad Mohammed Kalaf, stated that “our policy is to fight against countries in IGAD who are our foes,” as he announced the opening of jihad warfare training camps.21

Finally, on October 9, 2006, the ICU regime formally declared jihad against Ethiopia.22 In doing so, Sheikh Ahmed asked for help from Somali expatriates: “I am appealing to all Somali communities… abroad to take part in the Jihad operation against the Ethiopian troops who want to occupy our land.”23 This call did not go unheeded: Somalis from as far away as Canada returned home, and after the ICU regime collapsed American, British, and Australian passports were found on the bodies of slain warriors.24

Just three weeks later, the ICU announced that it had accumulated 3,000 recruits. Sheikh Abdinur Farah, an ICU commander at a jihadist recruitment post south of Mogadishu, stated: “We have trained them to fight and that is a religious obligation. Ethiopia has made clear its intention: that is a war against us. So we are calling an open war against Ethiopia and every young fighter is welcome to join the jihad against the Ethiopian invaders.”25

The Daily Kos is right on top of this one. All of the Horn of Africa should be ruled by Somali jihadis, and then peace will prevail and the hated Americans will have to despoil somewhere else. Spencer continues:

The rapid collapse of the regime took many Western observers by surprise. The Western press had been remarkably hospitable to the ICU regime, praising it as the best hope for a recovery of peace and order in that anarchic land, and generally expressing the expectation that it would solidify its hold on power and bring long-lasting stability to Somalia. In June 2006, the BBC opined that the ICU’s coming to power in Mogadishu “may prove… to be a turning point in the peace process.” It warned that the real danger to peace was not the jihadist extremism of the ICU, but the Western characterization of that extremism: if the ICU were “treated with respect—as partners—they could turn into the group which delivers the capital to the government and so end years of conflict.” If, however, ICU strongholds were “viewed as a hotbed of Islamic extremism, that too, could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.”39 Subsequently, in late February 2007, the BBC lamented the end of the ICU regime: “Since the overthrow of the Union of Islamic Courts at the turn of the year, Somalia has been descending back into the violence and chaos seen in the previous 16 years….”40

The Times of London went even farther. In his coverage, Times reporter Martin Fletcher waxed lyrical about the new, ICU-controlled Mogadishu: “For the first time in a generation Somalis can walk around safely, even at night. Children play football in the streets. Squads of Somalis in fluorescent yellow jackets emblazoned ‘Employment for Peace’ are removing mountains of garbage. Shops are painting brightly coloured pictures of their wares—mobiles, satellite dishes, radios—on their walls. The derelict port has been reopened, though every vessel must be unloaded by hand as there are no cranes, and children point excitedly at the sight of aircraft overhead.” Fletcher quoted a local doctor who had worked in a London hospital: “It’s like paradise compared to even one year ago. I’m feeling more safe here than in London.”41

In light of the stories of ICU troops firing into crowds, imposing draconian punishments for offenses such as watching soccer games, and energetically working toward the Talibanization of Somalia, and in light also of the cheering crowds in Mogadishu that greeted the troops who toppled the ICU regime, such accounts have an ironic piquancy. The ICU’s rigidity and harshness, and its rapid fall, makes it extremely unlikely that it could ever have enjoyed significant popular support. This is even more unlikely given the fact that the vision of Islam it was determined to impose upon Somalia was so at variance with the syncretistic cultural Islam that had hitherto prevailed in Somalia. Western analysts who saw in the ICU regime a new hope for the restoration of political order in Somalia were falling into the same mistake as did the 1930s journalists and analysts who praised the Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini regimes for the order they brought to their respective countries. By entering into Somalia so rapidly after the ICU’s seizure of power, the Ethiopian troops may have spared Somalis years of suffering under an extremist, totalitarian, brutal regime.

Somalia still desperately needs a strong government that will finally restore stability to this troubled nation. But the Islamic Courts Union regime only offered Somalis a new hell in place of an old one.

What Somalia needs is a return to the rule of law, and, according to the Daily Kos, the ICI is the group to pull it off:

The Daily Star-By Agence France Presse (AFP)

MOGADISHU: An Islamic court in southern Somalia on Tuesday sentenced a man found guilty of murdering a UN aid worker to paying the victim’s family 100 female camels in compensation. The defendant, a member of an armed organization, pleaded guilty to the murder of senior World Food Program official Ibrahim Hussein Duale. “After a five-day trial, the court finally announced its verdict today … He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to pay 100 female camels,” a relative of the victim, told AFP. The trial took place in the town of Bardhubo, in the Gedo region, which is under the control of the hardline Islamist group Al-Shabaab and its allies.
The Islamist administration in the area has opened courts applying a version of Sharia, or Islamic law, over the past year. In the UN aid worker’s murder case, the judges deliberated and gave the victim’s family the option to choose the death penalty for the accused or receive compensation. Abdullahi Hussein, a local elder who was part of a committee involved in the case and suggesting an adequate sentence, said the 100 female camels were worth around $45,000. “Each she-camel is worth 10 million Somalia shillings, so 100 of them works out at around $45,000,” he said.

But now the American government has gone and wrecked all the good works of the Somali islamists. Will it surprise us if the Somalis go crazy and kill the next batch of hostages they take? No. It's all our fault. Rescuing Captain Richard Phillips was a mistake on our part. We should have negotiated. It's just a matter of camels, you know. But of course, you don't know, being American and ignorant of history. Now we know why Hillary was laughing. She probably had no idea she was worth so many camels.

1 comment:

truepeers said...

I expect the pirates will now escalate; and so they must again be shown the hopelessness of their cause. The navies of the world must kill them at a high enough rate to reveal to them that they are just pirates and not some kind of glorious "martyr" (at the same time, their ability to intercept ships suggests a new possibility for the true Jihadi who will refuse to be paid off or redeemed in this unacceptably haraam world.

With any luck, Obama now finds himself forced into a situation where he realizes something about the US's responsibilities to maintain order through force of arms and will realize he is now in a situation where he can't back down or listen to "international lawyers". That would be a really useful lesson in respect to the world's tyrants he is currently trying to appease. We can hope...