Court's Question: Is a Negotiator a Pirate?

Judge says US prosecutors 'overreaching' in seeking life sentence
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 6, 2013 1:52 PM CST
Court's Question: Is a Negotiator a Pirate?
In this Sept. 23, 2012, file photo, a Somali government soldier walks next to some of the overturned pirate skiffs that litter the dunes on the shoreline near the once-bustling pirate den of Hobyo.   (AP Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh, File)

Ali Mohamed Ali wasn't involved in the hijacking of a Danish ship, but the pirates in question called on him to help negotiate a $1.7 million ransom; they asked because he speaks English, his lawyers say. Now, he's facing a mandatory life sentence after US prosecutors charged him with piracy—but a judge in the case says the feds have gone too far. They got the US-educated Ali back onto American soil through a fake invitation to an education conference and arrested him on arrival, reports Courthouse News Service. He was then held for 30 months.

The case raises "serious due process concerns," says Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle, citing "government overreaching." At a pretrial hearing, a prosecutor told Ali that "no one thinks you're a pirate," the Los Angeles Times reports. Indeed, he may not be "a perfectly lovely guy, but it's a very, very odd and ambitious prosecution," says a legal expert. For their part, prosecutors point to a tough battle against piracy. "This case shows our resolve to prosecute pirates and those who profit from crimes on the high seas," says one. The trial is expected to last weeks. (Read more Ali Mohamed Ali stories.)

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