Alleged Pirate Released from Jail to Await Trial
(CN) - An alleged Somali pirate negotiator should face home confinement after spending over 28 months in jail awaiting trial, a federal judge ruled.
Ali Mohamed "Ali has been subjected to pretrial detention for over twenty-eight months, and his trial is not scheduled to begin until November," U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle wrote. "There is a point in time at which due process can no longer tolerate additional pretrial detention. For Ali, that time has come."
Ali stands accused by the government of helping Somali pirates kidnap and ransom a merchant vessel and its crew captured in the Gulf of Aden off the Somali coast.
Members of Ali's clan boarded a Danish-owned merchant ship, forced it to sail to Point Ras Binna and held its crew hostage for 71 days.
Ali claims, however, that he is not a pirate and acted only as an interpreter, negotiating a $1.7 million ransom for the ship and its crew.
He was later appointed director general of the Ministry of Education for the Republic of Somaliland, a self-proclaimed sovereign state within Somalia.
He was lured to the United States in 2011 with an invitation to attend an educational conference in Raleigh, N.C., and was arrested upon landing in Dulles International Airport.
He has remained in jail ever since, while challenging the charges in the District Court and D.C. Circuit, which ruled that Ali may be tried for aiding and abetting, as well as hostage taking.
Judge Huvelle said Thursday that Ali's long detention "unquestionably raises serious due process concerns," especially as he will remain in jail for another three to four months awaiting trial.
Ali has not been found dangerous to the community, has no prior criminal history, and is undisputedly "not, under any common definition of the term, a 'pirate,'" the 29-page ruling states.
In addition, Ali's jailers wrongfully placed him recently in solitary confinement for 10 days based on his alleged possession of USB thumb drives containing GED teaching materials, even though his cellmate claimed ownership of them, the court found.
"Ali's ten days in solitary confinement, only to be found not guilty of the alleged violation - though not the fault of the prosecution - exemplifies the exceedingly harsh conditions that pretrial detainees face while awaiting trial," Huvelle wrote.
"With these considerations in mind, the government's suggestion that Ali has been in detention for only 'a few months' demonstrates a disregard for Ali's constitutional rights, as well as the depressing reality of conditions at the D.C. Jail."
Huvelle also found the government responsible for 13 months of delay since it appealed the court's interpretation of aiding and abetting piracy.
"Although it may not have 'take[n] an interlocutory appeal for the purposes of delay,' the government (just like the defendant) remains responsible for the consequences of its decisions," she wrote. "'[G]overnment-wide' concern about the policy implications of the court's interpretation of aiding and abetting piracy simply does not justify the individual implications of continued pretrial detention under a due process analysis." (Parentheses and italics in original.)
Ali was released to home confinement at the home of Said Ahmed Salah, and will be monitored with an electronic ankle device.