RICHMOND, Va. – Three Somali men being prosecuted on U.S. piracy charges say they were held naked, blindfolded and handcuffed for days without an interpreter, while another says an interpreter threatened to toss him overboard, attorneys argued in court papers Monday.
Attorneys representing the Somalis also claim charges against one of the defendants should be dismissed because he is a juvenile.
In the case of two defendants, attorneys said statements the men made shouldn't be allowed in court because they weren't advised of their Miranda rights to remain silent and have an attorney.
The motions filed electronically Monday were among several submitted in U.S. District Court in Norfolk, where five Somalis are being prosecuted for the alleged April 1 attack on the USS Nicholas off the coast of Africa.
The Nicholas defendants and six Somali men accused in the April 10 attack on the USS Ashland are scheduled to be arraigned July 28 on a new indictment that adds more charges. All face mandatory life terms if convicted of the piracy charges. Each has pleaded not guilty.
The government declined to respond Monday to the motions filed in the cases, saying it will respond in court.
The new filings expand on the defendants' version of what occurred when their small skiff encountered the Nicholas in the pirate-infested waters off north Africa.
In the case of Gabul Abdullahi Ali, he and two other defendants were held for more than three days handcuffed and blindfolded before an interpreter was made available, according to Ali's attorney, William J. Holmes.
Ali does not recall ever being advised of his right to remain silent or to request counsel, Holmes wrote.
If the government argues that point, Holmes wrote, Ali would not be expected to understand "the terminology used in our legal system, which is completely foreign to him because of his lack of education."
At hearings in Norfolk, none of the defendants spoke English or claimed any formal education.
An attorney for Mohammed Modin Hasan said an interpreter told him the Navy would toss him overboard if he did not admit he was a pirate. Hasan told investigators he was captured while fishing and forced to participate in the attack on the Nicholas, attorney James R. Theuer wrote.
Theuer also wrote that the alleged crimes happened before Hasan's 18th birthday.
"Defendant Hasan does not know the day, month, or year of his birth, but be believes himself to be eighteen years old currently," his attorney wrote, adding the government has the burden to prove his age.
The government alleges the five defendants left Somalia in a seagoing vessel with two smaller craft attached, seeking a merchant ship. The government claims the men were armed with assault weapons and a rocket-propelled grenade.
The five were captured after exchanging fire with the crew of the frigate, west of the Seychelles.
Seeking to dismiss the piracy charge, attorneys for three of the defendants said there was "no conceivable way" the men in a small skiff could pirate a heavily armed Navy frigate with a crew of 100 highly trained sailors.
Lawyers for the accused Ashland pirates have also made the same legal claim.
All 11 men have remained jailed in the Norfolk area since late April. Both ships are based in Virginia and were part of an international flotilla protecting shipping lanes.
Trial dates have been scheduled for September and October but are likely to be delayed because of the new indictment.