By lex, on February 22nd, 2011
The truly remarkable thing in the denouement of the Sailing Vessel Quest hostage taking, is how utterly unremarkable were the actions of the special forces who attempted to come to the rescue of the hostages after shots were fired:
On Monday, two pirates had peacefully come aboard the USS Sterett to negotiate with naval forces for the release of the hostages, and remained aboard overnight.
But at 8 a.m. East Africa time Tuesday, a rocket-propelled grenade was fired from the Quest at the USS Sterett, a guided-missile destroyer 600 yards away. The RPG missed and almost immediately afterward small arms fire was heard coming from the yacht, said Vice Adm. Mark Fox, commander of the U.S. 5th Fleet in Bahrain.
U.S. forces converged on the Quest in small boats and some pirates moved to bow and put up their hands in surrender.
A member of a U.S. special operations force killed one of the pirates with a knife, Fox said. A second pirate was also killed, and the bodies of two other pirates were discovered on board, bringing to 19 the total number of pirates involved. The U.S. military didn’t say how those two died and it was not known if the pirates had fought among themselves.
To recap: Sterett is taken under fire, and shots are heard aboard the pirate vessel. Navy special forces attempt to stabilize the situation and provide first aid. The SEALs find four US citizens mortally wounded. They quickly find themselves in a position of power over murderous pirates who literally have blood on their hands. And in the elevated emotions of the moment, with their fury up and their countrymen bleeding out, they exercised an almost superhuman forbearance, using deadly force only to the degree that it was necessary, and only upon those who were an imminent threat: World class warriors treating monsters with a humanity, when it would have been easy – oh, so easy – to let the firearms do the talking.
They held their fire not because the pirates deserved it, but because it was the right thing to do. Because on that almost infinitely graduated scale that authorizes the use of deadly force, the pirates – having surrendered – were no longer enemy combatants, and therefore firmly in a protected class.
The pirates probably knew, they had to have known, that they would be treated with more humanity than they themselves had just shown to four defenseless civilians. Because the SEALs are warriors, not killers.
And that makes all the difference.