First, the good news — NATO forces freed 20 hostages from the grips of pirates in the Gulf of Aden.  Dutch commandos chased the pirates back to their mother ship, seized the ship, and liberated the hostages.  Good for them; job well done.

Until …

Dutch commandos freed 20 Yemeni hostages on Saturday and briefly detained seven pirates who had forced their captives to sail a “mother ship” attacking vessels in the Gulf of Aden, NATO officials said. …

The commandos briefly detained and questioned the seven gunmen, he told Reuters, but had no legal power to arrest them.

“NATO does not have a detainment policy. The warship must follow its national law,” he said.

“They can only arrest them if the pirates are from the Netherlands, the victims are from the Netherlands, or if they are in Netherlands waters.”

That’s certainly a deterrent.  Maybe they’ll wait until NATO comes back with a search warrant, or perhaps a social worker to see whether the pirates could use some public assistance, too.  Sweden was tougher on The Pirate Bay this week than NATO was on actual pirates.

All NATO did in this instance is provide more incentive for this group of pirates to steal someone else’s boat, and for the rest of the pirates to laugh at the impotence of the West.  The next time, though, this group will have improved its technique after the free lesson from the Dutch. They won’t get caught so easily after this.

Instead of delivering a message of strength, NATO sent the message that pirates have more rights than the traders sailing through those waters.  The only way these pirates should have been released was in the middle of the Indian Ocean with nothing but lifejackets and a bucket of chum each.  Until the world gets serious in the 19th-century way about pirates — which nearly wiped it out altogether — we will never end it in the 21st century.