Out of Control Policy Blog

Rep. Ron Paul Suggests Using Letters of Marque and Reprisal to Hunt Down Pirates

The recent hostage rescue operations by American and French military forces, which resulted in the deaths of several pirates (see here and here), have apparently only ratcheted up tensions in the waters off of eastern Africa.  This week, pirates hijacked two more cargo ships and fired upon two others on Tuesday, launched a failed attack on a U.S.-flagged cargo ship off the coast of Somalia on Wednesday, and are now threatening to hunt down and kill American sailors.

The problem is that the potential attack area is simply too big to be effectively patrolled by military vessels, even if a fairly large multi-national defense force could be assembled.  So what to do?  Rep. Ron Paul has offered a solution that may not only be more effective than patrols by government naval forces, but also would be more cost effective.

Dr. Paul has revived the idea of utilizing Congress's power to issue letters of marque and reprisal, which would authorize private citizens to go after the pirates, essentially, sicking bounty hunters on them.

As a Politico article reports,

A little-known congressional power could help the federal government keep the Somali pirates in check — and possibly do it for a discount price.

Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and a growing number of national security experts are calling on Congress to consider using letters of marque and reprisal, a power written into the Constitution that allows the United States to hire private citizens to keep international waters safe.

Used heavily during the Revolution and the War of 1812, letters of marque serve as official warrants from the government, allowing privateers to seize or destroy enemies, their loot and their vessels in exchange for bounty money.

The letters also require would-be thrill seekers to post a bond promising to abide by international rules of war.

Earlier this week, Rep. Paul criticized governmental intervention in foreign affairs and the continued growth of military spending and the military-industrial complex, and described how the letters of marque and reprisal system would work, in a video for the Campaign for Liberty, an organization he founded in the wake of his 2008 presidential campaign (see video below).


Adam Summers is Senior Policy Analyst


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