Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Letters of Marque and Reprisal: Fighting Terrorists the Constitutional Way

"Action is necessary; inaction is unacceptable."--Ron Paul

After 9/11, Ron Paul immediately produced a thoughtful, decisive, and Constitutional plan to fight the terrorists:

If we can't or won't define the enemy, the cost to fight such a war will be endless. How many American troops are we prepared to lose? How much money are we prepared to spend? How many innocent civilians, in our nation and others, are we willing to see killed? How many American civilians will we jeopardize? How much of our civil liberties are we prepared to give up? How much prosperity will we sacrifice?

The founders and authors of our Constitution provided an answer for the difficult tasks that we now face. When a precise declaration of war was impossible due to the vagueness of our enemy, the Congress was expected to take it upon themselves to direct the reprisal against an enemy not recognized as a government. In the early days the concern was piracy on the high seas. Piracy was one of only three federal crimes named in the original Constitution. . . .

Mr. Speaker, I fear that some big mistakes could be made in the pursuit of our enemies if we do not proceed with great caution, wisdom, and deliberation. Action is necessary; inaction is unacceptable. No doubt others recognize the difficulty in targeting such an elusive enemy. This is why the principle behind "marque and reprisal" must be given serious consideration.

--Congressman Ron Paul, September 25, 2001 (14 days after the 9/11 attacks)

Captain Ron Paul understands our national security needs to fight terrorists legally with laser-beam focus.


Anonymous said...

As an interesting point of history, most of the rest of the world signed a treaty outlawing letters of marque after the Crimean War. The United States is essentially the only industrialized country that still reserves the right, and our non-participation in the treaty at the time was on the basis that the US government could not abrogate the US Constitution by way of international treaty.

Nonetheless, the US has made it a policy to intentionally not exercise this right to reflect the spirit of the treaty in which it did not participate.

hawks4ronpaul said...

Hello. Yes, you raise good historical points about usage and how US letters of marque and reprisal are legal.

We can see the damage from ignoring marque and reprisal as a valid choice. We are left with offering bounties/rewards to no one in particular (a more random version of marque and reprisal) or using the blunt-instrument military, which can be both messier in carnage and messier in law (targeting non-governmental terrorists).

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Article I, Section 8 gives Congress the power to declare war, or to issue letters of marque and reprisal. I suppose one could say that letters would be more desirable than war for practical reasons, but I fail to see how one approach is more constitutional than others.

With regards to Afghanistan and Iraq, I don't see why the fact that the relevant congressional resolutions failed to use the word "war" means that these wars were unconstitutional. Common law has long supported the idea that there's more than one way to phrase things that mean the same thing. I think the phrase they actually used was "all necessary measures, including force" or something like that. Seems like a pretty clear declaration of war to me.

Furthermore, letters of marque and reprisal would be no less alienating to the Muslim world, since their leaders could easily portray our reprisals as an attack on all of Islam.

If the other anon. poster is correct, and the rest of the world has outlawed these letters, then the rest of the world could easily portray us as a rouge nation so we're no better off there.

Finally, any abuses committed by parties acting under these letters would be blamed on the government who issued those letters, not just on the perpetrators.

hawks4ronpaul makes an interesting historical point, but letters of marque and reprisal are no panacea.

hawks4ronpaul said...

Anon. 12/27,


War might be less Constitutional or legal against individuals rather than governments (bin Laden is a person, not a country).

A declaration of war recognizes a current fact whereas the hazy Iraq resolution is both future-oriented and conditional (and cedes the future decision to the executive).

Treaty countries can argue about norms but they have “outlawed” only their own use and have no authority to outlaw the use by non-signatories.

No choice is a panacea and all choices risk blame and alienation (the current wars/occupations, or the current US rewards which risk the US being blamed for actions of bounty hunters).

Thank you for raising good points.