“The Constitution gives Congress the power to issue Letters of Marque and Reprisal when a precise declaration of war is impossible due to the vagueness of the enemy. . . Pirates were the terrorists in the days of our founders and held no allegiance to any nation – the same as the terrorists of today. Our wise founders left us with the solution where mercenaries could be hired and given the authority to hunt down and bring terrorists to justice.” – Congressman Ron Paul
Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) believes it was wrong to use Navy SEALs to kill Osama bin Laden. He says it was “absolutely not necessary,” and falsely claims it cost $1 trillion to kill the al-Qaeda leader. He arrived at that figure by adding up all military expenses related to terrorism, Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. Paul says his plan would have accomplished the same goal for only $500 million.
The Congressman also does not approve of the war on terrorism and his solution is to stop using the U.S. military because it so expensive.
Paul believes we could capture or kill all of the terrorists by bringing back an ancient custom known as Letters of Marque and Reprisal.
They would offer a cash bounty for every terrorist killed or captured. There is nothing wrong with offering large rewards for prominent individuals such as Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and Mullah Omar.
Rewards should continue to be offered, but no one has collected the bounty for bin Laden. That is not too surprising because private individuals do not have the resources of a government which allows the use of technology such as satellites and drones.
There are many problems with what Congressman Paul is proposing. Letters of Marque and Reprisal have not been used in the U.S. since 1815, and they were outlawed by the 1856 Treaty of Paris which ended the Crimean War.
No government uses these Letters today, but Paul foolishly says allowing their use would save taxpayers enormous amounts of money. Instead of using the U.S. military, he wants to outsource major portions of the war on terror to privateers. Since 2002, Paul has continually introduced legislation calling for the revival of these Letters, but no lawmaker has co-sponsored the legislation.
Were Letters of Marque and Reprisal Successful in Stopping the Pirate Problem?
No. Pirates were a problem during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. These letters authorized privateers but this only made the situation worse. Privateers such as “Captain” William Kidd ended up switching sides and becoming famous pirates. Ample evidence of this is provided in Mercenaries, Pirates and Sovereigns by Janice Thompson. The pirate problem was not solved until governments became involved.
Why Did The U.S. Government Use Letters of Marque and Reprisal?
The U.S. Navy lost 24 ships during the Revolutionary War and at one time it was reduced to just two vessels. When the Navy was restored following the war of 1812, the privateers were no longer necessary.
What Are The Problem Areas?
- What would happen if American privateers were captured or killed by terrorists? Would the U.S. military have to rescue them or avenge their deaths?
- The privateers would be paid only after they turned over evidence which would primarily be dead bodies. The detainees at Guantanamo have proven to be a major headache for the government. With dead bodies being turned over the possibility of innocent people being killed inorder to collect a bounty would be high.
- Privateers backfired on the British in the War of 1812. The final engagement was the Battle of New Orleans. The British privateers switched sides and provided General Andrew Jackson’s forces with the intelligence they needed to secure a stunning victory.
- That was a long time ago but problems remains today. The Blackwater security firm should not be described as privateers. They are civilians who had previously been part of the U.S. special forces. They were not paid a bounty for killing terrorists. They were a private security firm which proved to be an enormous embarrassment for the U.S. government when they were found guilty of killing 17 innocent civilians. The firm was permanently barred by the Iraqi government and the public relations damage for America was huge.
- There are bounty hunters in the United States but they are looking for a specific individual. In the war on terror we do not know the identity of enemy combatants.
Ron Paul wants private citizens to operate as privateers in areas such as Somalia and Kandahar, Afghanistan. It would be similar to vigilantism. There are excellent reasons why the United States abandoned Letters of Marque and Reprisal in 1815, and you can always count on Ron Paul and the libertarians to come up with the worst possible solution to any problem.