Sunday, April 12, 2009

Letters of Marque and Reprisal

In a comment to my most recent post on the Somalia piracy problem, my brother Chuck said:
Maybe it's time to issue Letters of Marque and Reprisal. I'll bet a lot of freelancers would jump at the chance!
If you're not familiar with this somewhat archaic legal instrument, a letter of marque permits a private party - a merchant marine, for example - to search, seize or destroy assets or personnel of a foreign party which has committed offenses against the issuing nation.

This got me wondering if there was still a legal basis for letters of marque, and it appears there is. From Wikipedia:
Article 1 of the United States Constitution lists issuing letters of marque and reprisal in Section 8 as one of the enumerated powers of Congress, alongside the power to declare war.
The Wikipedia article goes on to say that the 1856 Treaty of Paris bans the issuance of letters of marque, but the US is not a signatory to the pact and isn't bound by it.

The US last issued a letter of marque during World War 2, and Texas congressman Ron Paul, crazy though he may be, introduced a bill to authorize the issue of letters of marque after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but the bill apparently failed to pass. He introduced a similar bill in 2007 which never made it to committee.

1 comment:

Rita Hennessey said...

Balance of Power, a military thriller by James Huston from 1999, used the letters of marque and reprisal after acts of terrorism. If it works in fiction...