Thursday, April 23, 2009

Somali Pirate Problem Solution

The Constitution says (Article I section 8):

Congress shall have Power…To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations; To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water.

The idea of using Letters of Marque and Reprisal in the case of the Somali pirates really appeals to libertarian, constitutional, and traditional principles. If this isn’t an appropriate time to use this provision, then when would it be? Are there parts of the original Articles of Confederation that are now obsolete? I don’t think so. (OK, that 3/5ths of a person thing was really dumb and a rare exception.) The only other constitutional remedy for international malice is to declare war, and this is definitely not appropriate in this case. Applying this principle would minimize government involvement. It is preferable for libertarians to solve problems without government if at all possible. It’s always best to avoid giving government a chance to abuse its authority unnecessarily. It would free up the military to attend to other more pressing matters, if necessary. The Letters would also save taxpayers a boatload of money.

Highly paid legal critics of this idea, sought by the MSM, say that this is impractical and that those participating could get into legal trouble. Without a well-defined definition of piracy, they say, we would get into a legal mess. People could take action against those who aren’t guilty of anything. I’ll admit that some innocent people may get killed, but this happens also with military involvement. Congress does have the right to define piracies and felonies committed on the high seas as well as making rules for captures on land and water (see above quote). Already existing rules may be quite adequate, but could be updated if necessary. For example, the Air Piracy Reprisal and Capture Act of 2001 (if it had passed) could have updated the federal definition of “piracy” to include acts committed in the skies. Granting the Letters would also not preclude military involvement as future option, if it became necessary. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.

Others might say, “Well, isn’t this the same thing as that Blackwater thing you people are always complaining about?” (Read about Blackwater here.) There are several distinct differences: 1. Though rewards could be given for captures of the members of the group targeted by the Letters (additional legislation would have to be passed for that), no one is paid up front. Blackwater gets the same amount of taxpayers’ money regardless of what they do wrong or how many captures they make. 2. Blackwater is a specific, private organization specially chosen by the U.S. government. The Letters apply to any person or organization. 3. Blackwater is part of an invading force that can go where it pleases. Those who would act under the authority of Letters would not be trespassing on an innocent person's property. 4. Blackwater can virtually do whatever they want with impunity. They are not really subject to any U.S., Iraqi, or U.N. oversight. Those acting under the authority of the Letters would be subject to treaties applying to the high seas as well as other laws passed in accordance with Article I section 8 (see above quote). 5. Blackwater operates in Iraq, killing people who in no way violated any U.S. or international laws. Anyone acting under the authority of the Letters who would do that would be subject to prosecution.

In conclusion, granting Letters of Marque and Reprisal is a constitutional, cost saving, and potentially life-saving way to deal with overseas offenses against the United States and its citizens.

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