About two years ago, when Somali pirates hijacked the Maersk Alabama and captured its captain (who was then rescued by Navy SEAL sharpshooters), Representative Ron Paul argued that the United States should issue letters of marque to private ships to help fight pirates off the coast of Africa. Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution gives Congress the power to grant letters of marque and reprisal. The nation hasn’t issued a letter of marque since the War of 1812, but before that, these letters were commonly used by the government to enlist private ships to help fight the country’s battles. Basically, if a private ship had a letter of marque from the government, then it was authorized to fight pirates and foreign ships on the government’s behalf and keep the booty that it captured from them (subject to adjudication in so-called “Prize Courts”). Representative Paul got some press for his rather unique recommendation, but nothing really came of it.
Now that we have another pirate incident (pirates hijacked a private yacht called The Quest and killed four Americans on it), I wonder if we will hear any high level officials supporting Paul’s earlier proposal. The idea is already popping up in the blogosphere, so I’ll have my odd clauses antennae up and alert for further news.