Ron Paul's Texas Straight Talk - A weekly Column

Will We Bring bin Laden to Justice?

A year has passed since the terrible September 11th terror attacks, yet still we seem unable to locate Osama bin Laden or his al Qaida associates.

President Bush has made it clear that he intends to use "all appropriate means" to oust Saddam Hussein, although everyone concedes that Iraq had nothing to do with September 11th. So why is the same approach not justified for the al Qaida criminals directly responsible for 3000 American deaths?

We seem to have forgotten that our primary objective in the war on terror is to capture or kill bin Laden and his henchmen. One year ago, the desire for retribution against bin Laden was tangible. President Bush referred to finding him "dead or alive." And while the hunger for vengeance was understandable, the practical need to destroy al Qaida before it mounted another terror attack was urgent. Yet we have allowed the passage of time and the false specter of an Iraq threat to distract us from our original purpose. We’re preoccupied with an invasion of Iraq, which actually will benefit bin Laden by removing a secular regime led by his enemy Saddam Hussein. This vacuum may well lead to a more fundamentalist Kurd government in Iraq that aligns itself with al Qaida.

Our troops in Afghanistan, and defense secretary Rumsfeld himself, are becoming increasingly frustrated over the lack of progress in locating bin Laden. Clearly we need to provide President Bush with innovative new tools to bring these criminals to justice. The drafters of the Constitution provided just such a tool to retaliate against attacks on America by groups not formally affiliated with a government: letters of marque and reprisal. Letters of marque and reprisal are especially suited to our modern campaign against terrorism, which is fought against individuals rather than governments. Essentially, marque and reprisal authorizes the President to use private parties to find international terrorists wherever they hide.

Conventional armed forces are ill-suited to tracking down international terrorists. Our military invasion of Afghanistan undoubtedly has scattered al-Qaida throughout the Middle East and Europe. Marque and reprisal would create an incentive for individuals close to bin Laden to kill or capture him and his associates. This method in effect places a bounty on the heads of international terrorists, who often travel between countries, melt into civilian populations, or hide in remote areas. The goal is to avail ourselves of the knowledge and expertise of private parties, especially given the lack of western intelligence in many of the countries likely to harbor bin Laden. Marque and reprisal could turn the tables on the terrorists, forcing them to live as marked men. Terrorist should fear us, not the other way around.

Ultimately, letters of marque and reprisal could help us avoid a wider war by bringing terrorists to justice without the need for military action- saving American lives in the process. I recently wrote defense Secretary Rumsfeld, urging administration support for my legislation, the "Marque and Reprisal Act of 2001." Unless and until the administration puts the focus back on bin Laden and al-Qaida, the horrific crimes of September 11th will remain unpunished.