The Corner

Law & the Courts

Cotton: Deploy Military If Necessary to Quell Riots

Sen. Tom Cotton talks to reporters following a classified national security briefing at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., January 8, 2020. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

On Fox News and on Twitter this morning, Arkansas GOP senator Tom Cotton called for the use of federal troops to quell violent riots if necessary:

Cotton’s use of the words “no quarter” sparked a controversy among some writers on Twitter. 

Cotton is “threatening to have the US military summarily execute rioters,” Christian Vanderbrouk tweeted. “A no quarter order is a war crime, prohibited even in actual insurrection since Abraham Lincoln’s signed the Lieber Code in 1863. Such an order is banned by international law and would, if carried out, be murder under American law,” David French tweeted.

An aide to Cotton tells National Review that “it’s ridiculous to suggest that [Cotton] was suggesting anything with a specific legal meaning” and that the senator was simply emphasizing that rioters and looters “do not deserve anything more than the strongest possible enforcement of the laws.”

“The law is well-prepared to deal with something like this,” the Cotton aide added. “If local law enforcement is under-armed and local politicians are unwilling to do what’s necessary, there’s long precedent in the United States for the use of federal troops from Little Rock, to the 1968 riots, to the Rodney King riots, to assist with the restoration of law and order.”

President George H.W. Bush, in response to the L.A. riots and at the request of California’s governor and L.A.’s mayor, deployed the U.S. military in 1992.

“I will use whatever force is necessary to restore order,” Bush said in an Oval Office address to the nation.

A literal reading of the words “whatever force is necessary” does not preclude war crimes, but literally no one thought Bush was calling for potential war crimes in 1992.

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