Where in the Constitution Is the Power to Assassinate?

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The CIA and the Pentagon wield the power of assassination. We all know that. But a question naturally arises: How did they acquire that power? The federal government’s powers emanate from the Constitution. Yet, an examination of that document reveals no power of assassination being granted to the national-security branch of the federal government or, for that matter, any of the other three branches.

When the Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia, the United States was operating under the Articles of Confederation, a type of governmental structure in which the federal government’s powers were so weak that it didn’t even have the power to tax.

The federal government’s weak powers were not an accident. That’s the way our American ancestors wanted it. The last thing they desired was a federal government with strong powers. They understood that that type of government would inevitably end up posing a grave threat to their freedom and well-being.

But problems had arisen under the Articles, such as destructive trade wars between the states. Thus, the purpose of the Constitutional Convention was simply to come up with ways to alter the Articles to make the system better and more efficient.

Instead, the members of the convention came up with a proposal for an entirely new governmental system — a limited-government republic, one that would have a relatively small, basic military.

Americans were leery. This new government would have more powers than the federal government did under the Articles of Confederation, including the power to tax. They weren’t interested in a powerful federal government.

The proponents of this new government had an answer to their concerns: The new government’s powers would still be limited to those enumerated within the document. If a power wasn’t enumerated, it could not be exercised. Moreover, there would be no power to levy tax on incomes. Taxes would have to be “indirect.”

The powers enumerated in the Constitution did not include a power to assassinate. The last thing our American ancestors wanted was to be living under a government that had the power to assassinate people. They understood that once a government wields the power of assassination, people’s liberties fall by the wayside because people tend to fall in line under a government that wields omnipotent power. 

Americans finally went along with the proposal for a new federal government, given that the federal government’s powers would be limited to those few powers enumerated in the Constitution, which did not include the power of assassination.

But to make certain that federal officials got the point, our ancestors amended the Constitution soon after it was ratified to provide that “No person shall be deprived of life without due process of law.”

Due process of law is a term that stretches back to Magna Carta. It involves, at a minimum, notice and hearing. Before the government can take someone’s life, it must first charge them with a crime and then prove their guilt in a trial. Our ancestors also amended the Constitution to guarantee people the right of trial by jury because they didn’t trust judges or tribunals to decide the guilt or innocence of people.

Thus, the Fifth Amendment expressly prohibits the federal government from assassinating people. Moreover, by its express terms, the prohibition applies to everyone, not just Americans.

So, why then are the Pentagon and the CIA assassinating people? How did they acquire this power?

The answer is a practical one. They acquired this power because there was no one to stop them from acquiring it. Given the overwhelming power that the national-security establishment — i.e., the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA — wield within the federal governmental structure, they other three branches of the federal government simply deferred and acquiesced to the assassination power.

That was one of the big consequences of having converted the federal government after World War II from a limited-government republic to a national-security state. The conversion ended up nullifying the enumerated-powers doctrine as well as the Fifth Amendment.

Yet, that’s not the way things were supposed to be. If the Constitution is to be changed, then people are supposed to go through the arduous process of securing a constitutional amendment. The conversion to a national-security state was down through legislation, not through constitutional amendment. Thus, the conversion should not have operated as a nullification or amendment of the Constitution.

Nonetheless, that is how Americans today have come to live under a government that wields the power of assassination, a power that our ancestors would never have permitted the federal government to wield.

The post Where in the Constitution Is the Power to Assassinate? appeared first on The Future of Freedom Foundation.

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