Friday, June 8, 2018

Jacob G. Hornberger: Do we still need the Bill of Rights?

  When you think about it, the U.S. Bill of Rights constitutes one gigantic insult against the Pentagon, the CIA, the NSA, and the FBI — yes, the very people that Americans profusely thank for “their service.” That’s because the Bill of Rights implicitly accuses these entities of being grave threats to the rights and freedoms of the American people.

  Okay, the First Amendment refers to Congress, but it really applies to the entire federal government. It prohibits the entire federal government from destroying such fundamental rights as freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

  The Second Amendment prohibits the federal government from seizing people’s guns.

  The Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments prohibits the federal government from killing people without due process of law or from searching their homes and businesses without judicially issued search warrants.

  Let’s assume that the federal government decided to do those all things. Let’s assume it started incarcerating people who criticized the government, seizing people’s guns and making it a felony to be caught with a gun, assassinating critics, and barging into people’s homes to look for incriminating evidence.

  Who would actually be doing those things? Wouldn’t it be the Pentagon, the CIA, the NSA, the FBI, or a combination? Who else would be able to bring that type of force to bear, especially if people resisted?

  Yet, the troops, CIA agents, NSA officials, and FBI agents are considered our friends and protectors. It is said that they make the ultimate sacrifice for us. They volunteer to serve. We are exhorted to constantly thank them for their service. Should we really be insulting them by suggesting that they are the biggest threat to our freedom and well-being?

  So, do we really still need the Bill of Rights anymore? Doesn’t it just insult those who are supposedly protecting and defending our rights and freedom by suggesting that they are actually the biggest threat to our rights and freedom?

  The enactment of the Bill of Rights and the type of federal governmental structure that was brought into existence back in 1789 really goes to show how differently our American ancestors viewed the concept of freedom and the role of government in a free society.

  Our ancestors believed that the biggest threat to their rights and freedoms did not lie with foreign regimes or entities, as most Americans today believe. They believed instead that the biggest threat was the very federal government that they were bringing into existence with the Constitution.

  They knew that they needed a government, especially to protect the nation in the event of a foreign invasion of the United States. But their concern was that this same government would end up destroying their rights and freedoms. They just didn’t trust federal officials, not even the democratically elected ones.

  Thus, the question they faced was: How do we bring a government into existence and, at the same time, make certain that it doesn’t become the destroyer of our rights and freedoms?

  That was the purpose of the Constitution, the document that called the federal government into existence. Rather than trust federal officials, including the democratically elected ones, with the power to just do the right thing, the Constitution severely limited the powers of federal officials.

  But even that wasn’t good enough for the American people. They demanded the enactment of the Bill of Rights as a condition for approving the Constitution. They viewed the federal government as their biggest threat and they wanted to make certain that it would not become their destroyer. That’s why they wanted a Bill of Rights, which actually is a Bill of Prohibitions because it prohibits federal officials, including those in the military, CIA, NSA, and FBI, from destroying our rights and freedom.

  Notice something important about our ancestors’ mindset: They didn’t look upon the military as the friend of the people. It looked upon the military as the biggest threat against the people.

  Compare that mindset to the mindset of Americans today, who look upon foreign dangers as the big threat to their rights and freedoms and the military, the CIA, the NSA, and the FBI as their friends and protectors.

  To really make certain that federal officials couldn’t destroy the rights and liberties of the American people, our ancestors didn’t even bring into existence a Pentagon, CIA, NSA, or FBI. They wanted nothing to do with governmental entities that could, in a very real and practical sense, destroy their rights and freedoms. That’s why there was no big permanent standing army or military establishment. That’s also why there were no intelligence or surveillance agencies like the CIA and the NSA, or a federal police force like the FBI.

  Thus, notwithstanding the limited powers enumerated in the Constitution, and notwithstanding the express prohibitions in the Bill of Rights, our American ancestors figured that it would be best to play it safe by denying federal officials the means that governments throughout history had used to pull off the destruction of liberty of their own citizenry. No Pentagon, no CIA, no NSA, and no FBI. And it stayed like that for more than a century.

  Today, Americans have obviously chosen a different course. The United States now has an entirely different governmental structure, one that entails a gigantic, permanent, and ever-growing military establishment, a highly secretive intelligence agency with omnipotent powers, including assassination, a highly secretive surveillance agency, and a national police force.

  Do such entities pose a threat to the rights and freedoms of the American people? Many Americans would scoff at such a notion. The troops, CIA agents, NSA bureaucrats, and FBI officials are our friends and protectors, they say. We need to keep thanking them for their service.

  But if such is the case, then what do we need a Bill of Rights for? Isn’t it insulting to the military, the CIA, the NSA, and the FBI to suggest that they would do the types of things the Bill of Rights prohibits them from doing?

  An interesting aspect to it all is that whenever the military and the CIA operate in foreign countries without the constraints of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, they end up doing the things that the Bill of Rights prohibits them from doing, such as indefinite detention without trial, kidnapping, torture, domestic surveillance, and barging in people’s doors without warrants. They also install into power and support and train brutal and tyrannical dictatorships, ones that jail and kill critics of the government and censor the press. Coming to mind are the Shah of Iran, the Guatemalan coup, the Pinochet regime, and today’s totalitarian or authoritarian pro-U.S. regimes in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey, Kuwait, Jordan, and elsewhere.

  Thus, the question arises: If they will destroy freedom over there to protect “national security,” why wouldn’t they do it over here for the same reason should they determine that circumstances require it?

  I say: Let’s keep sending a message to these “friends and protectors” by keeping the Bill of Rights intact, no matter how much of an insult they might consider it to be. Better yet, I say we should play it safe by restoring a constitutionally limited, government republic to our land.

  About the author: Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

  This article was published by The Future of Freedom Foundation.

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