Should the United States Legalize Assassination?

Rep. Bob Barr (R-Georgia) made news recently by introducing House Resolution 19 which would overturn the longstanding ban against assassination. President Gerald Ford instituted the ban when he signed Executive Order 11905 prohibiting the Central Intelligence Agency from carrying out an assassination. The order was necessary, Ford said, because of revelations that the Central Intelligence Agency had been behind a number of assassinations throughout the world and had plotted to assassinate a number of world leaders. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan expanded the ban to prohibit anyone working with the U.S. government from being involved in assassinations.

Barr claims the policy unfairly limits the options of the president and can result in rather perverse outcomes. “The president of the United States, whichever president it is, Republican or Democrat,” Barr told Fox News, “ought always to have available to him the whole range of options” including assassination.

One of the arguments in favor of allowing assassinations is the widely held belief that the United States already finds ways to get around the Executive Order that end up killing innocent people. The 1986 night time raid on Libya, for example, seems like a pretty cut and dried assassination attempt that hit multiple targets only in order to technically comply with the edit against assassinations. The raid didn’t harm its intended target, Libyan dictator Moammar Khadaffi, but it did kill his young step daughter.

The problem with Barr’s proposed reform is that it is headed in the direction. Rather than giving the President more options and more ability to act unilaterally, the Republican and allegedly conservative Congress should be acting to shore up the War Powers Act and rightfully return the power to make war back to the Congress.

Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution is explicit about the role of Congress in making war. “To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water.” Yet this remains one of the most ignored parts of the Constitution, with the President assuming war powers today in a way that many of the Founding Fathers would have considered bordering on tyranny (especially given their general fear of standing armies in the first place).

Instead of giving the President even additional powers that are not provided for in the Constitution, lets move to restore a strict constructionist view of the war powers of the executive and legislature and put the war power back in the hands of Congress.


Congress sets sights on assassination bill. Jon Dupre, Fox News, February 14, 2001.

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