CIA Director Brennan Swears Oath on Special Constitution Missing Bill of Rights

March 12th, 2013

credit: David Lienemann/Official White House Photo

When politicians and presidential appointees are sworn in, they traditionally take their oath of office while placing their hand on a religious tome or document of political significance. President Barack Obama swore in on two copies of the Bible, one formerly belonging to Abraham Lincoln and the other from the personal collection of Martin Luther King, Jr.

When CIA Director John Brennan was sworn in a few days ago, he decided to shake things up by starting a new tradition of his own. Yahoo News is reporting that Brennan, known as an early supporter of drone bombings, enhanced interrogation techniques, and other dubious human rights abuses, opted to swear in on a special draft copy of the Constitution from 1787 which does not include the Bill of Rights. This is an especially confrontational choice in the wake of Kentucky Senator Rand Paul’s historic 13-hour filibuster of Brennan’s nomination over the administration’s unclear legal opinions on the extrajudicial assassination of American citizens.

Is There Deeper Meaning to Brennan’s Ceremony?

CIA Director John Brennan claims that his decision to swear his oath of office on a 1787 draft copy of the Constitution symbolizes his commitment to the rule of law. The copy contains handwriting by George Washington and comes from a time before the Constitution had been ratified. In fact, the copy he swore his oath on was not the one that took effect.

Brennan’s copy was missing something crucial pertaining to the rule of law. The Bill of Rights, a series of constitutional amendments recognizing fundamental rights like privacy and freedom of speech, was not ratified until 1791, meaning it was missing from Washington’s 1787 draft of the Constitution. Did Brennan leave the Bill of Rights out of his ceremony on purpose?

Brennan’s Choice Sends the Wrong Message

John Brennan should have known that this choice would come under intense scrutiny, given the international attention Rand Paul attracted to his confirmation process. In particular, Brennan represents an affront to the liberties outlined in the Bill of Rights, so his choice to dig up one of the few copies of the Constitution known to man that doesn’t include it comes across as purposefully confrontational.

It’s entirely possible that he simply asked for an older, more symbolic copy of the Constitution as an attempt at an olive branch to civil libertarians, but, if that was his plan, it backfired. On the other hand, one could theorize that he purposefully asked for a copy without the Bill of Rights, because he doesn’t believe in it and thus won’t swear on oath on it. That would be alarming.

Anyone who would purposefully avoid swearing an oath on top of a document containing the Bill of Rights shouldn’t hold public office. Unfortunately, we don’t have any way of knowing whether this was an innocent mistake or a confrontational shot at the civil libertarians that gummed up his confirmation process.

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About the Author: Barry Donegan

Barry Donegan is a singer for the experimental mathcore band Look What I Did, a writer, a self-described "veteran lifer in the counterculture", a political activist/consultant, and a believer in the non-aggression principle.