Bill to Revoke “Terrorists’” Citizenship is Like Those From Darker Periods of U.S. History

by Will Potter on May 7, 2010

in Terrorism Legislation

Americans accused of being involved with terrorist organizations, even if they have never been convicted of a crime, could have their citizenship revoked under a bipartisan bill that has been introduced in Congress.

The “Terrorist Expatriation Act” was introduced this week by Senators Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and Scott Brown (R-MA), along with Congressmen Jason Altmire (D-PA) and Charlie Dent (R-PA). The bill was introduced in the wake of the Times Square bomber media frenzy. So far the Obama administration has remained silent, but the bill has some bipartisan support.

This bill would direct the State Department, at its own discretion, to determine if someone is involved with or working with a terrorist organization (as identified in the State Department’s list of designated terrorist groups).

Those accused would still have the right to contest the designation, but in an administrative hearing. If they lose, they would be stripped of their citizenship, even if they have not been convicted of any crime. Once stripped of citizenship, some legal experts have said suspects could be locked in military prisons indefinitely, or face military tribunals where they have fewer legal protections.

Stephen I. Vladeck, a professor of law at American University, told the Boston Globe that this bill harkens back to the darkest periods of U.S. history:

In 1952, at the height of the McCarthy era, Congress revamped the statute and added new provisions aimed at communists, allowing the removal of citizenship for anyone guilty of treason or advocating the nation’s violent overthrow…

“The bill is so broad that it would allow the government to strip citizenship from someone who never committed a hostile act against the United States,’’ said Vladeck. He said providing material support to terrorists could be interpreted as broadly as preparing Hamas or Hezbollah to advocate before the United Nations.

In an oped in the Washington Post, David Cole makes a solid case of why the bill is dead in the water, describing it as a proposal “so flawed it can be explained only as pure political grandstanding.”

I hope he is right. Personally, though, I am beyond the point of relying on logic and no-they-could-never-get-away-with-that assurances. Politicians are getting away with it, and they are growing more and more bold.

This bill needs to be placed in the context of the simultaneous, sweeping crackdown in the name of fighting “domestic terrorism.”

Legislation like the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act singles out animal rights activists for harsher penalties if they harm corporate profits. Activists in California are being charged under the AETA for chalking slogans on sidewalks and wearing masks at protests. Meanwhile, the government has proposed making the secretive political prisons, called Communications Management Units, permanent.

This expatriation bill is dangerous enough on its own: it places far too much unchecked power in the hands of the government to make inherently subjective, political determinations of what is a terrorist organization and what constitutes support. When examined in the broader context of the attack on political activists as terrorists, the bill is even more chilling.

Supporters of these efforts all defend their proposals in the same way. It doesn’t matter if it’s this expatriation bill, the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, Guantanamo, military tribunals, extraordinary rendition, warrantless wiretapping… they all reassure the American people that “You have nothing to worry about. This will just affect the bad guys, the terrorists.”

It’s time we stop believing them.

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