Lieberman Legislation

Sen. Joe Lieberman introduced his legislation today to strip terrorists of citizenship in the same way an existing statute passed in 1940 does for those who take up arms against the U.S. in a foreign army. At a news conference today, he explained:

The bill we are introducing today – the Terrorist Expatriation Act – updates the 1940 law to account for the enemy we are fighting today.

He explains the context in which this would be used:

The facts are now clear.  Over the past several years, the threat from Islamist terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda has changed.  On 9/11, 19 Islamist terrorists who were trained abroad were sent here to carry out those horrific attacks.  Now, with increasing frequency, U.S. Citizens like Nidal Hassan, Abdul Hakim Muhammad, or Faisal Shahzad, who are inspired or recruited by violent Islamist ideology plan and execute attacks right here in the United States.

And with increasing frequency, westerners, including U.S. citizens like Anwar al-Awlaki, Adam Gadahn, and many young Somali-Americans are traveling abroad to join and fight for al-Qaeda or affiliated Islamist terrorist groups.  In fact, it has become a strategy of al-Qaeda and other Islamist terrorist groups over the past couple of years to recruit U.S. citizens who can train overseas and then use their American passports to re-enter the U.S. for the purposes of planning and carrying out attacks against us.  Though we are still learning details, it appears that Shahzad traveled abroad to receive terrorist training that he used to build the bombs in the car he parked in Times Square.

The legislation we are introducing today will help take that ability away from the terrorists.  For example, if a U.S. citizen travels to Somalia to train with and fight for al-Shabaab – as more than 20 young men have done over the past several years – the State Department will now have the authority to revoke their citizenship so that they cannot return here to carry out an attack.   If, in some way, they do, and are then captured, they will not enjoy the rights and privileges of American citizenship in the legal proceedings against them.

Unlike his Democratic colleagues, Lieberman got a favorable reaction from the administration. Hillary Clinton was sounding sensible:

Clinton explained that the State Department already has expatriation authority within U.S. law that permits the State Department to rescind American citizenship if someone shows some kind of allegiance to a foreign state.

U.S. citizenship is “a privilege, not a right,” Clinton said, adding that people who enter into U.S. citizenship through naturalization swear to uphold their oath to the Constitution and that those who serve foreign terrorists “are clearly in violation, in my personal opinion, of that oath which they swore when they became citizens.”

The State Department has exercised the expatriation authority in the past, she said, adding that she understands the desire from the members of Congress, and the State Department will take a hard look at this legislation.

Both Lieberman and Clinton make clear that the critics who decry efforts to strip combatants of citizenship really have a quarrel with existing law. Do those lawmakers want to repeal the 1940 statute? If not, they should explain why we don’t want a framework that has been used effectively against traditional nation-states to be updated and made relevant to the war against Islamic terrorists.