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The Terrorist Expatriation Act

Updated on February 21, 2011

The Terrorist Expatriation Act: Another Blatant Case of Racist Duplicity?

Spurred by the foiled terrorist attack on Times Square, a bi-partisan band of lawmakers in Washington introduced new legislation this last week that if signed into law, would summarily strip Americans known to have participated in terrorism of their citizenship.

Sponsored by an interesting mix of legislators from both ends of the ideological spectrum---in the US Senate, Sens. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Scott Brown of Massachusetts; in the US House of Representatives, Reps. Jason Altmire of Pennsylvania and Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania---the Terrorist Expatriation Act would force any American proven to have provided material support or resources to a foreign body qualified by the Secretary of State as a terrorist organization or participated in actions against the United States to lose their citizenship.

Attempts by these lawmakers to assuage feelings and dampen heightened fears by presenting the proposed legislation as a reasoned, logical, culminating effort to enhance the 1940 Immigration and Nationality Act in light of current realities failed to gather much traction. Their claim that the bill only seeks to update this law in a manner that is merely reflective of the changing face of war was less than convincing.

Most people saw the bill as a little more than an irreverent, knee-jerk legislative overreach that posits a number of constitutional and logistical issues.

What exactly does “material support” mean? What would be the enforcement standards? What is the threshold of guilt or innocence? How comfortable as a society are we in extending such sweeping powers to bureaucrats without any judicial oversight or provision for adjudication? Doesn’t this bill run afoul of core due process considerations? What would be the nationality status of Americans whose citizenship had been revoked through this process? Should it concern us that this legislation ostensibly opens the door to the creation of a new class of “stateless” Americans?

Beyond the foregoing fundamental definitional and enforcement challenges, any discerning observer ought to find the timing of this initiative disingenuous and extraordinarily perturbing.

What Faisal Shahzad did in booby-trapping his Nissan Pathfinder truck with a home-made explosive cocktail of gasoline, propane tanks, fireworks and fertilizer and attempting to detonate it in the middle of a packed Times Square is undeniably dastardly and detestable.

However, Faisal certainly was not the first American citizen to “pal” with terrorists or actively plot to kill innocent Americans. To the contrary, many before him either earned the ignoble distinction of having actually succeeded where he had failed or accomplished what he desired in more resplendent style.

In a fit of murderous rage and vengeance against the US government, Tim McVeigh killed nearly 170 people (including 19 children) on April 19, 1995 when he detonated a truck bomb in front of Alfred P.Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

McVeigh was indicted on 11 federal counts, including conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, use of a weapon of mass destruction, destruction by explosives and eight counts of first-degree murder. He was later found guilty on all 11 counts and sentenced to death by lethal injection.

John Walker Lindh, infamously known as the American Taliban, was captured behind enemy lines on November 25, 2001 fighting side by side with his Taliban hosts against US-backed Northern Alliance forces in Afghanistan.

Though indicted by a federal grand jury on ten charges including conspiracy to murder US citizens, several counts of conspiracy to provide/providing material support and resources to terrorist organizations, and conspiracy to contribute or supply services to the Taliban and Al Qaeda, John was subsequently sentenced to a 20-year prison term as part of an agreement under which he pled guilty to one count of supplying services to the Taliban and a criminal information charge that he carried a rifle and two hand grenades while in combat against American-led Afghani troops.

Why were the Liebermans, Browns, Altmires and Dents of this world so visibly reticent in proposing similar legislation back then? Were Faisal’s intentions or actions any more outlandish or heinous than McVeigh’s or Lindh’s or is the so-called Terrorist Expatriation Act another case of the same duplicitous, racist proclivities that we have sadly come to now expect?

It is hardly controvertible that regarding terrorism or terrorists, we have as a society, come to a strange, disquieting state of comfort in extending courtesies to white suspects to nearly the same diametric degree that we are quick to demonize or excoriate non-white suspects. This is often reflected in not just the way we think about these terms but in how we report about them and even how suspects are processed within our judicial system.

A very recent, candid example of the latter could be found in the decision by the presiding judge to release the nine white Michigan Hutaree Militia members indicted for actively plotting the murder of law enforcement officials and the overthrow of the US government. It is almost inconceivable to imagine the same fate befalling these bandits were they of Middle Eastern roots!

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