Lieberman Preys on Voter Fears, Proposes Law to Preemptively Strip Citizenship from Terror Suspects
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Days after Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani-born U.S. citizen and resident of Connecticut, tried to blow up a car bomb in Times Square, Sen. Joe Lieberman seized on renewed fears of a terrorist attack to announce his latest legislative gambit: the "Terrorism Expatriation Act" -- or "TEA" -- which would revoke the citizenship of any American "who is found to be involved with a foreign terrorist organization as designated by the State Department."
The measure came less than two months after Lieberman's introduction, with Sen. John McCain, of another radical bill: The "Enemy Belligerent, Interrogation, Detention, and Prosecution Act of 2010," which would grant the president the power to order the arrest, interrogation, and imprisonment of anyone -- including a U.S. citizen -- indefinitely, on the sole suspicion that he or she is affiliated with terrorism, and on the president's sole authority as commander in chief. Lieberman's new bill is an offshoot of the same principle, circumventing the Constitutional guarantees of due process for U.S. citizens by conveniently stripping their citizenship, and reducing American terror suspects to "enemy belligerents" who have no rights.
"This [law] can't relate to Faisal Shahzad, because that's a case that's already occurring," Lieberman told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell on Thursday, "… But it can apply to the next terrorist who is an American citizen and who is training overseas."
Legal experts have been quick to point out the myriad ways the bill is unconstitutional. Laura Murphy, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, said it "turns the whole notion of due process on its head."
"Removing one’s citizenship is a terribly serious act with far-reaching implications," she said, "and it is especially egregious when based upon suspicion and a potentially erroneous determination made by individuals without any constitutional determination of guilt."
Nevertheless, on Capitol Hill, the opposition from Democrats has been tepid at best, and some have actually expressed support for the logic behind the measure, if for no other reason than wishing to appear tough on terror. "My bet is more Dems than you might think will be afraid to oppose this," the Washington Post's Greg Sargent predicted before the bill was officially introduced. Indeed, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer initially supported the measure before reversing course and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she sympathized with the "spirit" of the bill. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told Andrea Mitchell, "I have no problem with this if the constitutional guarantees are maintained." And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose office would be in charge of determining whether an American terror suspect should be stripped of his or her citizenship, vowed to take a "hard look" at the bill, while echoing Lieberman's own rationale. “United States citizenship is a privilege. It is not a right," she said. "People who are serving foreign powers -- or in this case, foreign terrorists -- are clearly in violation, in my personal opinion, of that oath which they swore when they became citizens.”
Meanwhile, the most vocal opponents of the bill have been Republicans, ironically; House Minority leader John Boehner expressed concern over the notion that a person's citizenship could be revoked just for being a terror suspect. "If they're a U.S. citizen, until they're convicted of some crime, I don't know how you would attempt to take their citizenship away," he told reporters on Thursday. "That would be pretty difficult under the U.S. Constitution."
Lieberman's real purpose for stripping terror suspects of their citizenship is to ensure that they are rendered ineligible for such "privileges" as being read their Miranda rights -- and, crucially, eligible for military trials. His bill, he told Andrea Mitchell, "gives our government a choice: do they want to try them in a federal court or do they want to bring them before a military commission? You don't have that choice with American citizens -- they must be given all the rights that other Americans have."