Saturday, May 8, 2010

Terrorist Expatriation Act

Before the 2nd Session of the 111th Congress, Senators Scott Brown and Joe Lieberman presented a proposal to amend the Section 349 of the Immigration and Nationality Act. The proposed change would mean that anyone joining or aiding in any way any organization deemed "terrorist" or "hostile" to the U.S. would forfeit his/her U.S. citizenship...and, more importantly, his/her Constitutional rights.

Now, I'm not saying that terrorists, or whomever attempts to harm other people, shouldn't be punished. If I may blatantly quote what I typed the other day:

Accuse them if you like. Jail them. Charge them. Sentence them if they're guilty. But do it WITHIN the law. Within the realm of human decency and fairness. They may have committed horrible crimes and they may not have. Either way, that have basic rights and denying them those rights is hypocritical and dangerous. I'm going to separate this next sentence out so it will stand out.

Once the decision is made to suspend or rescind rights based on ANYTHING, once that precedent is set, it becomes a matter of choice; rights become mutable and it becomes up to whomever is in power to decide where that line is drawn between enemy and friend, between human being with rights and thing without them.

Now Messers Lieberman and Brown aim to make the removal of human rights "within the law". They would like us to believe that they are fighting the good fight for our safety. I call bull. Because they define, within their proposal, those who are liable to lose their basic rights as anyone who:


(I) has engaged in a terrorist activity, or (II) a consular officer or the Attorney General knows, or has reasonable ground to believe, is likely to engage after entry in any terrorist activity (as defined in clause (iii)), is excludable. An alien who is an officer, official, representative, or spokesman of the Palestine Liberation Organization is considered, for purposes of this chapter, to be engaged in a terrorist activity.
# (ii) ''Terrorist activity'' defined

As used in this chapter, the term ''terrorist activity'' means any activity which is unlawful under the laws of the place where it is committed (or which, if committed in the United States, would be unlawful under the laws of the United States or any State) and which involves any of the following: (I) The highjacking or sabotage of any conveyance (including an aircraft, vessel, or vehicle). (II) The seizing or detaining, and threatening to kill, injure, or continue to detain, another individual in order to compel a third person (including a governmental organization) to do or abstain from doing any act as an explicit or implicit condition for the release of the individual seized or detained. (III) A violent attack upon an internationally protected person (as defined in section 1116(b)(4) of title 18) or upon the liberty of such a person. (IV) An assassination. (V) The use of any -

o (a) biological agent, chemical agent, or nuclear weapon or device, or
o (b) explosive or firearm (other than for mere personal monetary gain), with intent to endanger, directly or indirectly, the safety of one or more individuals or to cause substantial damage to property. (VI) A threat, attempt, or conspiracy to do any of the foregoing.

# (iii) ''Engage in terrorist activity'' defined

As used in this chapter, the term ''engage in terrorist activity'' means to commit, in an individual capacity or as a member of an organization, an act of terrorist activity or an act which the actor knows, or reasonably should know, affords material support to any individual, organization, or government in conducting a terrorist activity at any time, including any of the following acts: (I) The preparation or planning of a terrorist activity. (II) The gathering of information on potential targets for terrorist activity. (III) The providing of any type of material support, including a safe house, transportation, communications, funds, false identification, weapons, explosives, or training, to any individual the actor knows or has reason to believe has committed or plans to commit a terrorist activity. (IV) The soliciting of funds or other things of value for terrorist activity or for any terrorist organization. (V) The solicitation of any individual for membership in a terrorist organization, terrorist government, or to engage in a terrorist activity.

That was a wall of text, and I apologize. Here's the synthesis: terrorism is a specific crime; committing murder or kidnapping or any of that jazz isn't enough. So all the normal murderers and kidnappers can continue to be charged as U.S. citizens, with fair trial rights and all that. No, because the United States government has decided that they are the best judges of intent, and have defined terrorism not be the crime committed, but by the intent behind it. The wording of these provisions almost guarantees that the choice of who or what organizations is considered "terrorist" will be entirely subjective. Which means that who loses their rights and gets subject to who knows what (though Guantanamo certainly gives an idea of a baseline) is entirely subjective as well...No, wait, it isn't. See, this just occurred to me: play Devil's Advocate to myself, I must admit that my initial reaction was an overreaction. Within the passage quoted, there is logic. Those who commit normal kidnapping are not threatening a government or anything, and I see why they would not be designated "terrorists". So I rescind some of the venom of the rant I just unleashed. It's not entirely subjective, as you can see. There are reasons for the phrasing. To anyone offended, I apologize.

But I lose my temper again when I see, within Lieb 'n' Brown's proposal that anyone involved in any conflict subject to the laws of war would also lose their citizenship and rights. just feels far too much like the "enemy combatants" designation for my comfort.

So to conclude: The proposal put forward by Brown and Lieberman is not evil. It is not as bad as I thought it was upon first reading. I dislike the terminology and the very idea smacks of unneeded legislation (see the Boston Globe editorial in the May 8th paper about the bill; it raises an extremely valid point: This law is not going to deter anyone who is determined to be a terrorist or aid terrorist groups. So what's the point?). Why does this bill exist, though? To allow us more legal leeway to deal with terrorists? That's worrying. We shouldn't be trying to treat the system. This bill won't stop would-be terrorists; it will only allow the U.S. government to cheat it's most important guarantees to deal with them.

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