Terror Suspects and Citizenship

Senator Lieberman says he plans to introduce a bill which would expand the provisions which already exist in law for removing U.S. Citizenship from those who serve in the military of another country, in order to also strip citizenship from anyone who acts in cooperation with a designated terrorist organization. I could, perhaps, see certain situations where this might be appropriate. If a US citizen was captured in a combat zone, fighting for some non-state-entity which had been designated a terrorist organization, I could see designating that person an enemy combatant — for the same reason that it makes sense to do so with non-citizens who are fighting U.S. forces in combat zones without belonging to the military of a specific country. Our rules for dealing with P.O.W.s don’t really work when applied to people fighting for non-state entities, since there’s no organization to eventually accept peace and end the way with terms and exchange of prisoners.

However, it strikes me as problematic to apply this rationale to U.S. citizens (or anyone else) apprehended in terrorist attacks in the U.S., unless those attacks are on such a massive scale as to plausibly be considered an act of war. And in all honesty, there is an order of magnitude difference between these almost pathetically small and incompetent attacks such as the Times Square car bombing, the underwear bomber and the shoe bomber.

I don’t know if this excessive demand for treating people as “enemy combatants” is the result of lawmakers such as McCain and Lieberman having defended the legitimate use of that status so long that it has now become reflexive, and they are defending it even when not needed, or if they have been focused so long on dealing with major national security threats that they now see everything as a major threat. Whatever the reason, it seems to me entirely reasonable to treat clowns like the Times Square car bomber like ordinary criminals. This is not the sort of threat we need to introduce any risk to civil liberties over.

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