How Would Lieberman's Citizenship-Stripping Law Work?

Examining how the controversial bill might play in practice

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Responding to the failed car-bomb that American citizen Faisal Shahzad admitted to placing in Times Square, Senator Joe Lieberman has proposed a law that would allow the U.S. to strip citizenship from any American who is determined to be "actively engaging in hostilities against the United States or its allies" or is "providing material support or resources" to a designated terrorist group. The bill is designed to circumvent the legal protections afforded to all American citizens, which Lieberman suggests would be an impediment to national security. We explored the legal and constitutional case against this law. But, were it to go into effect, how would it work?

  • What Would Constitute 'Support'?  The Agence France-Presse's Olivier Knox says "lots of questions" remain about the bill. He asks if "buying cocaine" would "trigger" the removal of citizenship, as that could be seen as indirectly funding terror groups such as FARC in Colombia. He also wonders if giving money to the Irish Republican Army, an officially designated terror group that operates in Ireland with donations from some Irish-Americans, would "trigger" one's citizenship to be stripped.
  • Prison for Banana Buyers?  Liberal blogger Marcy Wheeler recalls the United Fruit Company. "Would [Attorney General Eric] Holder lose citizenship because he represented Chiquita, which knowingly provided material support for terrorism? For that matter, if we eat Chiquita bananas do we lose American citizenship under Lieberman's bill? Chiquita is especially nice because it involves rich white Republicans--and the Attorney General. And specific known facts. Dole from Costa Rica probably safe. Just don't eat any Chiquita bananas, because they won't be 'American' bananas anymore."
  • No More 'Innocent Until Proven Guilty'  Reason's Jacob Sullum notes, "For Lieberman, then, there is no important difference between an enemy soldier captured on the battlefield and an American arrested in the U.S. on terrorism charges. ... Under Lieberman's proposal, any American accused of links to terrorism would be presumed guilty, stripped of his citizenship, and locked in a military prison." But he worries, "in a future terrorism case, a defendant might not only claim to be innocent; he might actually be innocent. That possibility is why we have trials, replete with all those pesky due process requirements, to begin with."
  • Innocent Men Locked Up?  Radley Balko cites people like Steven Hatfill, who was wrongly accused of terrorism but later exonerated. "So if we had been governed by the wisdom of one Joe Lieberman over the last 15 years, Richard Jewell and Steven Hatfill—both innocent and both U.S. citizens accused of terrorism-related crimes—may well have been stripped of their citizenship, treated as enemy combatants, and left to rot on some Navy ship off the coast of South Carolina."
  • Wouldn't Apply to Timothy McVeigh  The American Prospect's Adam Serwer marvels at Lieberman's focus only on foreign terror organizations. "One thing is clear, though; the designation 'foreign terrorist organization' wouldn't apply to domestic terrorists like Timothy McVeigh, which means that the law would, in practice, only ever apply to American Muslims."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.