Revoking the Citizenship of Americans Turned Enemy

In the wake of the recent revelation that procedures exist for the CIA to kill terrorists who are American citizens, the New York Times website had a fine roundup of reactions in the blogosphere.

One of the bloggers who made it into the NYT’s roundup was AllahPundit at HotAir.  He wrote:

I’m curious about how readers balance the idea of The One — or any president for that matter — enjoying the power to assassinate U.S. citizens with the fact that Awlaki’s evidently an extremely dangerous jihadist filthbag with murderous designs on U.S. citizens himself. …Should there be some sort of extra prophylactic procedural measure in the case of U.S. citizens to guarantee that they’re not wrongly targeted? One possibility would be to go to some sort of court and present evidence that the suspect has effectively revoked his citizenship by levying war against the U.S., but that would cause problems potentially in cases where the feds have to [act] quickly.

As a bit of historical perspective, it might be interesting to note that during World War I the United States Government actually did revoke the citizenship of some Americans that it suspected to be enemies.  The details were different, but it does suggest that there is at least a partial precedent for what AllahPundit mused about. 

Allow me to quote from a draft of a forthcoming work of mine.  The context is German espionage–or more correctly, suspected espionage here in the U.S.

It was not just non-citizens, of course, who were potential threats.  Often the security services found themselves pursuing miscreants who turned out to be Americans.  This was a problem because prosecuting Americans for crimes the evidence of which had been obtained through secret means, in a legal system characterized by often unsympathetic judges, numerous delays, technical loopholes, and the necessity of convincing twelve men chosen at random, was a tall order.  In those cases, however, where the suspect was a naturalized citizen, the services found a simpler way.  Courts could occasionally be persuaded to denaturalize a citizen if they determined that he had lied when he swore to the court that he would be loyal only to the United States.  Again, however, the War Department’s Military Intelligence Division was often frustrated that excessively ‘out-spoken’ people were allowed to retain their citizenship.

(Hopefully before too long this full work (with footnotes!) will see the light of day…)

I don’t know if present law allows for denaturalization under such circumstances, but if it does, such a policy might be something to consider.  On the other hand, only a few terrorists could even theoretically be denaturalized.  Anwar Awlaki, for instance, was born in Las Cruces, New Mexico and thus was never naturalized to begin with.


Published in: on February 6, 2010 at 6:24 PM  Comments (3)  
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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. The applicable law is the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, as mended.

    • Thanks. I just learned something.

  2. This again walks the fine line between being at war and justifiably shooting an enemy regardless of nationality or being at peace and affording due process to the alleged criminal.

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