Jan. 23rd, 2012

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Above is a link to Congressman Charles Dent's (R-PA) video where he discusses the bill he is co-sponsoring, the Enemy Expatriation Act (H.R. 3166), followed by a link to the bill's text. The bill, if passed, is meant "to add engaging in or supporting hostilities against the United States to the list of acts for which United States nationals would lose their nationality." (Quote from govtrack.us) Now, Dent says that the bill is meant to take away American citizenship from terrorists, presumably to make the American people safer.

I respect the intention to stop terrorism and protect innocent people. I'm one of the people being protected, I very well should. But things like this scare me. Why? Well, for one thing, the bill doesn't specify how this is to be determined. Someone will lose their citizenship for engaging in or supporting "hostilities" and hostilities in this context means "any conflict subject to the laws of war". It makes no mention of how this is to be proven. I'd like to be optimistic and believe that very strong proof of involvement or support will be needed to strip someone of their nationality, but... This bill gives no indication one way or another.

It's not this bill that is the truly frightening thing, though. The issue here is the precedent it could so easily set. This bill talks about hostilities. But could someone use this bill to write another one where "hostilities" is replaced with "dissent"? I honestly don't know, and I'm not trying to start a panic, but I feel like there needs to be something more concrete. At least tell us what, precisely, counts as support. Tell us how this will be determined, tell us what proof there will need to be before an American citizen loses that title. Because I read this and I wonder if it will end here.

I support anti-terrorism measures. I don't want another terrorist attack to happen in the US, or anywhere else for that matter, not ever. I just wish this bill was more specific. Engaging in hostilities is obvious, but what constitutes support? Sending money, most likely. But what else? Directly saying that you believe in al-Qaeda? Or saying something that runs counter to "America's ideals", a phrase Congressman Dent uses in his video? The former is supporting terrorism, and I can live with that, though I still don't like the precedent it sets. But the latter, that isn't terrorism. That's dissent. "We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty." Edward R. Murrow, considered the father of broadcast news, said that in the 1950s, and it's still true.

I would like to think that our government believes that. I would like to think that they would never have that confusion, and will not be tempted to move against those who do not support terrorists, but merely disagree with their country. As American citizens we're allowed to disagree. If that disagreement leads to threatening the safety of others directly or indirectly, then measures should be taken to protect that safety. But if it does not, then there is no justification for punishment.

I've been trying to find a media report on this from a trustworthy source, some sort of report that will hopefully go more in-depth on this issue, perhaps with an interview from Congressman Dent or one of his co-sponsors. I can't find anything, and the news I have found comes from outlets I'm not familiar with and can't be sure are on the level. I tried the New York Times, I tried the Washington Post. There are no articles on either website. I can't say if that is a good or a bad sign. I hope that I'm reading too much into this, and that the intent behind this bill is exactly what Congressman Dent says it is, and that only true supporters of terrorist organizations will be targeted by it should it pass. I just can't find enough reliable information to be certain of that.


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January 2013

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