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Harris Sherline: The Man Without a Country

Americans who plot against our nation and its people should be stripped of their citizenship

What should be done about U.S. citizens who turn against their own country by deliberately acting to hurt other Americans or attempting to destroy buildings and other property? Do they deserve the continued protections of the Constitution? For example, should they be entitled to Miranda rights when they attack the United States or its citizens or openly declare their allegiance to another country or group, such as al-Qaeda?

Harris Sherline
Harris Sherline

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., doesn’t think so and has introduced a bill that would enable the government to strip them of their citizenship, reasoning that a 1940 law makes it possible for the State Department to withdraw the citizenship of people who join the armed forces of an enemy.

Lieberman has the right idea.

Whatever the difficulties may be of further refining the existing law, it would be worth the trouble. There have already been numerous instances in which U.S. citizens have either joined forces with our enemies, such as al-Qaeda, and should be stripped of their citizenship. American citizenship may be a right of birth or naturalization, but it shouldn’t be without limits. It’s also a privilege and carries — or should carry — certain obligations. I don’t believe people should be able to enjoy all the benefits of U.S. citizenship while, at the same time, they actively plot against the security of this nation and its people.

For example, Adam Gadahn, who was born in the United States, has become the spokesman for al-Qaeda, which is actively seeking the destruction of the United States. Other Americans have been fighting for al-Shabab, or have joined our enemies in Somalia and, of course, there is the notorious case of Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, who is charged with killing 13 soldiers and wounded 30 others at a Fort Hood, Texas, processing center in 2009. Based on the fact that he allegedly shouted “Allahu Akbar” (“God is greatest”) as he opened fire, it is believed he was declaring his allegiance to Islam while attacking U.S. soldiers he believed were being processed for deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan to fight against his fellow Muslims in those countries.

The recent Times Square incident in Manhattan is another instance in which a naturalized U.S. citizen, this time from Pakistan, Faisal Shahzad, allegedly attempted to kill Americans in the cause of our enemies. Shahzad was immediately given his Miranda rights, which may have limited the ability of authorities to obtain information from him, although it is clear that he is linked to the Taliban in Pakistan.

The idea of stripping U.S. citizenship from an American who openly repudiates his country was graphically portrayed in the novel The Man Without a Country, written by Everett Hale in 1863. The story depicts an Army lieutenant, Philip Nolan, who renounces his country in the 1800s during a trial for treason. Nolan is subsequently sentenced to spend the rest of his life at sea without ever hearing any news or information about the United States.

This allegorical story describes how Nolan ultimately learns the “true worth” of his country, realizing that without it, “he is nothing.” Hale’s story was so skillfully told that many readers believed it was true. It was one of the most effective pieces of patriotic literature ever written about America, and it’s particularly pertinent to the discussion about Lieberman’s proposal that we withdraw citizenship from Americans who openly attack the United States or declare their allegiance to other nations or groups that attack us, such as the Taliban or al-Qaeda.

Although the alleged would-be Times Square bomber, Shahzad, is a naturalized U.S. citizen, considering the nature of his actions I don’t believe he should be entitled to the protections afforded by our Constitution, especially if it’s determined that he became a U.S. citizen specifically for the purpose of attacking our homeland.

The State Department should take steps to strip him of his citizenship, and he should be tried in a military tribunal as an enemy combatant.

— Harris R. Sherline is a retired CPA and former chairman and CEO of Santa Ynez Valley Hospital who has lived in Santa Barbara County for more than 30 years. He stays active writing opinion columns and his blog, Opinionfest.com.

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