GOP Rep To Introduce Bill Allowing Investigations Into Whether Terrorists Have Renounced U.S. Citizenship

Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA)

President Obama and his administration have received widespread, bipartisan criticism for the drone strike last week that killed al Qaeda propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki, particularly because Awlaki was an American citizen at the time of his death. While analysts have argued whether Awlaki’s killing was legal because of that fact (CAP’s Ken Gude argues the killing “falls under the scope of the law”), the Justice Department reportedly authorized the killing in a secret memo, the contents of which have yet to be released.

But as ThinkProgress’s Matt Yglesias wrote last week, what’s missing from discussion of the Awlaki case “is the question of why he was still a U.S. citizen up to the day he died.” Had he been fighting for a foreign state’s armed forces or swore allegiance to an enemy state, Awlaki would have been stripped of his American citizenship. “The correct way out of this,” Yglesias argued, “seems to me to amend the relevant section of the Immigration and Nationality Act such that swearing allegiance to al Qaeda can count as an expatriating act in the same way that defecting to North Korea would.”

This is exactly what Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) tried to do last year. Dent introduced a bill that would have stripped Awlaki of his American citizenship, arguing that he “voluntarily renounced his citizenship by recruiting terrorists to engage in violent acts of terrorism against United States and by advocating the violent overthrow of the American government.” While the measure failed to get out of committee, Dent announced last week that in intends to introduce “similar” legislation:

Last year, I introduced a measure encouraging the U.S. Department of State to consider al-Awlaki’s actions against America as a voluntary relinquishing of his citizenship. Shortly, I will be reintroducing similar legislation to allow the Department to investigate the actions of American citizens who take up arms against the U.S. and make an administrative determination if the individual intended to renounce his or her citizenship. Following that determination, the individual can challenge the findings in federal court.

In the event that Dent’s legislation, or something similar, passes, “[t]hen you would need a quasi-judicial process through which an evidentiary determination could be made that someone has, in fact, expatriated himself,” Yglesias writes, “It’s less fun than ad hoc determinations by the DOD and the White House staff, but it would sit a heck of a lot easier with me.” Dent’s office did not respond to a request for comment on his bill.