By Russell Berman and Susan Crabtree - 05/06/10 05:18 PM EDT
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she likes the “spirit” of a proposal
to strip the citizenship of Americans who join terrorist groups but
stopped short of backing the measure.
The bill introduced Thursday by Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and several House members would revoke the citizenship of individuals who are aligned with groups designated as terrorist organizations by the U.S. State Department. Lieberman has compared the measure to efforts during World War II to strip the citizenship of Americans who joined the German or Japanese armies.
Several Democrats have questioned if the bill is constitutional and said it is an overreaction to the arrest of a naturalized U.S. citizen in connection with the attempted Times Square bombing.
“I think we have to be very careful about this. I like the spirit of it, but I’d like to know what the trigger is,” Pelosi said at her weekly press conference. She said her support would depend on when in the legal process an individual’s citizenship would be stripped.
The proposal would add another category to the seven possible acts for which U.S. citizenship could be revoked, giving authority to the State Department to strip citizenship from someone it has designated as joining a terrorist group. The individuals would be able to appeal the designation in federal court, according to the bill.
Lieberman said he hadn't really had a chance to talk with fellow
senators, including leadership, but said he hoped to meet with Obama
administration officials and military leaders as they push forward with
the measure. The Connecticut Independent said he expected the measure
would be referred to the Senate Armed Services Committee, though he
warned he and Brown reserved the right to offer it as an amendment at
some point in the future.
Still, Brown said he expected a number of colleagues to show interest in the proposal.
"I have a feeling that a lot of our colleagues feel the same," he said.
"This is not a partisan issue, as evidenced by the fact that I'm
standing up here," Brown said. "I'm asking the administration to look at this in
the spirit it's delivered – in a bipartisan, bicameral way."
The Speaker brought up the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II as an example of the country going too far in infringing on civil liberties in the name of national security.
Still, she said, “Something like this sounds like a good idea. I don’t object to the spirit of it.”
“I’d have to see what the language and the standard is,” the Speaker added.
Pelosi praised the efforts of the New York Police Department and federal law enforcement for the quick arrest of Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistani-American suspected of trying to detonate a car bomb in Times Square. Obama administration security officials will brief Congressional leaders later on Thursday about the investigation.
Lieberman said his bill could not be used against 30-year-old, naturalized American citizen Shahzad.
Pelosi also dismissed criticism from Republicans that the administration has relied on luck – rather than adequate security measures – to avert terror attacks, including the near-miss in Times Square and the failed attempt to blow up an airplane on Christmas Day.
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) earlier Thursday said the Obama administration lacks a real, comprehensive plan to confront and deal with the terrorist threat.
“Luck is not an effective strategy for fighting terrorism,” Boehner said, referring to the Times Square car bomber’s failure to choose the
right fertilizer and the fact that average citizens who saw smoke rising from the SUV alerted authorities instead of intelligence officials discovering Shahzad’s reported ties to militants in Pakistan.
House Democratic chairmen of the Homeland Security, Intelligence and Armed Services panels held an afternoon press conference to hail the work of law enforcement in tracking and arresting Shahzad in just 53 hours.
Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) acknowledged some mistakes on behalf of Transportation Safety Administration officials. The no-fly list, for one, failed to keep Shahzad from boarding a plane bound to the United Arab Emirates on Monday.
“That was a gap in the system,” he said. “Hopefully we will have fixed that in very short order.”
But the other chairmen stressed the point that Shahzad is in U.S. custody and was unable to pull off his attack.
“We caught him,” said Rep. Ike Skelton (R-Mo.). “He’s going to be in the process of being prosecuted.”
Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas), the chairman of the intelligence panel, said the GOP criticism of the handling of the Times Square car
bomber was like people “playing a football game and winning 50 to nothing” and going back and looking at all the mistakes made on the
He also said the U.S. doesn’t have the resources to track every person born in Pakistan who is now a naturalized U.S. citizen.
Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday addressed criticism over Shahzad being read his Miranda rights when he assured a Senate panel that the suspect was questioned extensively before he was read his
Holder, who came under bipartisan criticism during the panel hearing over the handling of the arrest, said agents made use of a “public safety exception” that allows terrorism suspects to be questioned before being given their Miranda warnings that allow them the right to remain silent.
Agents used the same exception in December with the failed Detroit airline bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. While Abdulmutallab was questioned for an hour, Holder said Shahzad was interviewed to a far greater extent.
“With regard to Shahzad, the questioning under the public safety exception far exceeded the amount of time we had with Mr. Abdulmutallab,” Holder said in response to questions from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).
Michael O'Brien and J. Taylor Rushing contributed to this report
This story was updated at 6 p.m.