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Published: Saturday, 5/15/2010

Dead to rights

THE U.S. Constitution guarantees citizens' rights in criminal proceedings. Any attempt to chip away at this bedrock principle should invite alarm. Never mind any excuse offered by the government, even if it involves national security.

In 2002, the Bush administration declared U.S. citizen Jose Padilla an "enemy combatant." Without charging him with terrorism after his arrest, the government held him in isolation in a Navy brig for three years.

Only when the Supreme Court signaled that it might rule on the unconstitutional denial of his rights was Padilla charged and convicted of terror-related activities. The suspension of due process in his case, and the dismissal of his citizenship as irrelevant, troubled anyone who cared about constitutional protections.

Now, lawmakers, led by Sen. Joe

Lieberman (I., Conn.), seek to broaden the reasons native-born or naturalized terror suspects can lose U.S. citizenship. Those reasons would include providing material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization or engaging in or supporting hostilities against the United States or its allies.

The bill would not affect the case of Pakistan-born U.S. citizen Faisal Shahzad, who is accused of leaving an explosives-laden car in Times Square. Treating this suspect as a citizen did not stop him from confessing.

Senator Lieberman argues: "We're fighting an enemy who doesn't wear the uniform of a conventional army or follow the rule of law."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, head of the department that would judge Americans under this overly broad bill, adds: "United States citizenship is a privilege - it is not a right."

A driver's license is a privilege. Citizenship is sanctioned by the Constitution, the guarantor of Americans' rights. That document does not limit rights with an asterisk: "Not applicable to alleged enemy combatants." This constitutionally dubious legislation would promote fear, not security.

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