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US Government Can Kill Citizens But Not Strip Their Citizenship

It’s easier for your government to kill you than strip you of your citizenship.

Joshua Keating explains:

Since [a 1967 Supreme Court case called Afroyim v. Rusk], it’s been nearly impossible for someone to be involuntarily stripped of U.S. citizenship. Even if you join a foreign army fighting against the United States, the law says you will only lose your citizenship if you do so “with the intention of relinquishing United States nationality.” That intention can be tough to prove, and in Awlaki’s case, the administration made no effort to do so.

GOP House members have introduced legislation to investigate whether joining a terrorist organization constitutes a renunciation of citizenship. But frankly, given that U.S. citizenship doesn’t seem to provide much protection when a drone has you in its sights, I’m not sure there would be any point.

It’s a rather bizarre dichotomy.

via Dave Algoso

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He earned a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.


  1. jd says:

    Why? Are dead people still citizens? (And let me be the first to point out that they continue to vote in some districts.)

  2. MBunge says:

    “It’s a rather bizarre dichotomy.”

    Did some stupid slip into the general water supply or something? I swear, I don’t think I’ve ever seen as many people engaged in the same willful ignorance on the same subject.

    Trying to strip someone of their citizenship is a civilian legal action. Launching a military attack is not a civilian legal action. It is, notice the adjective, a MILITARY act. It is an act of war or an act of whatever quasi-war state has been authorized by Congress.

    Jiminy H. Christmas, there are a whole lot of issues with these drone strikes. I’m gettin’ really damn irritated, however, at how everyone just keeps jumping over the first and most important point in discussing any of them.


  3. @MBunge: +1000. I have concerns about the program and its effectiveness, but, seriously, WTF? Are the President and the DoD supposed to run the thing through a bloody committee and have to go to court and Congress to kill a damn terrorist? Did Ike have to get some kind of special Congressional approval to bomb a SS or Heer unit that might have an American in it?

  4. Tsar Nicholas says:

    US Government Can Kill Citizens But Not Strip Their Citizenship

    Definitely. And the former makes the latter point moot.

    Along similar lines:

    Soldiers on the battlefield summarily can be executed for disobeying direct orders a lot easier and a lot quicker than docking them in rank for patting fellow soldiers on their arses. Cops can shoot to death resisting suspects a lot easier and a lot quicker than the government can seize the assets of alleged criminals. Enforcing a domestic death penalty sentence is a lot easier and a lot quicker in various contexts than extraditing into the U.S. a charged criminal from a foreign country to face a capital criminal trial.

    IOW, the only real “dichotomy” here is in the minds’ eyes of the liberal media-academe-Internet cabal. War does not = peace. Military actions do not = civil actions. Hellfire missiles do not = subpoenas, petitions, writs or appeals. Apples do not = oranges.

  5. Just nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: Make a note to yourself–when you are trying to say something sane and thoughtful, wingnut diction such as “liberal-media-academe-Internet cabal” distracts from your overall message and negates any impact your thoughts (as infrequent as they are) could carry.

  6. Dazedandconfused says:


    The reason why they won’t deploy battalions of lawyers to the ME is becoming all too obvious. Another dream crushed….

  7. Barry says:

    @Timothy Watson: “Did Ike have to get some kind of special Congressional approval to bomb a SS or Heer unit that might have an American in it? ”

    I’m getting tired of people who use dubmf*ck analogies. Unless you’re also fine with summary punishment of Birthers and Tea Partiers for disrespect to their commander in chief in time of war.