My Friday night with Richard Perle

The neocon Iraq war flack says terror suspects should lose their citizenship. No surprise: he gets his facts wrong


Joan Walsh
May 8, 2010 11:09PM (UTC)

There's still no video available (update: there is now, below) but while normal people were enjoying their Friday night, I spent part of mine debating Richard Perle, the neocon architect of the Iraq war, also known as the "Prince of Darkness," about Sen. Joe Lieberman's unconstitutional bill to strip terror suspects of their U.S. citizenship. The transcript is below.

I got to make my key points: Not only is it unconstitutional, it's also really dumb. Since even Lieberman admits the accused would have to have a chance to dispute the charges before losing his or her citizenship, the law would impede terror investigations, not expedite them. Eric Holder and his lawyers would be in court right now, trying to prove Faisal Shazhad should be expatriated, rather than figuring out who else might be involved in the Times Square bombing and how to make sure related attacks aren't planned. Nothing in this legislation would make the U.S. safer.

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Now, I can't imagine any attorney general, except maybe Alberto Gonzales, putting Lieberman's scapegoating ahead of doing what they should to keep the nation safe. What Lieberman and his cosponsor Scott Brown are doing is demagoguery.

But it's also true that the bill as written is so broad it wouldn't only apply to someone arrested for suspicion of a terrorist act; it includes anyone who gives "material support" to terrorists, which could include contributing money to a group that may eventually support, or have supported, something the U.S. construes as terrorism. Perle confirms that interpretation in the interview, and supports it. David Cole does the best job taking apart the legal and practical flaws of the Lieberman bill here.

I just want to make one point I couldn't last night, when Perle said something flat-out false to Crowley, right before the end of the segment.  Lieberman's proposal, Perle said soothingly, merely amends existing legislation that lets the U.S. strip someone of citizenship if they fight in a war against the U.S.  It's just a necessary update in the age of terror. But that's absolutely not true. Here's what Perle said.

The statute that's being amended here to include actions of terror is a statute that exists today, and it takes citizenship away from people who, for example, join an army in combat with the United States. I haven't heard anyone object to that. But the nature of warfare has changed. We're a lot less concerned now about people who join an army, battling the army of the United States, than we are about people who join, say, an al Qaeda and prepare or commit acts of terror. And that's what this is intended to deal with.

In fact, the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that someone may lose their citizenship after joining combat against the U.S. – but only if he or she intentionally renounces that citizenship. As Cole points out, Congress amended the "expatriation" law in 1986 to comply with the Court's decisions, and the statute Perle cited now reads:

"A person who is a national of the United States whether by birth or naturalization, shall lose his nationality by voluntarily performing any of the following acts with the intention of relinquishing United States nationality."

Is it possible a former assistant secretary of defense didn't know the law? Or is it more likely that Perle lied? You be the judge. It's a shame Crowley didn't call him on it in the interview.

Here's the video, thanks to one of my favorite Twitter friends, @geoff9cow, with transcript below:

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CANDY CROWLEY: The scare in Times Square today in the foiled terror attack last weekend has the country doing some serious soul-searching. Americans are facing a new round of debate. How much are people willing to give up in the name of security? Some lawmakers in Congress have rolled out a highly controversial bill to strip the citizenship of Americans suspected of having terror ties.

Joining us are Joan Walsh, the editor of salon.com and Richard Perle, former Assistant Secretary of Defense and resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Thank you both for being here. Richard, let me ask you first. If such a law were to go into effect, if someone gave money to one of these many institutions that are out there, let's say Hamas or Hezbollah, would you be okay with that person making a contribution to either of those groups being stripped of their citizenship?

RICHARD PERLE, FMR. ASST. SEC. OF DEFENSE: Well, of course, it would depend on the circumstances and whether this was done with the knowledge that the contribution was intended to support terrorist activity. I believe the statute as it's drafted deals only with deliberate acts associated with terror and not with accidental or inadvertent ones, or acts made in ignorance. So, there's a pretty serious burden to demonstrate that the action is justified.

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CROWLEY: But Joan, there are a lot of people have some serious problems with this, wondering whether it's constitutional or not. When you take a look at this, does the language seem a little fuzzy to you?

JOAN WALSH, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, SALON.COM: I don't know how they prove, Candy, that this person is, indeed, engaged in terrorism or has joined a terrorist group. Look, I think this bill is clearly unconstitutional the way it's written. I think the case law and the precedents are very strong. In 1967, the Supreme Court ruled on behalf of a Jewish man who actually took a trip to Israel, and while he was there, he voted in the Knesset election. And the United States tried to strip him of his citizenship. They ruled very strongly that this right is almost, almost impossible to take away from us. But let me say one more thing that's more relevant.

This is a dumb law because let's say this law passed and was in effect now, Eric Holder, instead of getting every shred of information, preventing another attack, Eric Holder and his lawyers would be in a courtroom trying to prove that in some fashion -- because you'd have to have some kind of evidentiary rules, basis for making this determination -- that's what we would be doing. That's what our lawyers would be doing, proving that he should have his citizenship taken away. How would that make us safer?

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CROWLEY: Richard, what is the point do you think here like from an investigative or a counterterrorism perspective, what do you get if you strip somebody of their citizenship before a trial?

PERLE: Well, presumably, the only illegal act committed by an individual subjected to this would be joining a terrorist organization or engaging in activity, which if it came to fruition would result in an act of terror. The issue partly is whether we're going to wait until the attack takes place or whether we're going to attempt to act before.

And given the dangers that we face, given the possibility that the future act of terror will involve a weapon of mass destruction, it seems to me if we get on to someone who is working with terrorists, we ought to take some action first.

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WALSH: Well we do. We do take some action. We come after them. There are laws, existing laws on the books. They don't take away someone's citizenship. But they do make it possible to try them, to convict them, and to sentence them to very long, long prison sentences, even for collaborating, planning, giving money, joining a group. Many of those things are already crimes.

So, I don't see, A, what this gets us in terms of safety, and B, what would the standard of proof be? It couldn't simply be that I say that Richard Perle is a terrorist. He joined a terrorist group. So, what would the standard of proof be that would be sufficient to take away my citizenship?

PERLE: Ultimately, that would presumably be up to the courts because an individual so affected would have a right to appeal to the federal courts.

WALSH: Right.

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PERLE: And I have some confidence that it would be properly adjudicated. But the statute that's being amended here to include actions of terror is a statute that exists today, and it takes citizenship away from people who, for example, join an army in combat with the United States. I haven't heard anyone object to that. But the nature of warfare has changed.

We're a lot less concerned now about people who join an army, battling the army of the United States than we are about people who join, say, an al Qaeda and prepare or commit acts of terror. And that's what this is intended to deal with.

CROWLEY: Richard, I got to stop right here. I'm sorry. I know on 24-hour TV, you ought to be able to go longer, but we've got to run. Richard Perle, Joan Walsh, thank you so much for joining us.

 

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Joan Walsh

Joan Walsh is the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America."

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