Trump officials pushing to strip convicted terrorists of citizenship

Trump officials pushing to strip convicted terrorists of citizenship

June 8, 2019– Mary Greeley News – John Walker Lindh now 36 years old walked out of prison last month and returned to American life, having served 17 years for providing support to the Taliban.

On Nov. 25, 2001, two CIA officers discovered a bearded 19-year-old English speaker among a group of captured Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.

The bedraggled teen stood out. “Irish? Ireland?” a CIA officer asked the prisoner, who gave no reply.

He turned out to be an American. And hours later, one of his CIA interrogators was killed when the captured Taliban prisoners staged an uprising.

Photographed naked and bound, California-born John Walker Lindh became detainee #001 in the global war on terrorism and dubbed the “American Taliban.” Branded a traitor and terrorist back home, he was convicted of supporting the Taliban and sentenced to 20 years in prison in a media firestorm that captured the zeitgeist of the post-9/11 era.

But another American who pleaded guilty in a high-profile terrorism case after the Sept. 11 attacks is facing a tougher path to freedom.

Trump officials pushing to strip convicted terrorists of citizenship

Phone calls and e-mails were passed among three Ohio men in separate terrorism plots, according to released government records that also show the men took trips together and that one man used another for a job reference.

Abdi, 35, a Somali immigrant, sent e-mails in 2001 and 2002 to a man later convicted of trying to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge, according to the list filed in U.S. District Court in Columbus.

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E-mails on Oct. 28, 2002, from Abdi to Faris contain information on an exhortation to holy war and “Islamic extremist information,” the list shows. Faris, 38, was sentenced in 2003 to 20 years in prison for the plot to topple the Brooklyn Bridge.

Abdi also called phone numbers for Christopher Paul, an Ohio man accused of joining al-Qaida and plotting to bomb European tourist resorts and took a trip with him to Pittsburgh in September 2002. He also listed Paul, 43, as a personal reference on a 2001 job application.

Like Lindh, Iyman Faris received a 20-year sentence at a time when the country was still on edge about further terror attacks. And the Ohio-based trucker admitted to involvement in a plot that sounded like al-Qaida’s most spectacular since 9/11 — an attempt to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge by using gas torches to cut the cables holding it up.

Faris, however, was not born in the United States, and the Trump administration has a controversial plan for him as he’s about to be released: strip him of his U.S. citizenship and kick him out of the country. Or perhaps keep him behind bars indefinitely.

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Critics say the current move to revoke the al-Qaida sleeper agent’s American citizenship highlights the limited progress the U.S. has made in the past two decades in prison-based deradicalization efforts. They also say it could create a dangerous new front in how the legal system treats U.S. citizens convicted of terrorism offenses.

“It’s part and parcel of the rest of the immigration policy which is just to demonize people from other countries,” said Joshua Dratel, a Manhattan defense attorney. “It’s an aggressive move.”

In the absence of a life sentence or capital punishment, native-born Americans like Lindh seem all but certain to walk the streets in the U.S. again after serving their sentences, even if they’re unrepentant. But naturalized citizens like the Pakistani-born Faris are at risk of being deported over their allegiance to al-Qaida.

Trump officials pushing to strip convicted terrorists of citizenship

“The Supreme Court has said there’s no excommunication when it comes to citizenship,” said Case Western Reserve University law professor Andra Robertson. “There’s only two ways to lose your citizenship: one is when a person voluntarily gives it up and two is when there’s some fraud or illegality in its procurement … If you’re a native-born citizen, obviously you didn’t commit fraud to get your citizenship, so only a naturalized citizen can lose their citizenship involuntarily.”

Just one day after Lindh was released from a federal prison in California last month, Justice Department lawyers filed a motion with a federal judge in Illinois, urging her to void Faris’ U.S. citizenship. The government’s key argument was that by linking up with al-Qaida between 2000 and 2003, Faris raised doubt that he was sincere when he pledged allegiance to the U.S. as part of his naturalization process in 1999.

Trump officials pushing to strip convicted terrorists of citizenship

“These facts establish Defendant affiliated with al Qaeda, a prohibited organization, within five years after naturalizing (indeed, within one year of naturalizing). That affiliation, in turn, is prima facie evidence Defendant was not attached to the principles of the Constitution or well-disposed to the good order and happiness of the United States, which are required to naturalize,” Justice Department attorneys wrote.

In 2003, Faris came under suspicion by the FBI and was questioned for weeks at a hotel outside Columbus, Ohio, and then at a safe house at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va. He eventually admitted that he met with Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders in Afghanistan, researched the use of ultralight aircraft for the group and explored the possibility of using gas-fired wire cutters in an effort to collapse the iconic bridge connecting Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Trump officials pushing to strip convicted terrorists of citizenship

In May of that year, Faris appeared in a sealed courtroom in Alexandria and pleaded guilty to two felony counts involving material support to a terrorist organization. He later tried to back out of the plea, saying that he made up stories in order to sell a book. But a judge rejected Faris’ move and sentenced him to the maximum under the plea deal: 20 years. With standard “good time” credit for federal prisoners, Faris is currently set for release in December 2020.

In recent court filings, Faris — who turned 50 on Tuesday — has argued that he never would have pleaded guilty if he knew he could lose his U.S. citizenship as a result of his admissions. Neither his lawyer nor the judge who took the guilty plea advised him of that possibility, Faris says.

Faris also contends that the move to strip him of his citizenship is directly tied to his refusal to agree to assist prosecutors once his sentence is up.

“The United States brought [this] immigration action in response to Faris’s refusal to cooperate with federal authorities upon his release,” he wrote in a court filing last year.

Faris’ admitted refusal to cooperate appears to have extended through a recent deposition in his denaturalization case. Government lawyers say he took the Fifth Amendment in response to 176 of 390 questions he was asked.

Faris’ attorney in the denaturalization case, Thomas Durkin, said the government is trying to get a second chance to punish his client.

“We think it’s a mean-spirited attempt at further punishment and violates his original plea agreement with the government,” Durkin said.

The Chicago-based lawyer also sees the denaturalization effort signaling a panic across the government about convicts with Taliban, al-Qaida or terrorist ties emerging from prison after serving their time.

“There’s of course concern like with John Walker Lindh. Everyone is like, ‘Oh my God, now what are we going to do?’” Durkin said. “It’s 20 years later. These guys are starting to get out.”

Mary Greeley News

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