How Did the ISIS Fighter Held as an Enemy Combatant Obtain U.S. Citizenship?

By Dan Cadman on December 5, 2017

The Washington Times ran an interesting article last week on the efforts of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to determine the identity of, and provide representation to, an "American" fighter for ISIS who was captured on a battlefield in the Middle East and has not, since his departure to fight for the brutal terrorist organization, been back in the United States.

This raises a lot of interesting questions across a number of dimensions. For instance, should the United States risk charging him criminally, as it did in the recent case of the Libyan whose murder charges in the Benghazi attack were recently dismissed? If so, should one of those charges include treason, insofar as conviction allows the government to then strip him of his citizenship?

Or should he be treated as an enemy combatant, as he is at present? Is he entitled to representation in a combat theater? In lieu of criminal prosecution, should he be consigned to a military brig outside the United States such as the one for terrorists at our naval facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba? How far do his constitutional rights extend in such egregious circumstances as those in which he was captured?

Even more pressing, from my point of view, is the question of his citizenship. How did he obtain it? If he was naturalized, that of course throws into question the sufficiency of the vetting processes being used in adjudicating citizenship applications (as it has in many such instances in recent years).

Was he, on the other hand, the happy recipient of "birthright" citizenship — meaning he was a citizen simply by virtue of being born in the United States? That sounds simple enough, right? But many legitimate questions have been raised about the concept of according citizenship solely on the basis of birth in the United States (see here, here, and here).

I'm thinking specifically of the case of Anwar al Alawki, another terrorist, who by accident of birth in the United States was deemed to be a citizen, even though his parents were both nonimmigrants here as the result of a decision on the part of his father to attend school. In such instances, what true fealty do such individuals owe the United States? They are unlikely to regard themselves as Americans, except when it behooves them to do so for particular reasons, some involving the intent and desire to do mischief to our body politic, as al Alawki did. In other situations, they obtain and make regular use of passports and other identity documents from the home country of their parents.

So while I don't look forward to the specter of this individual being accorded so many rights to which he clearly had no use until locked up, I do await with a great deal of curiosity the revelation of the facts surrounding this person's claim to citizenship.

I'd be willing to place bets that he will prove to be that often questionable thing, a so-called "dual national" whose allegiance was anywhere but here. (The Daily Caller asserts that this is the case, though I've not seen it confirmed anywhere.) As has been said before, embracing such individuals as citizens is, often enough, about the same as deciding to hold a viper to your breast. Don't be taken aback when it bites and pours out its venom.

Even in these extreme times, I am reticent in the extreme to suggest that there can be differing standards for different citizens. That seems to me to be a loathsome principle.

But one way to avoid that dilemma is for our Congress to reconsider the foolish notion that simply because you are born in the United States, you owe allegiance to the country and should be accorded citizenship. There are many reasons to reject that notion; much of the rest of the world does. A legislative solution to this dilemma is long overdue.