Will We Admit the Trojan Horse?

By Dan Cadman on July 27, 2015

An interesting case is shaping up in Australia, which, confronting the reality that a wave of its citizens have been recruited by Islamic State (IS) and other Islamist terror organizations, recently toughened its laws dealing with terrorists, particularly those who are Australian citizens. The case is going to test those laws, and the resolve of the Aussie government, to the limit.

An Australian citizen, Adam Brookman, was arrested by Turkish authorities slipping into the country from Syria. Under questioning, Brookman, a Muslim convert, admitted he had been working as a nurse for IS, but claimed it was under duress; that he had gone to Syria to do humanitarian work, but was pressed into his work for the group. Brookman is being returned to Australia under police escort, where decisions will have to be made about whether he should be prosecuted or not.

His case has ramifications for the United States as well as many European countries, which, like Australia, are facing the reality that some of their citizens and resident aliens have chosen to fight alongside extremists in far-flung, violent places like Syria and Iraq. Some, like Australia and Britain, have enacted legislation to strip citizenship from IS supporters and other terrorists.

There are a number of intertwined questions to be answered, first among them whether Brookman's story is true, or whether it is akin to a "jailhouse conversion" that occurred after he realized he was in very hot water. But even if true, it is fair to ask whether he still maintains culpability for having recklessly put himself into that situation to begin with. And if the claim of duress is not true at all, is Brookman the modern equivalent of a Trojan Horse or, perhaps more aptly, a "Manchurian Candidate" pre-programmed to inflict violence and destruction?

Here in our country, legislation has once again been introduced to permit the government to deny or revoke passports used by citizens in aid of terrorism. It isn't the first attempt — prior Republican efforts were blocked by Democrats — but this legislation has passed the House, and with a Republican majority in the Senate now, may go through. Presuming the president signs it into law (no sure thing), the questions pertaining to Brookman's case will loom even larger if American citizens or resident aliens make similar claims.

The problem is that disproving a claim of duress is exceedingly difficult. Absent the extraordinarily unlikely event of having a source on the ground with direct knowledge of the facts, who is the government going to ask? The militants? A claim of duress becomes the perfect preemptive strike against possible adverse action. So what will our government do should a naturalized citizen or resident alien make such a claim? Leave him in possession of his status with no attempt to prosecute or denaturalize or deport, and cross its fingers hoping he isn't a jihadi-in-waiting or a shaheed with a bomb vest, needing only the order to walk into a crowd and detonate himself?

But we must not only worry about the return of the relative few who have taken the active step of leaving the United States to go to Syria or elsewhere abroad (including countries in North Africa, such as Tunisia, where IS supporters are increasingly restive and have committed acts of terror.; see here and here).

Our government is poised to accept a host of Syrians designated as refugees by United Nations organizations, about whom little is, or will be, known. Even if some number of them are women and children, we must be aware that when they are admitted to the United States as refugees, they are entitled to file "follow-to-join" petitions on behalf of their husbands, who can thus wait in the shadows without compromising the chance of their families' (and ultimately, their own) entries. Will the United States be admitting the Trojan Horse?