Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Was George Washington a terrorist?

with 7 comments

Answer, using today’s law and definitions, is “yes” (and textbooks should reflect that, right?). Here’s the story:

“Was George Washington a terrorist?” asked Bill Frelick, Human Rights Watch’s refugee policy director, only semi-facetiously.

What sparked his question was the exceedingly broad definition of terrorist activity employed in U.S. immigration law. That definition, as expanded in the USA PATRIOT Act and REAL ID Act, applies to “any activity which is unlawful under the laws of the place where it is committed,” when that activity involves the use of a weapon or “dangerous device” with the intent “to endanger, directly or indirectly, the safety of one or more individuals or to cause substantial damage to property.” The actions of a present-day George Washington would most certainly be covered.

A concrete reason why this broad definition is worrying is that under current U.S. law, people who have engaged in terrorist activities, or who have provided support for terrorist activities—in many cases, even involuntary support—are presumptively barred from resettlement in the United States as refugees. Among the thousands of people negatively affected by this rule in recent years have been Colombians who paid small bribes under duress to paramilitary groups, Burmese who were forcibly conscripted into rebel armies, and Cubans who supported “counter-revolutionary” groups funded by the US government.

The patent unfairness of this broad ban has garnered congressional attention and, as of last year, the problem was supposed to have been remedied. In December, Congress passed legislation that broadened executive authority to grant waivers to deserving refugees who would otherwise be barred under the law’s overly broad “terrorism”-related bans.

Yet the reform does not seem to have worked. In recent months it has become clear that, despite the changes in the terms of the law, the Department of Homeland Security is continuing to bar refugees who should benefit from the expanded waiver authority. These people have fled their countries to escape persecution, and they’re being told that they’re terrorists. What is going on?

Democrats and Mujahideen

Since the December amendments to the immigration laws, a number of refugees have received letters from the Department of Homeland Security informing them that they are being denied permanent residence in the United States because of facts that they stated on their applications for refugee status.

Among those who have received such letters are:

. Iraqi refugees who took part in failed efforts to overthrow Saddam Hussein in the 1990s;

. Afghans who supported the mujahideen groups that fought the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, including groups that the United States funded;

. Sudanese who belonged to the Democratic Unionist Party, a democratic party opposed to the current Sudanese government and a partner in U.S. negotiations in the region.

In rejecting these people’s applications for permanent residence, DHS is relying on facts that, in many cases, were fully disclosed in their initial refugee applications. Circumstances that, in other words, were deemed acceptable under what were supposed to be tougher rules are now being relied upon to bar people from staying in the United States. In some instances, moreover, the department appears to be characterizing First-Amendment-protected speech as support of terrorism.

Politicians and Bureaucrats

Although the omnibus appropriations bill that was passed by Congress last December was lauded as an important immigration law reform, the officials at the Department of Homeland Security charged with implementing the new rules don’t seem to have gotten the message. Before too many deserving refugees are barred from the United States as terrorists, there needs to be clear and authoritative guidance from on high.

Senior DHS officials need to review the rules being applied in these cases to ensure that the Department of Homeland Security is actually implementing the statutory waiver authority that it has been granted. Congress has spoken and the law has changed: “Terrorism”-related immigration bans should not be applied to refugees who do not pose any threat to the United States.

In the longer term, of course, the law’s definition of terrorism should be narrowed to reflect a more meaningful, common-sense understanding of the term. While expanding DHS’s waiver authority was a step forward, it is still absurd that a present-day George Washington would require a waiver to settle in the United States.

Joanne Mariner, who wrote this article, is a human rights attorney. Her previous columns on the detainee cases and the “war on terrorism” are available in FindLaw’s archive.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2008 at 11:27 am

7 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. How can anyone relate George Washington to present day terrorists?

    Privateers could be considered present day terrorists even though they were funded by governments. Later, some of them were brought to justice as pirates. I’m sure if the Brits would’ve won the war, George W. would’ve been brought up on charges BY THEM. Just like if Sam Houston would’ve lost to Santa Anna, he would’ve been hung or shot on the spot.

    I’m sure the British Empire thought George Washington was a terrorist, or whatever they called the enemy in that day.

    James

    31 March 2008 at 12:39 pm

  2. George Washington would be a terrorist under the current definition, as pointed out in the article:

    [The] definition of terrorist activity employed in U.S. immigration law. That definition, as expanded in the USA PATRIOT Act and REAL ID Act, applies to “any activity which is unlawful under the laws of the place where it is committed,” when that activity involves the use of a weapon or “dangerous device” with the intent “to endanger, directly or indirectly, the safety of one or more individuals or to cause substantial damage to property.

    Read that and keep in mind the laws at the time of the American Revolution.

    LeisureGuy

    31 March 2008 at 12:51 pm

  3. Yea, I agree he’d be considered a terrorist if he was trying to over throw the US government and anyone else that tries is a terrorist. Fortunately, Washington was on our side. He was a terrorist and was treated as such by the enemy.

    James

    1 April 2008 at 6:27 am

  4. How about the Confederates? Just curious on your take there. They were certainly fighting against the US government, doing things unlawful, etc…

    BTW, the definition doesn’t speak to overthrowing the US government. If you read carefully, it states that any activity that’s unlawful under the laws of the place where it’s committed (i.e., whatever country, not just the US) using weapons with the intent to endanger people or damage property. So Washington, in breaking British law in the British colonies, etc., was a terrorist under the definition. So, for that matter, would be armed criminals in the US—it’s a VERY broad definition. And it makes me wonder whether the CIA kidnappings wouldn’t also qualify—Italy certainly believes that the CIA violated their (Italy’s) laws in the CIA renditions that took place there.

    LeisureGuy

    1 April 2008 at 7:29 am

  5. I guess it was just the George Washington thing that kind of irked me but today something happened locally. A guy, for whatever reason, pulled a knife on Quannel X and was charged with making a terrorist threat.

    http://abclocal.go.com/ktrk/story?section=news/local&id=6052841

    That seems like a strange charge… It used to be called something else.

    James

    1 April 2008 at 2:21 pm

  6. Yep. It’s a bad definition, way too broad. But it does give the government the rights that Bush claims he has for those suspected of terrorism: to imprison them indefinitely with no trial, keep them incommunicado, away from any legal counsel or representation, refuse habeas corpus, torture them to a fare-thee-well, and then send them away to a military tribunal and perhaps execute them. So be careful. Once you’re a suspect, the game’s over.

    LeisureGuy

    1 April 2008 at 3:27 pm

  7. Our country was founded by terrorist, failed businessmen, and pirates.

    Corey

    5 April 2008 at 10:14 pm


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,193 other followers