On Tuesday, without much notice, and after a whopping 15-minute debate, the U.S. House of Representatives passed via voice vote the Foreign Terrorist Organization Passport Revocation Act of 2015. Its intent: "To authorize the revocation or denial of passports and passport cards to individuals affiliated with foreign terrorist organizations, and for other purposes." Some of the bill's sparse details:
the Secretary of State may refuse to issue a passport [or revoke a previously issued one] to any individual whom the Secretary has determined has aided, assisted, abetted, or otherwise helped an organization the Secretary has designated as a foreign terrorist organization
How does today's John Kerry or tomorrow's John Bolton make such a determination? The bill doesn't say. Can we at least define "helped," given how such mushy and expansive language in the Patriot Act led to some unjust outcomes? No, we cannot. Can the so-determined terrorist-helpers appeal? Not a word about that. This is a 2001-style removal of due process in the face of a terrorism panic. Here's Yahoo! News:
US law currently allows passports to be revoked for national security or foreign policy reasons, but Americans whose passports are revoked can appeal through administrative channels. Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has argued – like other conservatives before him – that a more explicit measure is necessary.
Those "other conservatives" notably include presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who last year introduced the similar Expatriate Terrorist Act, which goes as far as actually stripping the nationality of Americans who are deemed to have given "material assistance" to organizations designated as terrorist. As Steve Chapman explained last year, this gifting of power to the Executive Branch at the expense of individual liberty is a "really bad idea."
The House bill's author, Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), sold the idea back in January with a blast of full metal hysteria:
Recent deadly terrorist attacks in France, Australia and Canada have reminded us that radical Islamic terrorists are ready and eager to take their murderous rampage worldwide. The threat to America from these groups has never been greater. Unfortunately, some of our citizens have travelled to the terrorist hotbeds in Syria and beyond to help extremist groups accomplish that goal. The Benedict Arnold traitors who have turned against America and joined the ranks of foreign radical terrorist armies should lose all rights afforded to our citizens. This bill will help law enforcement locate these individuals by preventing them from travelling internationally so that they can be captured and brought to justice. Most importantly, this legislation will prevent turned Americans from entering the United States undetected. These people are not returning to America to open coffee shops; they are coming back to kill. We must stop them from coming back at all.
Once again, conservatives are demonstrating that their skepticism of government infallibility can disappear overnight in the face of a real or imagined threat. The arbirtrary, inevitably politicized Executive Branch definition of the term "foreign terrorist organization" alone should be enough to give any backer the willies; preferably, members of the U.S. Senate will see this bill as the unnecessary, rights-shredding menace that it is.
UPDATE: Freedom fighter Norm Singleton alerts me to the gobsmacking fact that the latest iteration of the godawful transportation bill includes a provision to cover the perpetual Highway Trust Fund shortfall by allowing the IRS to revoke your passport if you owe more than $50,000 in unpaid taxes. Better travel while you still can, Al Sharpton!