Podcast: British Citizens Are Being Stripped Of Citizenship, Then Killed In US Drone Strikes
This week marks our 10th episode of Unauthorized Disclosure. To celebrate, Kevin Gosztola and I spoke with independent journalist Aviva Stahl about her killer piece at The Nation on how the UK is stripping dual citizens of their British citizenship in an arbitrary and secretive process called citizenship deprivation.
Some of those subjected to citizen deprivation, often while out of the country, have subsequently been killed in US drone strikes, while others have been kidnapped, tortured, renditioned and imprisoned by the United States, suggesting a degree of collusion between the US and UK in what amounts to a clearly racist policy. As Aviva points out, citizen deprivation “creates a two-tiered racialized system of citizenship…because only dual citizens can be deprived, either someone who is naturalized or someone who has foreign-born parents.” “It basically means that white so-called indigenous citizens kind of maintain all of their citizenship protections but people of color don’t,” she explained.
In the discussion portion, Kevin and I talk about how former RT anchor Liz Wahl’s on-air resignation was stage managed and continues to be exploited by a cadre of neoconservatives who want to reignite the Cold War. You can read more about these Cold War hawks in a piece I co-authored with journalist Max Blumenthal at Truthdig.
Keep in mind that these are the same people who crafted and pushed for the illegal Iraq war. These are the same people pushing for war with Iran. These are the same people who wanted to bomb Syria. And now, these same people are using Russia’s inexcusable belligerence in Ukraine to push for more US military involvement in Eastern Europe.
To understand why neoconservatives are so toxic, look no further than Iraq, which just marked the 11 year anniversary of the US invasion, a crime against humanity that transformed Iraq into the blood-stained hellhole that it is today.
Below is the transcript of our interview with Aviva:
RANIA KHALEK, Dispatches from the Underclass: You recently wrote this amazing incredible piece for The Nation called, “How a British Citizen Was Stripped of His Citizenship and Sent to a Manhattan Prison.” And we’ll link to that when we post the episode.
I don’t think many people are aware this is happening. I certainly was not. So for those who aren’t familiar with this particular topic, can you give a brief overview of what the UK is doing and maybe how this connects to the Obama administration’s extradition and assassination program?
AVIVA STAHL, The Nation: I’ll start to talk about citizenship deprivation in and of itself, since it’s a pretty worrying and new trend in the UK. So citizenship deprivation as it sounds empowers the British government to take away citizenship. Right now, dual citizens can be deprived of their citizenship. It’s really only been used recently since the coalition government came into power in 2010.
I think there are two aspects, just to talk briefly about the process itself that I think are particularly worrying. So, the first is the secret and arbitrary nature of the process.
In order to be deprived of your citizenship, all that needs to happen initially is for the Home Secretary to sign a sheet saying that it’s conducive to the public good for you to be deprived of your citizenship. There’s no judicial scrutiny, like before the fact. And the process for challenging these orders is really difficult.
The process for challenging them happens in these courts that are called [Special Immigration Appeals Commission] courts. It means that evidence that’s held against you can be kept from both the person who’s being deprived of their citizenship and their lawyer. So, say they had some evidence against you that they alleged proved you were involved in Islamic extremism, the evidence could be kept from both you and your lawyer, which is pretty shocking I think.
The other aspect of citizenship deprivation that I think is pretty worrying is the way it creates a two-tiered racialized system of citizenship. So, right now, because only dual citizens can be deprived, either someone who is naturalized or someone who has foreign-born parents—say their parents are Pakistani or whatever—they automatically qualify for citizenship. It basically means that white so-called indigenous citizens kind of maintain all of their citizenship protections but people of color don’t.
KHALEK: That’s a really, really good point that you also do make in the piece. People are being deprived of their citizenship. They’re not necessarily being told about it, and oftentimes they’re out of the country was the impression I got from your piece.
This is where you might be able to talk about the US connection—or the possible US connection. After people have been deprived of their citizenship through this arbitrary secretive process, some people have gone missing. In a couple cases, they’ve showed up in a US.
Can you talk a little bit about that and even go into the case of one of the people in a Manhattan prison?
STAHL: There have been two separate things happening related to US foreign policy, which is that some people—Two people have been deprived of their citizenship and then later killed in US drone strikes. And then one individual that we know of was deprived of his citizenship and then just a few weeks later was kidnapped by Djibouti forces, held for months and interrogated by the CIA and the FBI, and then flown secretly to the US, indicted, held for weeks under a false name in MCC—Metropolitan Correctional Center, which is in Manhattan—and then only later in December 2012 was the indictment finally unsealed.
Essentially, hat means for a period of months his family in the UK literally had no idea where he was and it was only when they heard about this indictment through the US press that they actually learned where he was being held and that he had this whole process of rendition happen to him. So, I think kind of at least for me as someone who is really interested in the connections between domestic prison policy and foreign policy, it seems to me that the Obama government is using citizenship deprivation to obscure these processes of rendition.
The Obama administration has not come under the same kind of flak because the individual who was kidnapped wasn’t British or at least wasn’t British at the time.
KHALEK: Right, and being a British citizen gives you more privileges, I suppose, right? Than being a citizens of Somalia or whatever second dual citizenship somebody has while being British?
If somebody’s British, what does that mean somebody’s British and is killed in a drone strike? Would the US government be held possibly accountable if that’s the case?
STAHL: I think there’s two kinds of ways to think about it. The first is that Americans seem to be much more interested in talking about what it means for Obama to be willing to kill a US citizen in a drone strike than an unnamed individual.
So, even one of these individuals was killed in a drone strike was reported to be an Egyptian militant. His name was Mohamed Sakr. He was actually born and raised in England. He’d never lived anywhere else and he always considered himself a British citizen. But after he was killed in a drone strike, he was reported as an Egyptian militant.
In some ways, it erases—The angle of the story that might make white Americans or Americans think of it more generally as a civil liberties issue is just the way normal consular protections that British citizens have a right to, they lose them.
When Mahdi Hashi first disappeared after when he was living in Somalia and then he traveled to Djibouti—this is the person currently being held in Manhattan. After he disappeared and his family learned that he’d been deprived of his citizenship, they called the British consulate to tell them he disappeared and they couldn’t find him. And the British consulate replied very simply that he’s no longer a British national so we can’t provide you any assistance. So I think that shows really clearly the ways essentially the British government wipes their hands clean of the individuals and the American government is free to do with the individual as they wish.
KEVIN GOSZTOLA, Firedoglake: I guess, Aviva, the thing I’m interested, too, about the US and UK relationship—and I think you notice a little bit in your story—is the secrecy that is around this. And I know that in trying to get some truth about the role of the US in renditions and torture in the past, the UK has been very protective on behalf of the United States. I am wondering what you might have to highlight in this relationship and how you see the process of stripping citizenship being driven by the United States and how there is this real commitment in keeping it entirely secret in service to the United States.
STAHL: I think the thing to note is there’s definitely factors beyond US foreign policy that are driving it. It seems like the majority of people who are facing citizenship deprivation are people who are allegedly British young men who are allegedly going to fight in Syria. So, that’s really spiked the increased use of deprivation, but certainly at least it seems there’s some aspect of US interest involved.
And I think the easiest way to talk about the secrecy issue is, for example, the issue of GCHQ sharing location data.
So there was a lawsuit in UK I think two years ago where Reprieve, a human rights organization, alleged that the UK government was sharing locational data with the US that facilitated its drone strikes. And the courts refused to hear it because they essentially would have to rule on whether the drone strikes themselves constituted a war crime before they could rule on whether the UK had passed on this crucial location data, and they felt that was so kind of prejudicial to the national interest that they were unwilling to even hear the case, which I think shows how little the British judicial system actually cares about the rule of law as opposed to protecting US national interests.
There is some evidence, significant evidence, that in cases of these two guys that were killed in drone strikes that there may have been location data even shared in that instance.
So, this is just one thing that I found really scary was the other—So the two men who were killed in the drone strikes are Mohamed Sakr and the second is Bilal al-Berjawi. The story is the day that he died he actually found out that his wife in the UK had a baby. So, he called her British hospital room and hours later he was killed in a US drone strike. I think that little story shows the thinking, the possibility of what kind of complicity that might be going.
GOSZTOLA: What about this issue of statelessness? Not to stray too far from this key human rights issue. I’d like you to just address the vulnerability to these individuals because not all of these individuals who have their citizenship stripped are immediately being subject to rendition or sent to a prison. Some of them do end up floating in this ether.
STAHL: Right now, technically, people aren’t supposed to be able to be stripped of their citizenship unless they’re dual nationals. But at the moment in the UK right now there’s an immigration bill in the House of Commons and the House of Lords. And there was actually an amendment introduced at the very last minute by the Home Secretary Theresa May that would enable the British government to remove citizenship even if it would make them stateless, which really flies in the face of international law period.
In international law, people really only have rights if they’re protected by a state. So, if individuals are made stateless, they have no government to advocate for their rights or their protections. It’s a pretty dark turn in British history to imagine that people could be made stateless purely on kind of alleged grounds, especially given the way that citizenship relations happen, given the fact that it’s a civil claim. There are many ways that the whole process shows…
KHALEK: It’s incredible because the UK is condemning torture, condemning rendition, condemning all these things and the fact is it seems like they’re pretty vital to this effort that they’re constantly washing their hands of and saying that they’re better than.
Meanwhile, when I think about Guantanamo and Shaker Aamer, Mahdi Hashi seems so similar, sort of like in that legal limbo. It kind of makes me think—This is a different note from the citizenship deprivation thing but it just makes me think about the fact that there are little mini Guantanamos inside of the United States when it comes to the war on terror and in prison. It’s everywhere. It’s not just in this one little place.
STAHL: Definitely. For people who aren’t aware of the conditions at MCC, I mean the conditions that Mahdi Hashi and others have been held in, they’re really pretty extreme so there have been people held up to three years in pretrial solitary confinement at MCC. I think it’s kind of bizarre to think about the ways of being on federal soil obscures the kind of torture happens, whether at ADX in Colorado or whether in downtown Manhattan.
People like [inaudible] and Mahdi Hashi are kept in 23 hour per day solitary confinement. They can only exercise in indoor cell for a few hours a week. They only see sunlight or breathe fresh air when they’re brought to the courtroom. They’re permitted on fifteen phone call per month to their family and a lot of individuals held under suspicion of terrorism are constrained by special administrative measures or SAMs, which essentially constrain any lingering communication they have with the outside world and also put really stringent restrictions on their lawyers and their families—even being able to relay parts of the conversation they have. And, actually really quite similar ways to how many of the Guantanamo lawyers are not able, like Shaker Aamer’s lawyers unable to tell anything about his life or their conversations.
I think there are a lot of parallels definitely to think about, and I think it is important for us to try to think about the way that Guantanamo is really modeled on the prison system here and the way that Guantanamo isn’t some aberration particularly in the context of the US prison system.
KHALEK: Kevin, is there anything else you want to ask?
GOSZTOLA: No, I thank you, Aviva, for covering this story. It’s critically important, and I am glad that you were able to share some of your reporting with us.
STAHL: Thank you so much for having me.
KHALEK: We’ll definitely keep an eye on your upcoming reports.