Thousands of people from around the world will raise their right hands, swear allegiance to the United States, and become proud American citizens this weekend. They will become Americans because they choose to do so, they love what we stand for, and they are willing to renounce any loyalties to all other foreign governments in order to become one of us.
And then there are "Americans" such as Yaser Esam Hamdi. These are "Americans" by accident. "Americans" on paper. "Americans" who invoke their citizenship privileges only when it comes time to save their hides or cash in on government benefits.
Hamdi was born in East Baton Rouge, La., on Sept. 26, 1980. His
parents were both citizens of Saudi Arabia. Hamdi's father was here on a temporary work assignment as a chemical engineer for the Saudi Arabia Basic Industries Corp., a Saudi government-controlled industrial giant. When Hamdi was 3, his family went back to Saudi Arabia.
For the next two decades, Hamdi was raised in the Saudi kingdom. He spoke their language, not ours. He went to their schools, not ours. He embraced their culture, their religion, and their way of life. Not ours.
In late fall of 2001, Hamdi was captured in Afghanistan by our boys. He was armed with a Kalashnikov rifle, fighting as part of a Taliban or al Qaeda unit, which surrendered to Northern Alliance forces. Our government declared him and hundreds of his comrades "enemy combatants" and sent them to Guantanamo Bay for interrogation and detention.
The feds soon discovered that Hamdi had been born in the U.S.A. Press reports and civil-liberties activists last spring decried the cruel fate of this "Yankee Taliban." Yankee? If Hamdi's a Yankee, I'm a Mayflower descendant. The captured warrior was transferred to a naval brig in Norfolk, Va., and lawyers quickly claimed Hamdi's right to counsel as an "American." His Saudi parents indignantly demanded that their "American" son be freed.
Hamdi got his hearing. In January, the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously in Hamdi's case that American citizens captured on foreign soil can be detained indefinitely as enemy combatants without the usual constitutional protections afforded to citizen-defendants: "For the judicial branch to trespass upon the exercise of the warmaking powers would be an infringement of the right to self-determination and self-governance at a time when the care of the common defense is most critical."