Last week, the House Oversight Committee held a hearing on the terrorism and visa waiver programs. Department of Homeland Security’s Deputy Assistant Secretary Kelli Ann Burriesci was asked to testify. Her testimony can be found here. Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) ripped into her for giving scarce–and I’m being generous with that term–details on what process is offered to American citizens before they’re added on the terrorism watch list for mere suspicion, not conviction, of being terrorists.
“What process is afforded a U.S. citizen, not someone who has overstayed a visa, not someone who crossed the border without permission, but an American citizen; what process is currently afforded an American citizen before they go on that list,” asked Gowdy.
“I’m sorry, um, there’s not a process afforded the citizen prior to getting on the list; there is a process should someone feel they are unduly placed on the list,” responded Burriesci after a few seconds of silence.
“Yes, there is,” interjected Gowdy.
“When I say process, I’m actually using half of the term due process, which is a phrase we find in the Constitution–that we cannot deprive people of certain things without due process. So I understand Mr. Gude’s* idea, which is wait until your right has taken from you, and then you petition the government to get it back; I understand that’s his idea. My question is can you name another constitutional right that we have that is chilled, until you find out it’s chilled–and then you have to petition the government to get it back. Is that true with the First Amendment?
Gowdy was obviously striking at President Obama’s half-baked proposal to ban people on these lists from buying firearms. Burriesci tried again to reference the criteria of the lists, which was cut off by Gowdy who said that wasn’t his question.
“That is not my question. My question is what process is afforded a U.S. citizen before that person’s constitutional right is infringed?” he said.
He then gave hypotheticals about blocking people on the terrorism watch list from setting up a website, a Google account, or preventing them from entering houses of worship until they petition the government to get their rights back. Gowdy then listed the Sixth and Eighth Amendments, which protect Americans from cruel and unusual punishment and the right to a counsel for a speedy trial.
Burriesci couldn’t name another constitutional right that would be stripped in the same manner as our Second Amendment rights.
Needless to say, this was messy, but it’s an issue that’s been debated for years.
The lack of due process concerning the terrorism watch list is well known. Civil liberties organizations have been suing the government over this issue within this Bush-era anti terror program, along with noting the lack of transparency and secretive nature of these lists that strip Americans of their Fifth Amendment rights. Remember, nearly 300,000 people on these lists have zero ties to terrorism, the vast majority don’t even live in the U.S. (that prevent them from buying firearms here outright), and the people are placed on the list based on mere suspicion. There are no more than 10,000 Americans on these lists; no one has ever been convicted.
Any American can be added to the list, and there’s no guide as to how one can readdress this issue. Name mismatches occur all the time; even 18-month old babies find their names of the terror watch lists.
Steps are being made in bringing more sunlight into this rather despicable anti-terror program. The government will now actually tell you if you’re on the list, whereas before they wouldn’t tell you, nor would they give you a process in how to remedy the situation. That’s unconstitutional–and the appeals process for those on the no-fly list still lack procedures that the ACLU finds adequate. Yes, the ACLU is actually right on this issue. Unless a major overhaul is conducted, they feel no freedoms should be restricted. The LA Times agreed as well.
At the same time,the debate over terror watch lists have flipped. Democrats warned that this program could run amok; Republicans ignored them. Now, Democrats want to set the Fifth Amendment on fire to destroy the Second, while Republicans finally see a reason to limit on how terror watch lists are used to ensure public safety. Both parties are to blame for hypocrisy. Yet, I think most agree that having your rights stripped based on suspicion is beyond atrocious. For nearly 10,000 Americans, this administration pretty much is looking for a way to institute a soft gun ban for you. In a liberal’s eye, keeping firearms from 10,000 people, who we’ll assume are law-abiding, and reducing access to guns makes perfect sense, even if they haven’t been convicted.
You’d have to be on cocaine to actually think this is a good Obama policy.
This post has been updated.
*Gude is a reference to Ken Gude, a senior fellow at the left-wing Center for American Progress, who was also asked to appear before the committee.