I noticed Joe Lieberman’s comments yesterday about the Times Square bombing attempt, claiming that we should devise a system to take away citizenship rights if they are found to “become involved with foreign terrorists.” I noted it at the time but didn’t think much of it, because it sounded like the most McCarthyite deprivation of civil liberties in our nation’s history, and surely we wouldn’t go to such extremes.

But Greg Sargent, in his new perch on the Washington Post’s site, advises me that, no, this is really happening:

Two things you should know about this: First, it isn’t just some paranoid liberal nightmare. It’s actually moving forward. Lieberman is going to hold a presser tomorrow to introduce the bill, I’m told, along with Rep. Jason Altmire of Pennsylvania. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has already signaled he could support this.

Second, Lieberman’s office has clarified to me how the law would work: It would empower the State Department to conclude — on its own — that Americans are conspiring with terror groups and should be stripped of their citizenship.

Lieberman’s law would amend an earlier statute that details other things that can cost you citizenship: Serving in the army of a foreign state, pledging allegiance to a foreign state, and so on. In those cases the State Department decides whether your disloyalty merits loss of citizen status. Lieberman’s law would add involvement with a foreign terror organization — as opposed to a foreign state — to this list.

Thankfully, Chuck Schumer has clarified his stance and come out against this horror show, saying that he viewed it as unconstitutional. But you wouldn’t really need Schumer to pass this – just a selection of weak-kneed “centrists” so frightened by the prospects of scary super-villain that they throw out liberty and empower executive agencies to take away individual rights.

Lieberman’s proposal would allow citizens to contest their revocation in court, and I’m sure that’ll go as well as all the due process for Guantanamo detainees. The State Department would get to decide who is working with a “terrorist group,” and I’m sure they will use that power judiciously. Sarah Palin’s Secretary of State would definitely be committed to upholding the highest standards.

This is really terrifying. So as an antidote, I will point you to this excellent piece from the Christian Science Monitor:

Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistani-born US citizen arrested and charged with the attempted attack, appears to have had little real training in explosives technique, according to US officials. And the Times Square bungle was preceded by the Christmas Day incident in which a Muslim Nigerian man on a Northwest Airlines flight tried, and failed, to ignite plastic explosives sewn into his underwear.

Are these twin flops evidence of systemic ineptitude? Perhaps. But it is at least as likely that they show Al Qaeda and its allies have moved towards a new, more decentralized, method of targeting the US and other Western nations [...]

“Terrorism is a tool of the less-powerful, and they use what they have at hand,” says Gary LaFree, a professor of criminology and director of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland in College Park.

The deadly successes of the 9/11 attacks perhaps have made Islamist terrorists appear more competent than they are, in general. Mr. LaFree counts some 50 or 60 thwarted attacks linked to Al Qaeda or its allies since 2001.

“Terrorists use readily available, low-tech weapons, and they often screw up,” says LaFree.

So certainly, we should overreact by setting up a clumsy way to revoke American citizenship.