In early February, a leaked white paper from the Obama Justice Department caused a small stir, because it laid out an expansive set of circumstances under which the president could order a citizen killed abroad. In September 2011, the US killed Al Qaeda propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, both US citizens, and a few weeks later a US drone strike in Yemen also killed Awlaki's 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman.
Early claims from US officials were that Abdulrahman was over 21 and a fighter for Al Qaeda at the time of his death, though those were walked back after relatives in America provided a birth certificate that showed he was born in Denver in 1995. It's not clear if Abdulrahman was specifically targeted or merely collateral damage in a strike that killed an adult and another teenager.
Meanwhile, the UK is stripping people it alleges of having joined militant groups of their citizenship, some of whom have gone on to be killed in US strikes. Stripping people of their citizenship, strips people of whatever protection they theoretically had as citizens under UK law.
An investigation by The Independent newspaper out today says that since 2002, when a law allowing dual nationals to be stripped of their citizenship for doing something "seriously prejudicial" to the UK was passed, 21 people have had their citizenship taken away. That pace has dramatically increased under the current government, with The Independent reporting that 16 of that total have had their citizenship taken away by the order of Home Secretary Theresa May since 2010.
The paper quotes political opposition and human rights activists as being appalled at the practice. Liberal Democrat legislator Simon Hughes said he would call for a review of the practice and human rights lawyer Gareth Pierce said the government's actions "smacked of medieval exile, just as cruel and just as arbitrary.”
The paper recounts the cases of Bilal al-Berjawi and his friend Mohamed Sakr, who traveled from the UK to Somalia in 2009 and apparently joined up with Al-Shabaab, a militant group there with ties to Al Qaeda. The paper reports that the men were stripped of their citizenship in 2010. In June 2011, Mr. Berjawi was injured in a US drone strike, and was eventually killed along with Mr. Sakr by the US in 2012.
In January 2012, The Long War Journal cited a press release from Al-Shabaab describing Berjawi was a British national who had been killed in a drone strike on the 21st of that month. The website wrote:
Berjawi, who is also known as Abu Hafsa, "was second-in-command" to slain al Qaeda leader Fazul Mohammed, a US intelligence official who closely tracks al Qaeda in the Middle East and beyond told The Long War Journal. Fazul was the leader of al Qaeda in East Africa and a senior Shabaab commander. He was killed by Somali troops at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Mogadishu in June 2011.
The drone campaign, dramatically stepped up under President Obama, will continue to raise questions about whether the legal protections for even citizens are being skirted, with limited if any judicial oversight of "targeted killing" orders and what appears to be a very broad definition of who and what constitutes an "imminent threat."
Stripping alleged combatants of citizenship is a step that the US hasn't yet taken, and probably won't, given the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution's right of due process. But it's a strong, and unusual, step for any Western country to take.
There is form for it in some countries though. Saudi Arabia, for instance, stripped Osama bin Laden, who'd been a conduit for arms and money from the country to Mujahideen fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s and later to participants in Afghanistan's civil war, of his citizenship in 1994 after he had called for the fall of the monarchy.