David Hicks’ British Citizenship: Now You See It, Now You Don’t
According this report out of Australia, in early July Guantanamo Bay detainee David Hicks was granted UK citizenship only to be stripped of the status the very next day. The British courts had confirmed Hicks’ claim to the British tie through his London-born mother. Hicks apparently hoped that British citizenship would lead to his release (as has been the case for all other Britains held at Gitmo). Alas, far from going to bat for him with the USG, after acceding to these rulings the British Home Secretary immediately revoked the status under a new measure giving him the power to strip dual nationals of their British citizenship where it “is conducive to the public good.” (Before an amendment earlier this year, citizenship could be revoked only for conduct “seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the United Kingdom or a British overseas territory.”)
I don’t know how sympathetic a character Hicks may be, but I’m a bit surprised the maneuver hasn’t attracted a little more attention, especially in the British press. The episode contrasts sharply to parallel developments in the US, where despite some talk no detainees or terrorism defendants have been stripped of citizenship (Yaser Hamdi presenting the starkest example of an accidental American). Hicks expatriation may also have international law implications. Under article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, states may not arbitrarily deprive individuals of nationality. The UK was no doubt on firm ground under existing practice, which still allows states wide discretion, in light of Hicks’ alternate Australian nationality and his tenuous connection to the UK. But one could easily imagine application of the Home Secretary’s power that would present a much closer case.