Burning Mercs

Congratulations to Simon Romero, journalist, for getting the scoop on the French Foreign Legion in today’s International Herald Tribune.

Every few years, there’s a news blurb on the Legion, detailing the motley crew of internationals who decide to see the world from under a kepi blanc, learn a…. errr…. trade, pick up some weapons and survival skills, and in some cases, a new identity.

The anonymat is one of the Legion’s cherished traditions, offering a fresh start and the possibility of French citizenship for those looking to make a break with past lives, ex-wives, or bad credit. Maybe someone forgot to tell Romero about this, or maybe he just didn’t give a rat’s ass.

An otherwise boring piece, the only scoop he managed was to identify “Stivan Baird”, pictured above, by his real name – which I’m not going to repeat here – and provide sufficient details of his past that citizenship and immigration officials will be able revoke his citizenship for serving under a foreign flag.

Apparently the one survival skill the Legion forgot to pass on was how to keep your mouth clamped in front of journalists who don’t quibble too much about ethics and protecting sources. Good luck trying to go home when your tour’s up, Legionnaire Baird.

5 comments

  1. Howard Gilbert

    In US law there are two expatriating acts: serving as an officer in a foreign army, or serving as an enlisted man in an army engaged in hostilities with the US. Unless France goes to war with the US, no American will lose his citizenship for serving in the Legion.

  2. Mike Innes

    I suspect the application of that law depends on the political pressure to enforce it, and these sorts of things have been in a constant tightening-up process since 2001. I think "officer" is probably also one of those categories that can be interpreted as the need arises – like when said political pressure – to mean commissioned, non-commissioned, or whatever.

  3. Howard Gilbert

    If Baird joined the Legion a year ago as the story says, then he will not be eligible to attain an NCO rank for two more years. He must be of enlisted rank, and therefore his membership in the Legion does not represent the basis for loss of citizenship. Thousands of German American and Italian American soldiers joined Axis armies during WWII before Pearl Harbor, yet the government took no legal action against them.In more recent cases, the Supreme Court has required that the expatriating act be done with intent. "Intent" has a special meaning in law and it use in this context has not been completely defined. The most prominent case of potential expatriation today is Jose Padilla. On July 24, 2000 he enlisted in the Afghan Army. He served in that army after it attacked the US and even volunteered for a mission inside the US that would kill thousands of Americans. He was captured attempting to enter the US while on that mission and disclosed everything about his military status, mission, and commanders during interrogation by the FBI and then by the military. His un-Mirandized statements could not be used in a criminal prosecution, but expatriation is civil in nature and so his statements are admissible should the US choose to litigate the issue. Currently he is in prison for crimes committed two to four years before he enlisted in the foreign army. Since he would have no place to go if stripped of his citizenship, there appears to be no political interest in raising the issue, but it remains an option if his citizenship became an issue in any other litigation.Political considerations can cause the government to not pursue a viable case, but Baird simply doesn’t meet the minimum requirements of the law and no amount of politics can cure that deficiency. Besides, if the government doesn’t pursue cases like Padilla or John Walker Lindh who served with an enemy army, it certainly won’t be concerned with some guy who likes cheese better than grits.

  4. Bobby Chesney

    I concur with Howard’s analysis. The State Department has a very handy webpage addressing this point (http://travel.state.gov/law/citizenship/citizenship_778.html), describing both the relevant statutory language and the Department’s policy with respect to its enforcement. Good news for Legionnaire Baird, if he is an American who wants to come back one day. From the Department’s webpage: "The Department has a uniform administrative standard of evidence based on the premise that U.S. citizens intend to retain United States citizenship when they … serve in the armed forces of a foreign state not engaged in hostilities with the United States…."

  5. Mike Innes

    Well, that’s me told, I suppose. The legionnaire in question’s citizenship entitlements notwithstanding, I suppose the remaining issue is his privacy, and how seriously the Legion takes its practice of anonymat (and exposures thereof…).

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