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Too many dare call it treason

One of the battle cries of the far right is "treason!" The folks on the fringe tend to see their position as "pro-American," and as a consequence some of the simpler-minded of them tend to equate anyone who opposes them as opposing America. The logical extension of that rather simplistic misguided confluence is that for an American to oppose America is committing treason.

I don't like that for a variety of reasons.

For one, the United States Constitution spells out very specific requirements for the crime of treason. Here is Article III, Section 3 in its entirety:

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.

The Congress shall have Power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted.

That is a very high standard, and a difficult one to meet. To toss around accusations of "treason" without being able to meet that high standard is careless at the least -- and, to use the high rhetoric of its most frequent abusers, against the Constitution and therefore un-American and almost treasonous.

But in the last few weeks, three Americans, in totally unrelated cases, have each been in the news and in each case the term "treason" has been tossed around. (I have been one of the term-tossers, I must confess.) So I thought it might be worthwhile to look at each of the three of them and hold them up to that standard.

First is radical lawyer (well, now ex-lawyer, as she is a convicted felon) Lynne Stewart. Stewart represented Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, who had been convicted of plotting to blow up several New York landmarks, including bridges and tunnels. As he was a leader of a radical Muslim terrorist group (there's gotta be some redundancy in THAT phrase), the government imposed severe restrictions on his ability to communicate with the outside world. Stewart knowingly and willingly facilitated his circumvention of those restrictions, not only directly relaying his words to his followers, but bringing in a "translator" who directly spoke with Abdel-Rahman and discussed terrorist plans while Jennings feigned to be discussing legal matters.

Abdel-Rahman is a convicted terrorist who was working on plans to kill several thousand Americans and cripple our transportation system in and around New York City. A comparison between his plan and the 9/11 attacks is a fair one, so I think we can clearly establish him as an "enemy" of the United States. Stewart clearly provided aid to him, in contravention of the law, so I think "treason" would have been a fair charge.

The fact that she was sentenced to a mere 28 months -- with the judge praising her for her years dedicated to defending accused radicals and domestic terrorists like black nationalists and the Weather Underground -- is a slap in the face to the notion of justice. Stewart was an attorney -- an officer of the court -- and should be held to a far higher standard of conduct, as she should know better than most the letter of the law and the significance of obeying it.

The second person is Adam Gadahn, now going by "Azzam the American." Gadahn hails from California, but in the 1990's converted to Islam and traveled to Pakistan, where married an Afghan refugee. Since then, he has formally joined Al Qaeda and been the star of several of their videos.

Gadahn is a member of an organization that has not only repeatedly declared war against the United States, but has committed numerous acts of war against us. He has taken part in numerous official actions of theirs, yet has not formally renounced his American citizenship. (His appellation "Azzam the Americcan" is indicative that he still considers himself an American.) This is a clear-cut example of treason as spelled out by the Constitution, and his recent indictment for that very crime is appropriate.

Finally, Sandy "The Pants Burglar" Berger. Berger, for those of you who'd like a refresher, was President Bill Clinton's National Security Advisor during his entire second term. Since Berger had held that office right up until less than eight monhs prior to the 9/11 attacks in 2001, he was called to testify before the 9/11 Commission.

While preparing for his testimony, Berger (who still enjoyed high security clearance) was permitted to review many classified documents from his tenure in office at the National Archives -- as did many others who wanted to refresh their memories. But during his many visits there, Berger stole several key documents -- "accidentally" carrying them out in his briefcase and pockets -- and later destroyed them. He was convicted of "mishandling classified documents" and let off with a slap on the wrist -- a $50,000 fine and loss of his security clearance.

What Berger did was extremely serious. I, personally, believe that stealing and destroying classified documents relating to terrorism in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks could easily fall into the classification of espionage, and a charge of that would have been appropriate.

But does it fall into the category of treason? I think not. There was no direct benefit to our enemies in Berger's actions, and the motivation was not to help them, but instead -- at worst -- Berger wanted to cover his own ass and that of his political patrons. As with Lynne Stewart, he should be held to a higher standard. Berger was a career bureaucrat and statesman, and had spent eight years as Deputy National Security Advisor and National Security Advisor. The proper handling of classified materials should have been second nature to him, as instinctive as breathing, and he failed -- miserably -- to do so.

But it was not treason.

For decades, people on both extremes -- but mainly the Right -- have tossed around the term "treason." The John Birch Society made its biggest splash with its book about the Communist threat, "None Dare Call It Treason." The phrase was coined by the 15th century British poet and aristocrat Sir John Harington (who also invented the modern flush toilet) in this couplet:

"Treason doth never prosper: what's the reason?
For if it prosper, none dare call it treason."

Treason is an important concept. It must be respected and preserved and reserved only for the proper occasions, like Stewart and Gadahn. To toss it around casually is to dilute it, to weaken it, and make it unusable for those times when it is truly called for.


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Comments (14)

Sandy "The Pants Burglar" B... (Below threshold)

Sandy "The Pants Burglar" Berger did not loose the clearance permanently, only for 5 years which happens to conveinently expire in 2008.
Just imagine what would have happened to someone who wasn't a part of the priveledged class.

What Berger did wa... (Below threshold)
Sabba Hillel:
What Berger did was extremely serious. I, personally, believe that stealing and destroying classified documents relating to terrorism in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks could easily fall into the classification of espionage, and a charge of that would have been appropriate.

I think that technically, espionage would not be appropriate as he stole the documents in order to destroy them and prevent them from being used as evidence that his master had committed crimes or acted against the best interests of this country (in violation of his oath of office). However, since he did not turn the documents over to the agents of a foreign power, it would may not be considered "espionage" in the sense of being able to be charged with that crime. The definition given by wikipedia may mean that if he had turned the documents over to a third party (even if that third party was a private part), he might have been charged with espionage.


Espionage is the practice of obtaining information about an organization or a society that is considered secret or confidential (spying) without the permission of the holder of the information. What differentiates espionage from other forms of intelligence work is that espionage involves obtaining the information by accessing the place where the information is stored or accessing the people who know the information and will divulge it through some kind of subterfuge.

Espionage is usually thought of as part of an institutional effort (i.e., governmental or corporate espionage). The term espionage is most readily associated with state spying on potential or actual enemies, primarily for military purposes, but this has been extended to spying involving corporations, known specifically as industrial espionage. Many nations routinely spy on both their enemies and allies, although they maintain a policy of not making comment on this. Black's Law Dictionary (1990) defines espionage as: "...gathering, transmitting, or losing...information related to the national defense."

"Just imagine what would ha... (Below threshold)

"Just imagine what would have happened to someone who wasn't a part of the priveledged class."

I spent 25 years in the US Air Force and in that time saw two people prosecuted for mishandling classified materials. In one case, a young lieutenant inadvertently went home with some classified information in his briefcase. The material consisted of notes he was taking in preparation of a classified certification. The material was then placed in a wastebasket at his home. Subsequent investigations brought this information to light and he was tried, convicted, and sentence to two years in Leavenworth.

First of all, I know this young man and what he did was an honest mistake. The "classified notes" he threw in the wastebasket was innocently done while cleaning out his briefcase and he admitted to it freely. None of the material was above the level of "Secret". And none of the material destroyed was original documents.

Sandy Berger should not be tried for treason. But let him be given a sentence commensurate with his crime. This was not some stupid lieutenant kind of thing. This was a premeditated act of a man stealing classified information. Let him spend some hard time in Leavenworth - that's fair.

I think that many of the th... (Below threshold)

I think that many of the things the democrats are doing are undermining our war effort, and from there it isn't a far leap to call them treasonous.

I think you are doing a great service by getting the direct definition as stated in the constitution out there so that it won't be thrown around loosely, and when we do come across someone that has committed treason (Lynne Stewart) we cannot charge her with treason because it has become one of those words that have just been thrown around too much. (in this case it was a Clinton appointed judge...)

I think that the fact is that democrats do actively seek to undermine our president, and ultimately the war effort. I would assume the intentions of the democrats span the spectrum from just playing politics and trying to get back into power, as well as the guilt of america as a super power.

Look at the Foreign wiretapping program. There may be some liberals that think we are truly violating peoples rights here, but i think the vast majority just jump at the chance to make Bush look bad while in the process removing a critical tool that the country and intelligence agencies need to keep us safe. I can say this with confidence because the same people never had an issue with Clinton wire tapped, and dont' seem to have an issue when Jeanine Pirro, a republican, is wiretapped, only when the person being wiretapped is named Mohammed or Abdul or a democrat.

The simple fact also is that Al Qaida seems to want to effect our elections. I think this is more a referrendum on the behaviors of democrats than their actual intentions. Obviously their behaviors are a bit more friendly to terrorists. Harry Reid and "stopping" the Patriot Act anyone? There are countless aexamples where the things democrats say and do reflect a strong desire to make Bush look as bad as possible and in the process they don't care how un-safe the country becomes because they can spin that as another Bush failire.

Ultimately the democrats don't care what happens as long as they get voted in to office. It obviously can't fit the definition of treason that you provide, but i think it would definitely be fair to say that they are undermining the effort to keep the public safe.

What about murder? Murder's... (Below threshold)

What about murder? Murder's an important concept. Do we weaken it by overusing it?

JohnJ, I'll answer that per... (Below threshold)

JohnJ, I'll answer that personally. A lot of people call Ted Kennedy a murderer for Mary Jo Kopechne's death at Chappaquiddick. I'm not one of them. His selfishness, cowardice, and sheer lack of character led to her death, but "murder" requires intent to kill -- and Teddy simply lacks the personal commitment to carry that out.

So yeah, "murder" is overused, and is weakened by that. Look at the OJ Simpson trial.


Jay, what about negligent h... (Below threshold)

Jay, what about negligent homicide. That is still a species of "murder." So murder does fit ole Teddy.

I've yet to use the word "t... (Below threshold)

I've yet to use the word "treason". But in the cases of Stewart and Gadahn it's certainly appropriate. And you're right to bring up the whole issue.

Now if I could only happen upon a post at say Kos or DU or Atrios or any number of leftist blogs where one of the posters admonished their followers for slinging out the Nazi references...

Here is where Mitchell reve... (Below threshold)

Here is where Mitchell reveals yet again that either he is not a lawyer, as he claims, or the bar is so far behind him and years of civil litigation have made him forget all criminal law.

Murder is a form of homicide, not the other way around. Negligent homicide is a much lesser offense than murder.

If you are in fact a lawyer, which I highly doubt, I weep for your clients.

The Democrat have pussif... (Below threshold)
Rob LA Ca.:

The Democrat have pussified the entire Country with their so called bleeding hearts and their Media's coverage of death and destruction. So much so that Traitors like John Fraud Kerry can falsely make accustions against our Soldiers while aiding and abetting our enemy in a time of war because he has pukes like Carter and Kennedy protecting him.

Exactly what is the proper term to used for what the Party of Perpetual Fraud has been engaged in for the last 6 years? And don't give me that "It's Politics" bullshit , that's lame. It's just as lame when a democrat stands in front of a crowd bashing our President taking a deep breath and exhaling the word "KATRINA" as if being drained of all energy. Then the mindless zombies all begin to cheer and get all worked up. How pathetic. A bunch of idiots programed to respond to "BUZZ WORDS".

"But does it fall into the category of treason? I think not. There was no direct benefit to our enemies"

With Sandy Berger, this is a null brainer. However , lets talk about the actions of Fraud Kerry , or more recently Jay Rockefeller warning Syria.

Now we have the despicable duo of the "WORST PRESIDENT" Jimmy Carter and the "MOST SHAMELESS AND CORRUPT" BJ Clinton tag teaming accross the Country and around the world Disrespecting and blaming President Bush and our Country for their lame brain failed policies and incompetance.

Today just about everything the Democrats say benefits our enemy . They are even thanking the Democrats for do such a swell job on their behalf. Democrats know this and don't even care cause they too are thanking the terrorists everytime they blow up something and kill our Soldiers so their partners in the Media can shove it in our face 24/7.

When Democrats lied , 3 million died. Democrats don't give a damn.

Manboy, I can't imagine you... (Below threshold)

Manboy, I can't imagine you weeping for anyone but yourself. By the way, which law school did you go to? University of Assholia?

According to generally understood principles:

"Traditionally, and still in some states, the following terminology is used:

First-degree murder (or murder in the first degree, or colloquially, murder one) refers to
premeditated murder, or murder which occurs after some degree of reflection by the murderer. This reflection can be years or less than a second.

Second-degree murder or voluntary manslaughter refers to
murder done without thought in the heat of the moment, or in some states after "adequate provocation", or

Third-degree murder, also known as manslaughter,
occurs without the specific intent to kill, but usually after an act of criminal negligence or some other act resulting in a person's death.

Did you mean to be an asshole, or do you just play one on this blog? As well as a lawyer?

To "preying mantis"--need a... (Below threshold)

To "preying mantis"--need any help getting Mit's foot out of your ass? Damn that felt good!

Thanks, jhow66. We were se... (Below threshold)

Thanks, jhow66. We were separated at birth.

By the way, which law sc... (Below threshold)

By the way, which law school did you go to?

The one where they taught us the difference between murder and involuntary manslaughter/criminally negligent homicide. Where'd you get your law degree, a crackerjack box?

Law students who attend accredited schools learn that murder involves intent or malice aforethought, whereas manslaughter and negligent homicide do not.

I do find it humorous that you pulled your definitions from the laborlaw talk dictionary, which pulls its info from such law authorities as Webster's and Wikipedia.

Did you mean to be an asshole, or do you just play one on this blog?

Both. (Actually they're the same thing, but you've never been one to make much sense)

As well as a lawyer?

No, you would be the one playing lawyer. In case you didn't notice that unlike you, I haven't claimed to be one, yet I'm still more familiar with the law than you. Funny, that.






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