Monday, October 16, 2006

The Moral Equivalent of Treason

The Justice Department recently indicted one Mr. Adam Gadahn, a Californian hiding in Pakistan, on the charge of “treason.” Now treason is a high crime -- such a high crime that no American has been charged with treason since World War II. According to the OED, the definition of treason is “attempting to kill or overthrow the sovereign or government.” Treason carries the maximum penalty of death. So what is this Orange County character accused of having done to merit being charged with this rare and most grave of crimes against the state -- that of treason?

Apparently the accused has produced some videos in which he praises the 9-11 attacks, prays that America gets what he malevolently considers its just deserts -- "Allah willing, the streets of America will run red with blood, matching drop for drop the blood of America's victims," and urges American soldiers to come over to the “winning” side. Menacing-sounding stuff alright. But why charge him with treason?

The US Deputy Attorney General Mr. Paul McNulty justifies the treason charge this way:
Terrorists… want Americans to live and walk in fear. They want to demoralize us. That’s why propaganda is so important to them, and why facilitating that propaganda is such an egregious crime. (my italics)
I don’t know about you, but I had never heard of Mr. Adam Gadahn and his videos before -- before, that is -- I read that the Justice Department had charged him with treason. So I have some questions for the Deputy US Attorney-General Mr. Paul McNulty and the US Justice Department:

Who do you suppose is really scaring Americans, "facilitating the propaganda" of the terrorists? A Californian hiding in Pakistan, or a US Justice Department that publicizes his activities; having brought the rare and extreme charge of treason against him? Mr. McNulty, why are you giving an obscure American hiding in Pakistan armed with video camera the free publicity?

He’s not been captured yet, but the unearned infamy bestowed upon him by the Justice Department risks turning him into a jihadist celebrity – someone truly influential and dangerous.

Don’t you suppose Mr. McNulty, that your chances of convicting this man – assuming our guys can find him – on such a serious charge are likely going to be slim, perhaps a lot slimmer than had you charged him with something less onerous than treason? Sorry, I almost forgot: convicting terrorists is not a priority of the Bush administration; otherwise your branch of government would not have authorized the torture of so many terror suspects in US custody, thereby irreparably compromising the use of their confessions in US courts.

Of course it was the Justice Department – your office, Mr. McNulty -- that signed-off on policies condoning the torture of prisoners in US custody. By the way, don’t you suppose that by having sanctioned the cruel and abusive treatment of many innocent Muslim detainees – 112 of whom have died in US custody (43 of which were homicides) – the US Justice Department has done far more to serve the propaganda interests of the terrorists than this (formerly) obscure video producer from Orange County hiding in Pakistan?

Treason is a serious charge. Do you seriously think the Republic is safer when the US Justice Department must now devote precious time and resources to indicting propagandists on extreme charges? And if terrorism-supporting propaganda is now treason, where do you draw the line between treasonous propaganda and propaganda that is merely critical of the US government? It seems to me Americans have yet another reason to be frightened of the Justice Department, and relatively little cause to be scared by Mr. Gadahn’s videos -- despite the unearned infamy your office has bestowed upon him.

I asked you whether you thought you could ever get a conviction on the rare treason charge. But the trial doesn’t matter, does it? I bet the indictment was orchestrated to remind Americans that Bush is really tough on fighting terrorism before the November elections. Let’s face it, charging an Islamicist with “treason” sounds tough.

This story has one thing in common with a string of recent statements relating to terror threats that have emanated from the White House: each of the stories appears to be disconnected from any discernable new threat, but coincides with the run-up to the November elections. “Terrorists… want Americans to live and walk in fear” you say. It seems to me if you replace the word “terrorists” with “The Bush White House” the sentence also makes sense.

Which brings me to ask you, not as an attorney, but as an American: At what point does the relentless pursuit of partisan political advantage in the guise of national security become the moral equivalent of treason?

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