Treason, as it is defined in the Constitution, is the act of waging war against the United States or giving aid and comfort to its enemies. Compared to the broad definition of treason that existed in English law at the time, the Founding Fathers defined it rather narrowly. English law of their day also included as treason the killing of a sitting justice. In practice, the charge of treason had been used in England as an excuse to execute political undesirables. It’s understandable that the Founders didn’t want to turn the charge of treason into a convenient tool to attack political opponents.
So it’s not surprising to me to realize just how infrequently treason has been prosecuted in the history of the United States. Wikipedia states there have been “fewer than 40 federal prosecutions for treason and even fewer convictions.” It has been more common for the U.S. to charge people with sedition (fomenting insurrection or undermining the government) or espionage (spying). Neither crime is treason, but they are certainly serious crimes in themselves. But these three crimes — treason, sedition, and espionage — all have a similar central characteristic: that of citizens working against their government.
There is another law on the books that addresses the issue of Americans working against their government — the Logan Act:
Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.
This section shall not abridge the right of a citizen to apply himself, or his agent, to any foreign government, or the agents thereof, for redress of any injury which he may have sustained from such government or any of its agents or subjects.
While no one has been prosecuted, let alone convicted, of violating the Logan Act, I believe there are prominent living Americans who are guilty of having violated it or at least skirted very close. I’ve written before how President Carter is willing to “influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government,” specifically Iran. And I believe Speaker Pelosi acted in violation of the Logan Act when she visited Syria in 2007 against the warnings of the State Department. She wasn’t there to shore up President Bush’s policies, but to peddle her own. Sounds like a clear case of an “intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government” to me.
And speaking of trying to influence the conduct of a foreign government, Sen. Barack Obama attempted exactly that with his trip to Iraq this year. As Amir Taheri wrote in the New York Post, Obama asked for a delay in U.S. troop withdrawals until he arrived triumphantly in the White House:
According to Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, Obama made his demand for delay a key theme of his discussions with Iraqi leaders in Baghdad in July.
“He asked why we were not prepared to delay an agreement until after the US elections and the formation of a new administration in Washington,” Zebari said in an interview.
Obama insisted that Congress should be involved in negotiations on the status of US troops – and that it was in the interests of both sides not to have an agreement negotiated by the Bush administration in its “state of weakness and political confusion.”
Did you catch that? He basically asked Iraq to avoid agreements with our current President and his administration, describing them as weak and confused. That certainly sounds like trying to “defeat the measures of the United States” to me. Obama’s people are trying to say that Taheri is wrong, but Taheri is standing firm in a new article published in the New York Post.
In a long interview with the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, Zebari says: “Obama asked me why, in view of the closeness of a change of administration, we were hurrying the signing of this special agreement, and why we did not wait until the coming of the new administration next year and agree on some issues and matters.”
Again, note that Zebari mentions a single set of agreements, encompassing both SFA and SOFA.
Zebari continues: “I told Obama that, as an Iraqi, I believe that even if there is a Democratic administration in the White House it had better continue the present policy instead of wasting a lot of time thinking what to do.”
In other words, Obama was trying to derail current US policy, while Zebari was urging him not to “waste time.” [emphasis mine - CM]
Sen. Obama’s actions in Iraq don’t constitute treason as narrowly defined in the Constitution, but “Obama was trying to derail current US policy” certainly sounds like a violation of the Logan Act. Not that the junior Senator from Illinois will ever be indicted for this crime. While Obama is a candidate for the office of President, he is not now President, and he shouldn’t be trying to negotiate with foreign leaders as though he were a head of state.
As I see it, Obama either has the hubris to think foreign leaders should treat him as President right now, or he’s clueless about the differences in responsibility between a Senator and the President. It’s too close for me to determine which it is.