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.

As I sat catching up on news this morning, my monitor flickered, and the Drudge Report changed into an alternate reality version of the Drudge Report. I could tell this was an alternate reality because everyone pictured on Drudge had a goatee. But here’s the first part of the story that caught my eye:

Washington Authorizes New Covert Action Against Hessians
December 22, 1776 6:29 PM

Brian Ross and Richard Esposito Report:

The Continental Army has received secret approval to mount a covert “black” operation to destabilize the Hessian garrison in Trenton, New Jersey, current and former officials in the Continental Army tell the Blotter on ABCNews.com.

The sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the subject, say General Washington has signed a “lethal General finding” that puts into motion an army plan that reportedly includes a coordinated campaign of sneaking across the Delaware River on Christmas to assault the Hessian’s stronghold when they least expect it.

The screen flickered again and the story shimmered as if my monitor had just been degaussed, which is a pretty cool trick since it’s an LCD. I could hardly believe it, but the story had changed on my screen:

Roosevelt Authorizes New Terror Weapon Against Axis Powers
November 22, 1940 6:29 PM

Brian Ross and Richard Esposito Report:

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has received secret presidential approval to mount a covert “black” operation to develop a devastating new terror weapon, current and former officials in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers tell the Blotter on ABCNews.com.

The sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the subject, say President Roosevelt has signed a “very lethal presidential finding” that puts into motion a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plan that reportedly includes a coordinated campaign of research to develop an “implosive-explosive sub-molecular device.”

At this point I knew I had to be hallucinating caused by after-effects from the pork chile verde I ate last night. After a quick drink of water in the kitchen, I was happy to see that The Blotter entry on ABC had stopped shifting around and was finally stable. But the news was just as disturbing:

Bush Authorizes New Covert Action Against Iran
May 22, 2007 6:29 PM

Brian Ross and Richard Esposito Report:

The CIA has received secret presidential approval to mount a covert “black” operation to destabilize the Iranian government, current and former officials in the intelligence community tell the Blotter on ABCNews.com.

The sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the subject, say President Bush has signed a “nonlethal presidential finding” that puts into motion a CIA plan that reportedly includes a coordinated campaign of propaganda, disinformation and manipulation of Iran’s currency and international financial transactions.

Well, whatever secret cover this plan once enjoyed has now been blown sky-high, thanks to the reporting of Ross and Esposito. Are there any other secrets they are poised to reveal to one and all? Maybe they have some combat plans for fighting the Taliban remnants in Afghanistan they’d like to pass on. Are there any secret discussions between the U.S. and British governments that Brian Ross and Richard Esposito would like to air? *sniff* Nothing quite like the smell of the American press leaking secrets to the world. Good for ratings, don’t you know?

My brief trip to alternate dimensions is over, but I am convinced that members of the mainstream media live in an alternate reality all their own.

Back in 2005, Lynne Stewart, a civil rights lawyer, was convicted of providing material support to terrorists. She is in the news now because she has been sentenced to 28 months in prison for her part in aiding convicted terrorist Omar Abdel-Rahman. If you haven’t heard of Omar Abdel-Rahman, you were probably paying attention only to items covered by the mainstream media, so let me fill you in a bit. In 1995, Rahman was convicted of masterminding the World Trade Center bombing two years earlier. So he is obviously a really nice guy. Stewart was convicted for providing material support to him and his terrorist organization. But she claims her innocence:

In a letter to the judge, Stewart proclaimed: “I am not a traitor.” She said she did not intentionally enter into any conspiracy to help a terrorist organization.

But being a lawyer, she should know that the charge of treason isn’t based on intent. The Constitution defines treason in Article III, Section 3: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” And what Stewart did was most certainly giving aid and comfort to our nation’s enemies. Again, as Stewart’s 2005 conviction states, she was found guilty of “providing material support to terrorists.” Sure sounds like giving “aid and comfort” to our enemies to me. But rather than giving her a 30-year sentence as federal guidelines state, District Judge John G. Koeltl gave her 28 months because of her decades of “dedication to poor, disadvantaged and unpopular clients.”

Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs points out an interesting aspect of this case: one of the people indicted along with Stewart, Ahmed Abdel Sattar, was sentenced to 24 years for his part in smuggling messages from Omar Abdel-Rahman to his followers. Isn’t it interesting that Stewart got 28 months for her part while Sattar gets 24 years for his?

And speaking of interesting, here’s an interesting quote from Stewart at her sentencing:

“The end of my career truly is like a sword in my side,” Stewart said at her sentencing. “Permit me to live out the rest of my life productively, lovingly, righteously.”

What she’s really saying here is “Please don’t send me to prison! Please, please, oh please!” I think she should spend her final days living life “productively, lovingly, righteously” in prison, perhaps making aid packages for the members of our military putting themselves in harm’s way to fight the same people to whom she gave aid and comfort. I see it as being a fitting end to her career, but not everyone sees her as equally guilty:

Earlier, about 150 Stewart supporters who could not get inside the filled-to-capacity courtroom stood outside the courthouse, chanting “Free Lynne, Free Lynne.”

“It’s not just Lynne Stewart who is a victim; it’s the Bill of Rights that’s the victim,” said Al Dorfman, 72, a retired lawyer.

The phrase which applies to these Stewart supporters, and especially to Al Dorfman, is “useful idiots.” This century’s version of the “useful idiot” is “dhimmi.”

If you’ve been following the story of the New York Times leaking a once-secret and legal tool for tracking the financial dealings of terrorists, you may be interested in this response by Treasury Secretary John Snow to the excuses the New York Times has given about choosing to run this story. Sec. Snow is my new hero.

Mr. Bill Keller, Managing Editor
The New York Times
229 West 43rd Street
New York, NY 10036

Dear Mr. Keller:

The New York Times' decision to disclose the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program, a robust and classified effort to map terrorist networks through the use of financial data, was irresponsible and harmful to the security of Americans and freedom-loving people worldwide. In choosing to expose this program, despite repeated pleas from high-level officials on both sides of the aisle, including myself, the Times undermined a highly successful counter-terrorism program and alerted terrorists to the methods and sources used to track their money trails.

Your charge that our efforts to convince The New York Times not to publish were “half-hearted” is incorrect and offensive. Nothing could be further from the truth. Over the past two months, Treasury has engaged in a vigorous dialogue with the Times – from the reporters writing the story to the D.C. Bureau Chief and all the way up to you. It should also be noted that the co-chairmen of the bipartisan 9-11 Commission, Governor Tom Kean and Congressman Lee Hamilton, met in person or placed calls to the very highest levels of the Times urging the paper not to publish the story. Members of Congress, senior U.S. Government officials and well-respected legal authorities from both sides of the aisle also asked the paper not to publish or supported the legality and validity of the program.

Indeed, I invited you to my office for the explicit purpose of talking you out of publishing this story. And there was nothing “half-hearted” about that effort. I told you about the true value of the program in defeating terrorism and sought to impress upon you the harm that would occur from its disclosure. I stressed that the program is grounded on solid legal footing, had many built-in safeguards, and has been extremely valuable in the war against terror. Additionally, Treasury Under Secretary Stuart Levey met with the reporters and your senior editors to answer countless questions, laying out the legal framework and diligently outlining the multiple safeguards and protections that are in place.

You have defended your decision to compromise this program by asserting that “terror financiers know” our methods for tracking their funds and have already moved to other methods to send money. The fact that your editors believe themselves to be qualified to assess how terrorists are moving money betrays a breathtaking arrogance and a deep misunderstanding of this program and how it works. While terrorists are relying more heavily than before on cumbersome methods to move money, such as cash couriers, we have continued to see them using the formal financial system, which has made this particular program incredibly valuable.

Lastly, justifying this disclosure by citing the “public interest” in knowing information about this program means the paper has given itself free license to expose any covert activity that it happens to learn of – even those that are legally grounded, responsibly administered, independently overseen, and highly effective. Indeed, you have done so here.

What you've seemed to overlook is that it is also a matter of public interest that we use all means available – lawfully and responsibly – to help protect the American people from the deadly threats of terrorists. I am deeply disappointed in the New York Times.

Sincerely,

[signed]

John W. Snow, Secretary

U.S. Department of the Treasury

Hat tip to Little Green Footballs. Michelle Malkin does a great job of putting this into perspective by comparing it to leaks during WWII at Hot Air.