Treason for the Goose

Isn’t what’s treason for the goose also treason for the gander? I’d have thought so. Maybe that’s why we should avoid making half-baked charges–or half-charges–of treason unless there’s a really good reason for doing so.

As for this…

With the possible exception of an American “levying war” against U.S. troops in a place like Afghanistan, “the biggest-picture takeaway is that there is no treason occurring on any side now,” said Jed Shugerman, a legal historian at Fordham Law School.

Fair enough. But I’d have thought that a good legal historian would enjoy a good hypothetical. For example: if Israel is at war with the Palestinians, and dual national Israeli-Americans join the IDF to shoot at Palestinian-Americans or Americans-in-Palestine, what exactly is the word for that? It’s not treason, I know. It’s not reason, either. But it’s always in season.

I guess there’s a widespread temptation to say “nullum nomen, nullum nominandum” in this case (roughly: “where there is no name, there is nothing to be named”). But maybe there shouldn’t be.

Talking Treason

The U.S. Constitution defines “treason” as follows (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. 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.

It’s not the only possible way of defining treason, but it’s the legally accepted definition of treason in the United States. Treason is a crime, and like all crimes, those accused of it enjoy a presumption of innocence until proven guilty in a court of law. Since it’s a capital crime, punishable in principle by death, the presumption of innocence matters even more than it ordinarily would, not that the presumption is any less applicable to non-capital crimes.* Continue reading