In today’s United States, the word treason is bandied about frequently and used against people who have been perceived to do any kind of wrong to their country. ‘Treason’ was shouted when the Hillary Clinton email saga was at its most ferocious. It continues to be levelled at President Trump with connection to his alleged connection to Russia and their interference at the election of 2016.
Treason is sill a federal crime, but it is an ancient concept that is is not commonly understood by many people. Well, in an attempt to shine a little bit more light on it, let’s take a closer look at some of the myths that still surround the crime in an effort to understand it better. So, here are five of them that will hopefully give you a different perspective about treason, what it has meant throughout history, and what it still means today.
Myth No. One: Disloyalty or the Creation of Policies that Damage the United States Are Classified as Treason
It has become fairly commonplace nowadays to hear the word treason in connection with a President issuing policies that stoke up some controversy. And in today’s world of social media justice, what policies don’t offend someone? In fact, a book was written to detail former President Barack Obama’s alleged crime when he supported the Iran nuclear deal with the release of the appropriately titled ‘Unexpected Treason’ by James McCormack.
However, when the US constitution was written, it was done so in a way to prevent treason trials from being used as a weapon against political opponents. Treason in the country is reserved for people are accused of “levying war against them”. So, if you were to openly criticise the government, support controversial policies or even put the interests of another country ahead of the United States, treason charges should not come your way.
Myth No. Two: Supporting Russia is Committing Treason Against the United States
It makes sense to now talk about one of the most popular treason charges which is often directed and President Trump and the people closest to him. Of course, it is a treasonable action to aid and support the ‘enemies’ of the United States, but the term is very clearly defined in the Constitution. An enemy is a nation with which the US has declared open war. And as you will have already concluded, Russia is not one of them.
Of course, no one is suggesting that relations between America and Russia have always run smoothly, but the way that the current treason law is drafted means that treason cannot have been committed by anyone with connections to the former Soviet state. In fact, during the 1950s when Julius and Ethel Rosenberg passed over nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union, they were tried and executed for espionage and not treason. Which brings us nicely onto the next point.
Myth No. Three: Leaking Classified Material is Treason
The last few years have seen plenty of stories which have been linked to treason including Clinton’s aforementioned email saga and Edward Snowden leaking classified documents. However, none of these actions can directly be described as levying war against the United States as this particular offence requires the use of force in trying to overthrow the government. Neither the force nor the intent is apparent in either the Clinton nor the Snowden events. Of course, there are plenty of other sections and subsections of federal law which may have been violated, but there is certainly nothing in the way of treason.
Myth No. Four: Only Citizens of the United States Can Commit Treason Against the Country
To many, it would seem to be common sense that only citizens of the United States can commit treason against the country. In fact, it is an act that can be committed by anyone who owes allegiance to the US - and this includes non-citizens as well. The two kinds of allegiance that exist are permanent and temporary. Citizens of the United States possess that former, and this carries with them no matter where in the world they travel. The latter is reserved for people who reside in the country on a green card or a student or tourist visa, for example. If this person is found to have committed treasonous acts, they cannot get around it by claiming foreign citizenship. However, when a noncitizen leaves the country, the duty of temporary allegiance disappears once again.
Myth No. Five: Very Few People Have Committed Treason Throughout History
It is true to say that no American has ever been executed for treason by the federal government under the current constitution. However, there have been people who have been convicted of the offence including several after the Second World War, but most were pardoned or released. Go back to the American Revolution and you will see that all the rebelling Americans were committing treason against the British. And the Americans who actively aided the British committed treason against the United States.
During the Civil War years, the thousands of Americans who signed up with the Confederacy all actively fought against the government of the US. Of course, you will also see from history that the neither the American Revolution nor the Civil War resulted in mass executions. But as you can see from these two examples alone, treason, as defined by the Constitution, did occur in both cases.
So, what can we conclude about treason? Well, despite all of the talk around the act of treason which fills up social media feeds around the world, it is highly unlikely that any modern politician is going to be tried for it. And even though it is a federal crime, to date, no one has been executed for it. The next time that you are having a discussion with friends, you will be able to come armed with some facts and ready to dispel some common myths!