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Treason Defined

Reader comment on item: None Dare Call It Treason... 25 Years Later
in response to reader comment: conspiracy, sedition, and treason defined

Submitted by Truth.Teller (United States), Feb 23, 2008 at 22:32

Treason is defined by the Constitution:

"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."

This is a very strict definition. It does not apply to ordinary political differences, though the charge of "giving aid and comfort to the enemy" is frequently raised. It further requires an overt act and two witnesses. Treason is any easy charge to make, but a difficult one to prove.

Few people have ever been convicted of treason. Aaron Burr was acquitted in 1807, despite the strong efforts of Thomas Jefferson, owing to the lack of two witnesses. No supporter of the Confederate States of America was convicted of treason after the war. Spies such as Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were charged with espionage rather than treason. John Walker Lindh, the "American Taliban," was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder, but not treason. The last person convicted of treason in the U.S. was Tomoya Kawakita, an American-born man who had moved to Japan and aided the Japanese war effort. He was convicted in 1952.

As for accusing someone of treason because of his position on inflation, I would call that un-American. Americans tolerate a diversity of political views, which is what distinguishes a democratic society from a tryranny, such as Communism.

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