Treason is Serious

by John Delach

During the course of a pleasant lunch with my good friend, Mike, at Foley’s NY Saloon, a fine Manhattan sports pub, Mike remarked while enjoying his Guinness, “What those forty-something senators did by writing that letter to Iran was treason, pure and simple.”


Oops, I held my tongue as I didn’t exactly agree with Mike. True, I can’t deny those senators were both rash and inappropriate in usurping the province of the Executive Branch of our government. Furthermore, I believe that they did not act in the best interest of National unity and their actions were completely outside the terms of their franchise.


But, did they commit an act of treason? Well now, I think not.


Immediately, my mind raced back 50 years to St. Francis College and Professor James Flynn. (This is not uncommon for me in like situations that involve politics, government and law. Everything I know about these subjects is based on the teachings of Doc Flynn.)


What I recalled was his definition of treason: Treason is an overt act against the United States Government in time of war that is witnessed by at least two people. I remained silent and didn’t challenge Mike because I couldn’t be sure that the passage of time may have dimmed my memory or distorted the facts as to what constitutes treason. Subsequent investigation reveals the following:


Treason is defined as: The betrayal of one’s own country by waging war against or by consciously or purposely acting to aid its enemies.


Further U.S. Code, Title 18, Part 1, Chapter 115 defines treason as: Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States and elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.


To prove treason: “As in any other criminal trial in the United States, a defendant charged with treason is presumed innocent until proved guilty Beyond a Reasonable Doubt. Treason may be proved by a voluntary confession in open court or by evidence that the defendant committed an overt act of treason. Each overt act must be witnessed by at least two people, or a conviction of treason will not stand. By requiring this type of direct evidence, the Constitution minimizes the danger of convicting an innocent person and forestalls the possibility of partisan witch-hunts waged by a single adversary.


“Unexpressed seditious thoughts do not constitute treason, even if those thoughts contemplate a bloody revolution or coup. Nor does public expression of subversive opinions, including vehement criticism of the government and its policies constitute treason.


Fifty years later, I can proclaim, my brain is not too shabby. Once again, the teachings of Doc Flynn have weathered the test of time and weathered it well.


Treason is one of those words people like to throw around to express their displeasure with others. I suspect we‘ve all been guilty of branding those with whom we fervently disagree of engaging in treasonous acts when they say or do something truly offensive.


Just how narrow the intent of the Founding Fathers in defining what is treason can best be demonstrated by the conviction and execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for handing over secrets to the atomic bomb to the USSR during World War II.  The Rosenbergs were convicted of espionage but were not tried for treason because the Soviet Union was an ally during the war. By definition, they were not traitors.


For the record, may I suggest, we should be really, really careful who we declare as committing treason or brand as traitors less we too shall so be branded by those who differ with us.


As Kurt Vonnegut once wrote, We are what we pretend to be. That is why we should be careful as to what we pretend to be.