Treason case poses challenge

WASHINGTON – The decision to charge alleged al-Qaida propagandist Adam Gadahn with treason is something of a gamble by the U.S. government, which has not pursued such a case in more than 50 years and has a mixed track record for convictions over the course of American history, according to legal experts and historic accounts.

Gadahn, 28, was indicted Wednesday by a federal grand jury in Santa Ana, Calif., based on his alleged appearance in numerous al-Qaida videotapes calling for the death of Americans and for attacks on U.S. targets.

Many legal experts said that although Gadahn may be a suitable candidate for a treason charge, federal prosecutors may face serious difficulties in securing a conviction if he is ever brought to trial.

Gadahn, a fugitive believed to be living in Pakistan, grew up on a Southern California goat farm, converting to Islam as a teenager and later moving overseas. He allegedly says in one video that U.S. “streets will run red with blood” and in another refers to the United States as “enemy soil.”

“One of the reasons that I think Gadahn was charged was because of his intentional, brazen and conspicuous activities,” said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University at San Bernardino. “All the stars lined up to virtually hand the required elements to prosecutors on a silver platter. … But it’s not a slam-dunk by any means.”

Fewer than three dozen U.S. citizens have ever been charged with treason, which is specifically defined in the Constitution and requires two witnesses or a confession in court for a conviction. The framers – who bristled at England’s frequent prosecution of dissidents for alleged treason – defined it narrowly as “levying war” against the United States or providing “aid and comfort” to its enemies.

The penalties for treason were left to Congress, which set the range of punishment from five years in prison to death.

The roster of previous treason defendants includes former vice president and malcontent Aaron Burr, who was acquitted of attempting to set up his own republic, and abolitionist John Brown, who was hanged for treason after he and his followers captured the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry. The last flurry of treason cases was prosecuted during and after World War II, culminating in the 1952 conviction of a Japanese American for abusing U.S. prisoners of war.

The Justice Department’s legal arguments in the Gadahn case rely heavily on the “broadcast cases,” a series of treason prosecutions of U.S. citizens providing propaganda services to the Germans or Japanese. The most famous of these involved Iva Toguri D’Aquino, accused of being “Tokyo Rose,” who served six years in prison but was later pardoned after key witnesses recanted.

In the Gadahn case, the Justice Department argues that the defendant’s appearance in five incendiary al-Qaida videos – particularly three recent broadcasts in which he is clearly visible – provide enough evidence to fulfill the Constitution’s witness requirements for treason.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Mt. Baker visible from the summit of Mt. Dickerman on a late summer day in 2017. (Caleb Hutton / The Herald)
Hornets pester hikers on popular Mountain Loop trails

“You cannot out run the stings,” one hiker wrote in a trip report. The Forest Service has posted alerts at two trailheads.

A view of a 6 parcel, 4.4 acre piece of land in Edmonds, south of Edmonds-Woodway High School on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023 in Edmonds, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Housing authority seeks more property in Edmonds

The Housing Authority of Snohomish County doesn’t have specific plans for land near 80th Avenue West, if its offer is accepted.

Nursing Administration Supervisor Susan Williams points at a list of current COVID patients at Providence Regional Medical Center on Friday, Sept. 22, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Dozens of Providence patients in medical limbo for months, even years

About 100 people are stuck in Everett hospital beds without an urgent medical reason. New laws aim for a solution.

Emergency responders surround an ultralight airplane that crashed Friday, Sept. 22, 2023, at the Arlington Municipal Airport in Arlington, Washington, resulting in the pilot's death. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Pilot dead in ultralight plane crash at Arlington Municipal Airport

There were no other injuries or fatalities reported, a city spokesperson said.

Cash is used for a purchase at Molly Moon's Ice Cream in Edmonds, Washington on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
County Council delays vote on requiring businesses to take cash

Concerns over information and enforcement postponed the council’s scheduled vote on the ordinance Wednesday in Snohomish County.

A girl walks her dog along a path lined with dandelions at Willis D. Tucker Community Park on Monday, Sept. 11, 2023, in Snohomish, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Spraying in Willis Tucker Park resurfaces debate over herbicides

Park staff treated about 11,000 square feet with glyphosate and 2,4-D. When applied correctly, staff said they aren’t harmful.

One of Snohomish County PUD’s new smart readers is installed at a single family home Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023, in Mill Creek, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
PUD program seeks to make energy grid smarter for 380K customers

The public utility’s ConnectUp program will update 380,000 electric meters and 23,000 water meters in the next few years.

An example of the Malicious Women Co. products (left) vs. the Malicious Mermaid's products (right). (U.S. District Court in Florida)
Judge: Cheeky candle copycat must pay Snohomish company over $800K

The owner of the Malicious Women Co. doesn’t expect to receive any money from the Malicious Mermaid, a Florida-based copycat.

A grave marker for Blaze the horse. (Photo provided)
After Darrington woman’s horse died, she didn’t know what to do

Sidney Montooth boarded her horse Blaze. When he died, she was “a wreck” — and at a loss as to what to do with his remains.

Most Read