Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Public Enemy Number One?

This seems like a bad idea. The US is bringing its first treason case since WWII against an Al Qaeda propagandist. The culprit is 28, a convert (from a Christian-Jewish family in California) to the Religion of Peace©. He joined Al Qaeda, spent some time in Pakistan (where they make Al Qaeda action figures), and then made a bunch of propaganda videos about how the streets would run with blood(s and crips) in America. You know, because Allah's mighty super-cosmic Ticked Off, but His Wrath can only be done by actual other people - see clause 8, subsection 12 of the copious amendments to the Ten Comandments.

It's not that there's anything particularly wrong with the existence of a treason charge on the books. The primary purpose of the nation is to defend its citizens' property rights. Citizens who give aid and comfort to enemies who want to attack us are indeed traitors, and I see no problem in principle with making that criminal.

In practice, however, there are issues - by which I primarily mean "the potential for abuse." The government shouldn't be allowed to lable anyone it doesn't like a "traitor." I realize that's not what's happening here - this guy really did make his Scary Videos. But I think we're making a moutain out of a molehill by calling him a "traitor."

First and most importantly, there's a conflict with free speech interests here. The First Amendment exists to protect the expression of unpopular opinions (the popular ones don't need protection - but they get it for free anyway). I believe that should include pro-Al Qaeda propaganda broadcasts. After all, if you're not allowed to make videos supporting Al Qaeda then are you allowed to simply articulate their case? The line gets fuzzy. Will we need to start prefacing all our discussions of Al Qaeda with "Of course, I disagree, but Al Qaeda says...?" Sorry, but that's a little too "Soviet Commissar" for my taste. Government jackboots will argue that there is a clear line between making a propaganda video and simply expounding an argument - but I think we all know better. There isn't really even a line between the two (it's more like a "fade to black" zone), much less a "clear" one.

Second, I don't think this guy is really much of a danger to anyone. Let's keep the "treason" charge for people who are actually scary. This dude is just a fuckup religious nut with nothing better to do (in another life, he would be bombing abortion clinics or drinking poison with the latter day Jim Jonez or something). Reports are that he wasn't even involved in the planning of any terrorist activities. Which, no doubt, is why they're charging him with treason - because if he'd been involved in planning they would have something else to stick on him. But this is a flagrant abuse of the purpose of the law. The treason law isn't for making examples of annoying losers you can't get on anything else. The reason law is for removing dangers to the country in the form of enemy spies and the like. I don't think this guy's videos persuaded anyone, and he certainly didn't have access to any information anyone can use.

So yes, he did some bad stuff, fell in with some bad people, etc. No one is denying that it's OK to kill Al Qaeda supporters (erm...I'm not denying it anyway - I guess there are some useful idiots out there who deny it). I just think...well, treason? For THIS guy? I'd laugh, but it scares me a bit. Who next?


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