- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 12, 2001

John Walker is one of the most famous recent American traitors. In 1986, he was sentenced to life in prison for selling U.S. naval secrets to the Soviet Union for large amounts of cash. Now, 15 years later, another American, coincidentally named John Walker, is suspected of treason as a member of the al Qaeda terrorist band. (As a confirmed Scotch drinker, I am appalled that the sacred name Johnny Walker could be twice disgraced by treason.) But today's John Walker didn't take a cent. He did it for religious and ideological reasons. According to Newsweek, he despised America "as a land that exalted self above all else … while in the Islamic world, by contrast I feel comfortable and at home."
He approved of the bombing of the USS Cole and the killing of 17 American sailors because the docking of the ship in Yemen was, "an act of war against Islam." He endorsed the September 11 attack on the World Trade Towers. He was proud that he wasn't just a Taliban, but an al Qaeda operative. He literally bore arms against our troops in the prisoner-of-war uprising that has, so far, caused the only enemy-inflicted combat death to an American former Marine and young CIA officer John Spann.
And yet, the president of the United States calls him a "poor fellow," and according to a Newsweek poll this week, only 41 percent of the country thinks he should be charged with treason. Forty-two percent say he should be tried only if there is specific evidence of his fighting against Americans (for which charge the early news accounts suggest there to be substantial evidence).
On the "McLaughlin Group" last weekend, I blustered and babbled incredulously against the suggestion of another panelist that no treason had occurred, and that, anyway, he was a poor confused lad. But, while about half the country shares my view of his treason, obviously millions of our fellow countrymen do not. As John Walker's fate may well be guided by public opinion, it is worth considering the merits and demerits of a treason charge.
The word treason derives from the French word tradere to hand over, betray. In the English Common Law, high treason is an act of renunciation or criminal neglect of a subject's duty of loyalty to his king. According to "Blackstone's Commentaries on the Law of England" (1791 edition), treason may be done by taking arms against the king "not only to dethrone the king, but under pretense to reform religion, or the laws … or to remove other grievances whether real or pretended. For the law does not, neither can it, permit any private man to interfere forcibly in matters of such high importance."
But, in the 210 years since those words were published, and particularly in the last 35 years, our society has become much more confident in the certainty of our form of government, and much more forgiving of human faults. Fairness and tolerance of differences have, for many Americans, replaced the sterner virtues of right and wrong, duty and honor. Though the world may owe us a living, many moderns bridle at the thought that we owe our country loyalty and patriotism. They are particularly aghast that such loyalty should be enforceable at the point of a government gun.
And, it is a curious feature of religious or ideologically motivated treason that the degree of disloyalty to our country can be perfectly measured by the degree of loyalty the traitor is willing to commit to his new faith or belief. Thus, his moral standing is somewhat ambiguous to many modern minds. He is exactly as loyal as he is disloyal. Many of our fellow citizens are asking, who are we to judgmentally decide that his disloyalty to America is morally worse than his loyalty to an opposing set of values?
After all, so they reason, he didn't actually fire a bullet into one of our soldiers. We won the battle anyway, so no harm done. Perhaps he is misguided (or perhaps not so misguided as many racist, materialist Americans might think so they reason). Putting him up against the wall and shooting him seems so primitive, so judgmental so final. Couldn't he just say he was sorry and do 100 hours of community service?
But it is not out of bloody-mindedness nor cruelty that we must demand the full weight of the law to enforce the crime of treason in this and every other case. If September 11 has taught us anything, it is that our form of government our way of life is as perishable as the old kings of England feared was theirs. It can happen here.
Moreover, individual acts have moral consequences. If they don't, then we lose our human dignity which precisely is our capacity and obligation to make moral judgments. That is why God banished Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. That is why the law must vindicate our values and our dignity by prosecuting traitors.

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