Free Speech Or Treason? Another Damned Moral Dilemma
Now let me attempt a clumsy segue from that to another type of clean-out with great mess-making potential: America’s first treason indictment since World War Two has been handed down to Adam Gadahn, a 28-year-old Californian who converted to Islam eleven years ago and wove himself into the lunatic fringe soon thereafter. For the past several years he’s been somewhere in Pakistan making propaganda videos for al-Qaeda:
Gadahn has appeared in several al Qaeda messages speaking English and appealing to Americans. In his latest video appearance, Gadahn called for the world to convert to Islam and praised the hijackers who carried out the September 11, 2001, attacks as "dedicated, strong-willed, highly motivated individuals with a burning concern for Islam and Muslims."
That video, issued days before the fifth anniversary of 9/11, featured both Gadahn and Osama bin Laden's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri. In a September 2005 video, Gadahn referred to the 9/11 attacks as "the blessed raids on New York and Washington."
According to the indictment, Gadahn, referring to prior attacks in Europe, said, "Yesterday, London and Madrid. Tomorrow, Los Angeles and Melbourne, Allah willing. And this time, don't count on us demonstrating restraint or compassion."
Somehow, that “restraint and compassion” line strikes me as more offensive than the conversion-or-death comments preceding it. But I also know that the more something offends me, the more careful I must be to make sure emotions and feelings don’t overpower my judgment. So I’ll ignore Gadahn’s comments for now and read what the U.S. Deputy Attorney General, Paul McNulty, has to say about the case:
"A charge of treason is exceptionally severe, and it is not one we bring lightly," McNulty said at a news conference in Washington. "But this is the right case for this charge." If apprehended and convicted, Gadahn could face the death penalty.
Nicknamed "Azzam the American," Gadahn is not in U.S. custody and is believed to be living in Pakistan, McNulty said. McNulty said he believes that Gadahn has been involved in issuing propaganda but not in carrying out any terrorist attacks.
So the treason charge wasn’t for carrying out terrorist attacks, but merely issuing propaganda? The guy’s facing charges of treason for being a pundit. Take out the buzzwords like “Islam” and “al-Qaeda” and what you’ve got is someone saying “The whole world should convert to my religion, the bad things that happened are exactly what you deserve, and I hope in the future you suffer worse.”
Yes, I think these sentiments are evil. But are they treason? Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and Fred Phelps have all said such things before. Remember how Katrina and September 11 were God’s judgments on America? Hell, Phelps leads protests at soldiers’ funerals where people carry placards thanking God for IEDs and September 11. The substance of such statements is no different from that of Gadahn’s.
I profoundly wish guys like Phelps would drop dead, but that’s very different from saying I think they should be executed. Not for simply expressing opinions. Yet in Gadahn’s specific case, making videos for Bin Laden’s group, saying he’s merely “expressing an opinion” doesn’t really fit, does it? It’s like describing your favorite book as merely “sheets of paper with words printed on them.” That’s true in the most literal sense but a false description all the same. And while I don’t think Gadahn’s exactly committing treason, somehow I can’t bring myself to say there should be no criminal penalties for what he’s doing.
I’m not sure if that’s emotion or reason speaking. I’m too busy coughing to figure it out.
We’ve got two extremes here: on one end of the spectrum, have the government give Gadahn the death penalty or life in prison for expressing his opinions; and at the other end have the government leave him strictly alone because he’s merely expressing his opinions. I don’t like either one of those choices, but I haven’t figured out yet just where in the middle I stand.
Is there a point where free speech becomes “aid and comfort to the enemy,” and what’s the slippery-slope potential in setting one?