Some Might Call It Treason

There is a major flaw in the United States Constitution. The Founders understood that partisan politics would inevitably result in bickering along party lines that would lead to charges that political opponents were betraying the country so they deliberately made it very difficult to charge others with "treason." Which is not to say that they did not regard treason as the most heinous of crimes. The fact that it is defined in the Constitution, one of only two crimes to be specified in the document, is telling, but they just wanted to make sure that when the charge was made it was made in all seriously, not to obtain frivolous political advantage. In Article III the Constitution states "Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court."

Because of the high bar set by the Constitution, treason convictions in the United States have been relatively few, normally occurring during declared wars. The last such conviction was in 1952. Elsewhere in the world, treason trials, if not common, occur when someone is believed to have collaborated with an actual declared enemy or to have subverted a country’s laws or constitution, to include attempting to overthrow an established government. Avoiding legal complexities, the Merriam Webster unabridged dictionary provides a broad primary definition for the word treason, describing it as "the betrayal of a trust."

The problem with the treason definition applicable in the United States is that it does not cover what we are seeing right now, something that the Founders could never have anticipated. I am referring to a concerted "betrayal of trust" by a group of American government elected officials in openly advancing policies that serve the interests of a foreign country, specifically the senators and congressmen who are lining up behind Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to oppose the White House’s attempt to negotiate an equitable solution to the thirty-five year confrontation with Iran. The discussion in Washington is now focused on possibly baseless allegations that Iran is seeking to acquire a nuclear weapon, but it is really all about Iranian military and economic power as it relates to the state of Israel. The dissident legislators include nearly all Republicans as well as many leading Democrats who have long been advocates for Israel. Their intention is to throw a spanner into the works by seeking to pass new sanctions legislation which, the Iranians have already warned, will end any possibility for a deal.

Neocon Noam Neusner recently provided an insight into what is going on in Congress, boasting that "Normally a party’s leadership will stand behind a president in his moment of diplomatic achievement. Not this time." He further explains that the "conspicuous silence" among Democrats is because they are "the men and the women, after all, who are on a first name basis with most of the board of AIPAC" and "they want to be in Washington long after Obama leaves the White House." And lest there be any confusion about what AIPAC and the rest of the Lobby want, Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League has offered his own critique, saying that he is "embarrassed by our government’s acceptance of Iran’s blackmail," calling secret talks with Iran "a violation of the special relationship with Israel."

The pressure has been so intense that President Barack Obama had to personally go to a gathering of a major component of the Israel Lobby – the Brookings Saban Center – to explain to Israeli-American billionaire Haim Saban and a hostile audience what he intends to do about Iran. His explanation eventually expanded to include a complete sellout of the Palestinians, avoiding the subject of settlements, calling Israel a "Jewish state," and conceding that Tel Aviv has a right to call all the shots on its security demands. Secretary of State John Kerry has called Israeli Arabs a "demographic time bomb" so security presumably includes possible ethnic cleansing. Obama should have been embarrassed to subsequently attend the Mandela funeral, where he was observed laughing and grinning with other heads of state. Apparently everyone appreciates a good joke.

Congress meanwhile has been doing its part, disputing each and every White House justification for the negotiations, possibly inducing the Administration to respond by adding a number of Iranian trading partners to the list of organizations already subject to sanctions, leading to a temporary suspension of the talks in Geneva. The White House is now schizophrenically arguing that new sanctions are okay as long as they are not directed at the nuclear program, a ridiculous claim that Tehran is not buying into.

And the consequences of all the bickering are deadly serious, with many observers nervously noting that the only alternative to talks is war because the United States and Israel have excluded all other options. And a war would have major consequences not only for Iran but also for the United States. Energy prices would skyrocket, there would undoubtedly be a new wave of international terrorism directed against the United States and American citizens, and Iran has significant capabilities to strike back directly against US forces.

Closing the door on talks also eliminates the possibility of any positive engagement with Iran. The White House claims to be inexorably opposed to Salafist terrorist organizations, to include al-Qaeda and its various franchises. Iran also opposes those groups as many of them believe in killing Shi’ite Muslims, the majority religious group in Iran. Tehran most likely has better intelligence on al-Qaeda than does Washington and might be willing to share it, but the congressmen, benefiting their own ambitions and little more, are clearly not heedful of the grave damage they are doing to the United States and its interests overseas. Preaching war with Iran is serious business, not the usual Capitol Hill game of one-upmanship akin to a victimless crime where what does and does not take place has little or no meaning.

Some might argue that the congressmen are within their rights, that they are expressing their legitimate concerns that Iran is being deceptive, enabling talks to go on while they creep closer and closer to their objective of weaponizing their uranium stockpile. There just might be a congressman or two who actually believes that or who genuinely thinks that Iran poses some kind of threat to the United States, but it does not require any particular insight to realize that the opposition to talks with Iran overwhelmingly comes directly from Israel and its friends and from nobody else. The principal Israeli lobby AIPAC has basically declared war on the White House over the issue and the Senators who are leading the charge are firmly in Israel’s pocket. Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois is even being briefed by Israeli intelligence and Israeli cabinet ministers have been observed pleading their case on Capitol Hill to a very receptive audience. Several congressmen have angrily confronted Secretary of State Kerry when he was trying to explain the tentative agreement with Iran, citing information they received from the Israeli Embassy and even quoting the Israeli media.

Our first president George Washington was aware of the danger of too "passionate attachments" to any foreign country, warning in his Farewell Address that "The Nation, which indulges towards another an habitual hatred, or an habitual fondness, is in some degree a slave.” Though the Quislings in Congress cannot, unfortunately, be found guilty of treason, there is, of course, the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) of 1938, which requires individuals acting on behalf of a foreign country to register with the Justice Department and to reveal their sources of funds. While it would be quite a spectacle to see lines of congressmen registering, no one should actually expect the Obama Administration to make such a demand or attempt to enforce it. The last president who sought registration of an Israel lobbyist as a foreign agent was John F. Kennedy, who attempted to force the predecessor to AIPAC, then called the American Zionist Council, to comply with the law.

All of the above means that between a charge of treason and the requirement to register as a foreign agent, ignored anyway in the case of Israel, there is no middle ground to punish congressmen who act on behalf of a foreign government apart from impeachment. Impeachment of a congressmen for any "high crime and misdemeanor" requires charges being initiated in the House of Representatives followed by the trial in the Senate. The somewhat tedious and no doubt heavily politicized procedure is unfortunate as impeachment therefore actually needs someone willing to stand up on his or her hind feet and demand that our legislators do something to benefit the folks who elect them rather than respond to those who pay for their extracurricular services on behalf of a foreign power. That someone would be very difficult to find.

Author: Philip Giraldi

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is a contributing editor to The American Conservative and executive director of the Council for the National Interest.