'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Committing Treason Betwixt New Yorker Cartoons 

Maybe this shouldn't be surprising, but a Washington Times editorial "Espionage by Any Other Name" seems to call for Seymour Hersh to be tried for treason. Although "espionage" is in the title, I think, -- and, lord knows, I'm just winging it here -- the author means treason rather than espionage, because he doesn't actually insinuate that Hersh was on Iran's payroll. I report, you decide:

I am not an expert on these federal code sections [regarding the prohibition of publishing information on troop movements in a time of war], but a common-sense reading of their language would suggest, at the least, that federal prosecutors should review the information disclosed by Mr. Hersh to determine whether or not his conduct falls within the proscribed conduct of the statute.

In the fairly recent past, at least one journalist writing for Jane's Publications has been successfully prosecuted under the statute, freedom of speech and the press not being a defense to espionage. Remember, in the famous Pentagon Papers case, the issue was prior restraint. Could the government stop a newspaper from publishing government secrets relating not to current operations, but to prior planning? The answer then was no. But in the current matter of Mr. Hersh and the New Yorker, they have been free to publish the article. The question is whether or not any legal consequences attach to that decision.

I was shocked when I read Mr. Hersh's article. Note the tenses he uses to describe American military action: "The American commando task force ... is now working," "has been conducting secret reconnaissance." In other words, Mr. Hersh is revealing to all the world, including the Iranian government, that our commandos are currently behind enemy lines in Iran on a dangerous and vital military assignment.

Actually I'm surprised the right didn't come up with this line quicker. It's a cute use of the have-their-cake-and-eat-it-to position that pops up frequently in the discourse surrounding the "war on terror". It's convenient to have a perpetual multi-front war that is never officially declared as a war. It can be a real war when you want to stifle dissent but it's not a real war when someone suggests that you abide the Geneva conventions. It can be a real war when you want to try some half-starved Californian kid for treason in Afghanistan, but it's not a real war when someone asks for public transparency and Congressional oversight.

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