Question about Treason in the United States

But prove what? Without a definition, the prosecutor can simply point and say “The accused provided comfort - proof is this Times magazine he gave Muhammed Smith, which has an article about the demoralizing effects of terror. Muhammed Smith is an enemy - proof is this letter from the president. The accused has given confession - proof is this signed statement he made earlier. End of proof, only conclusion: treason”.

I don’t see lack of prosecution as safeguard, given the examples posted upthread - a doctor treating a murderer was sentenced for aiding murderers, the Rosenbergs were railroaded under espionage - note that it’s even easier to get convictions under other charges:

Look at how easy it was to sentence people for knowing the wrong people in the days of McCarthy - yes, they weren’t sentenced to death, “only” to prison or unemployment.
Or today, the specil courts at Gitmo, where the driver of a terrorist is waterboarded and sentenced for being a terrorist, although his whole crime was driving, not doing acts himself.

Is “confession in open court” legally defined to only mean a confession given in open court itself, or does it not also refer to previously made, signed confessions which are then read aloud? How often (outside Hollywood TV dramas) does an accused break down and confess on the bench during court session itself, as opposed as to signing something during earlier questioning by the police/special investigator?

Besides, the two witnesses can easily be coerced with waterboarding or other fun methods. It’s not as if waterboarding is the only method of torture known to /practised by the US/CIA/Military, after all, it’s just so quick. (The CIA did enough research on how to torture information out of enemies, after all, in the 50s that they wrote a handbook about it: what methods to apply when and how, which ones were effective and which not. And no, that research wasn’t only limited to seeing what the KGB and others had tried and tested, it was also testing on enemies in a special safe house).

constanze, you can raise the same argument against any constitutional protection. A Constitution is only as good as the government and courts which enforce it.

The point is, in Stuart England Parliament had defined conversion to Catholicism as treason. Even under the more moderate Hanovers, it was treason to “imagine or compass the death of the King”–no overt act required. In continental Europe, almost any act of opposition to the sovereign or government could be considered treason.

The American definition of treason foreclosed such expansive interpretation, and it has been enforced by the courts, starting when John Marshall instructed a jury to acquit Aaron Burr because there was no “overt act”.

The fact that other constitutional protections have been stretched or ignored at various times doesn’t mean that they’re all worthless.

But that hasn’t happened. In fact, exactly the opposite did; John Marshall and subsequent judges have construed the definition of treason so narrowly that it’s rarely ever charged. The purpose of the inclusion of treason in the Constitution isn’t to define its every instance - that would require a whole treatise instead of a simple clause. The puropse is to constrain treason prosecutions so that it can’t be misused as a political weapon, as frequently happened in Britain before the passage of the treason act.

That’s precisely the point - treason is supposed to be a harder crime to prove. Treason is the most serious crime of disloyalty a person can commit.

Commonwealth of Virginia, not State.

The judges and prosecutors and the jury can be waterboarded also, but it won’t happen. The spies have better things to do than to spend their time getting innocent people together with the waterboards, and to tell the jury’/judge that the evidence was extracted at the board is not going to convice anybody of guilt. I think you are too hung up on waterboards. Look at any real trial and you will find out just what sort of subtleties are involved in a conviction. Torture is used to get info, not convictions.

The point is that it doesn’t matter what it’s used for if the possibility exists.

Fine. But according to at least one authority, this is a distinction without a difference.

Yes, but Virginia is still correctly styled as “The Commonwealth of Virginia”. You can refer to it as the state of Virginia, just not the State of Virginia.

I don’t understand - why would they be waterboarded?

Do you mean the CIA spies here? And if I understand you right, only guilty people are tortured, because torturing innocents would be a waste of time. You must be the God Almighty, all-knowing, to know which ones are innocent before starting the interrogation (torture)… But it does makes things a lot easier: only guilty people are tortured, so everybody who’s tortured is therefore guilty.
Over here, that kind of logic was thrown out when we finally got rid of the inquisition. Maybe your country will also learn about that fallacy one day?

So the Sheik Can’tRememberHisName (because I never remember names) who was 2nd in command of Al Quaida (allegedly- the CIA/ military said so), who was waterboarded (the CIA/ military openly admitted that) and signed a confession during torture, and was tried in that special military court without rules for Al Quaid people and sentenced based on his confession, earlier this year - that didn’t happen? And that most Americans on the street (I don’t have Gallup numbers) found that quite right and hunky-dory and fair makes it obviously right? It’s not as if any real court stepped in to declare this wrong, last I heard.

We aren’t the ones using them, your country is. But then, the special way the US police has of gathering evidence, and then conducting a trial, and calling it still a country with justice for all, is … difficult to comprehend over here. (Not that we don’t have individual policemen who overstep bounds, or judges who are out of line, either. But the public and justice comes down hard on those cases, because we think those cases aren’t right, instead of being normal.)

Like the defence lawyer being asleep during trial is not reason for a new trial? New evidence overturning verdicts because of the shoddy way the original trial was done or evidence ignored on purpose by police and prosecution wanting to get a sentence? How easy and common it is to pressure a suspect to accept a deal for a lesser offense by threatening to stick him with a murder charge or similar heavy offense, knowing how easy these things stick?

Obviously, you don’t know objective information about torture. Torture only gets one thing: what the torturer wants to hear. It doesn’t get information. Side effects include trying to break the spirit of the victim if dealing with rebels/ guerillas / opposition figures, so they will stop protesting/ rebellion. (Which is why the CIA trained South American police from dicatorships in the use of torture in the 60s, 70s, 80s.)

I also said that confessions could be gotten with torture - because that’s acceptable in the US right now. The confessions are then used to make the conviction. There’s one step in between.

I’m not sure I understand your argument correctly: is the Constitution not written in legalese language generally, so as to avoid unclear or double meanings? After all, it was written after the Declaration of Indepence, in no hurry, with deliberation and legal scholars sitting in, no? Other rights, like State not establishing a religion by favouring any special kind of religion offically, or the right to free speech, are rather clear with defined terms, no?

Yes, any law has to be interpreted by the judges and courts. But shouldn’t the original wording make the framework clear? That’s how our Basic Law is written; if it’s not clearly defined, it says which office shall do the daily interpretation.

It should, but it doesn’t. The Constitution runs to the sort of length that makes for an incredibly detailed shopping list but a rather vague framework for government.

Anyway, it doesn’t say which office shall interpret it; the concept of judicial review (as to the constitutionality of legislation) isn’t mentioned. The early Founders could just as easily have intended for Congress to determine if the laws they were passing were constitutional.

Sometimes, what you want to hear is information. Obviously, you can’t use it to get confessions and the like, but you can certainly use it for investigative purposes: “where is Steve hiding?”, etc. The victim is told that if his information doesn’t check out they’ll just start over.

Not really. What’s an “establishment of religion?” What is a “well-regulated militia?” Precisely how unreasonable is an “unreasonable search and seizure?” What is the exact process meant by “due process?” What constitutes a “public danger?”

How fast must a “speedy trial” be?

How much is “excessive bail” and what punishments are “cruel and unusual?”

That’s more ambiguity and vagueness than a college freshman’s political science paper, and that’s just from the Bill of Rights, a relatively small portion of the Constitution.

The Constitution is not written in any particular legalese, certainly not to the extent of federal statutes or federal court decisions, and is frustratingly vague in nearly everything it does. The meanings have been determined through case-law and political tradition (just what does “advice and consent” entail?) over many years.

You must have misunderstood me. I said that you ** don’t** get information. You get what the interrogator believes he knows before he starts. That’s why it’s so good for getting confessions - people will say anything to stop the torture. And for the same reason, it’s so bad for information - people will say anything to stop the torture. So you grab a 15-year old teenager and his dad of the street and torture them in Abu Ghraib to get the simple information “Where are the WMDs (we haven’t found yet, so they must be carefully hidden)?” (or, in your example, “where is Steve hiding?”), and the father will say anything to stop you from torturing his son in front of his eyes. Only the information, once checked out, is worthless, because the victim is a harmless citizen who didn’t have the information to begin with. (The correct information was “I don’t know where the WMDs are” and " You haven’t found them yet because they were all destroyed already and the reports that said otherwise were fabricated lies" but those answers, despite being true, were not acceptable to the interrogators.)

Now, before you counter that you were thinking of interrogation a ** real ** terrorist, who would have the information you seek, and not an innocent victim (although in real life, you don’t know that at the outset - people don’t have “innocent” or “terrorist” written on their forehead, you know) - there’s still no guarantee he will tell you the truth in the time you need. He will switch between lies and truth because he wants to protect his friends and his cause, just like any “good” spy (in any James Bond movie, when the good guy = the hero is tortured, he never reveals anything because he’s so good and can withstand torture. Why should the other side not have heroes, too?)

So to seperate truth from lies, you need follow-up intelligence. Which you could have done from the start instead of indulging your sadistic tendencies.

Besides, there’s a good reason every half-way competent terrorist organisation uses the cell structure. Even if you have a real bad guy, and even if you manage to break him and he finally tells the truth, there’s not much information he can give you beyond the local stuff for his group. He might tell you where Steve is, but he can’t tell you where Osama bin Laden is if he doesn’t know it himself. But he will make something up for you to stop the pain, and you will waste your time hunting down made-up information.

If you look into the history of torture, as applied during the Witch trials, you will see people confessing to physically impossible acts. We know that these things are impossible, yet the victims confessed to them. Obviously, torture gets what the torturer wants to hear, not the objective truth.

For the record, I indulge my sadistic tendencies by beating my friends at Madden, or taking people’s money at a poker table. I’m totally against torture.

However, you’re still missing the point. Let’s say, for example, you were looking for Former Evil Dictator Steve, and you believe he’s hiding in one of four cities in The Democratic People’s Republic of NotParticularlyFriendlyToTheWeststan. Now, you can’t just send Special Ops teams to wander around all four cities; first, the DPRN government won’t stand for it, and second, they’ll get dung all over their armored personnel carrier tires. You need a focus for your search.

You have in your custody 10 people who you believe may know your target’s (we’ll call him Steve for short) location.

You poke them in the nuts with jumper cables or give them all swirlies or whatever. Five give you a location. Four tell you to go eff yourself, imperialist dog. One claims to be Steve.

Now, you can send your personnel off to search four specific locations instead of four entire cities, which saves you days, weeks, months, maybe even years of kicking down doors and dodging RPGs and so on.