Treason: Who is an "enemy"

This may be more poll-ish than debate, so I’m opening it here.

In the US Constitution, treason is defined as:

Some folks are asserting that Russia qualifies as an enemy, but I can’t see it. We have more or less open trade with Russia, we have diplomatic relations with them, and we even use their rockets to send our astronauts to the ISS, which not only puts our astronauts are risk, but must also entail the sharing of some key technology.

I’m thinking North Korea would qualify, since we have tens of thousands of troops stationed at the border, no diplomatic relations, and we’re technically just in an extended cease fire of the Korean [del]War[/del] Military Action.

Maybe Iran, but I think would be a bit of a stretch. Cuba could have been on the list, but I think they are off, or at least on their way to being off.

Any other country work, or any comments about my ideas?

Unless there’s an official list of enemies then you are arguing that it’s impossible to commit treason.

Well, it might be, outside of a specifically declared war with named enemies. That’s the OP’s question. What counts as an enemy? Certainly not any old nation we trade and have diplomatic relations with, like Russia.

Though I know our intelligence services like to treat every last organization, country and person on earth as a potential enemy, that doesn’t mean they actually are. The last people convicted of treason in the US were aiding Germany and Japan during WWII. Specifically named enemies in a declared war.

Though, ultimately, we all know that Trump will not see any punishment for his faux-pas with Russia unless Congress says so, and at that point this is a political question, not a legal one.

In the past there have been countries that clearly were enemies of the United States. For example, Germany and Japan between 1941 and 1945, since war had been declared. However, if the United States were at peace with all the world, then there would indeed be no enemies to adhere to, or to give “Aid and Comfort” to.

“Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.”

Does not say that “Enemies” has to be countries. ISIS is clearly an enemy. So is Al Queda. So is Taliban.

It’s been a long time since we had a declared war. As far as I’m concerned a war occurs when congress authorizes military action or spending, it doesn’t require a document that’s titled ‘Declaration of War’. However that would limit treason only to situations where there is active war, not what I think is intended in the Constitution, although for legal purposes as opposed to an impeachment the SCOTUS would have to decide that. If it were up to me I’d consider the [del]Soviet Union[/del] Russia to be an enemy. We know that the [del]KGB[/del] Russian Foreign Intelligence Service actively operates against the security interests of the US. If someone were not authorized to give them Code Word Secret intelligence information they should be guilty of Treason in my book, but unfortunately from a legal standpoint it wouldn’t be legally defined unambiguously.

True. Some people were executed for treason during the Whisky Rebellion, and there were no other countries involved at all. So too the Civil War, though the South pretended to be another country for a while then.

There’s a first part to the definition of treason: “levying War against [the United States]”, and it’s separated from the first part by “or”. The Confederate States were certainly levying war against the U.S., and arguably the Whiskey Rebels were too.

In that case, what counts as a war? Can (should?) a hacker be charged with Treason for cyber attacks against the government? What if you get into a hand-to-hand fight with a group of unarmed soldiers? Were the Branch Davidians in Waco traitors? What kind of cutoff is there?

I just presume whatever rule you come up with can’t apply to everybody. That’s why I hesitate to call Russia, or China, or Cuba “enemies”. We actually had a shooting war with North Korea which technically never ended, and their leader threatens us with nukes daily, so I’m comfortable calling them enemies, at least.

We are never ever going to declare war again. There are countries such as Russia who we are not at war with but behave in a hostile manner. Nations who display hostility should be consider enemies and treason can include helping them, Let’s not wordsmith Cheeto out of culpability here, he clearly committed a treasonous act as we should define it.

You don’t think a legal case of treason is going to involve “wordsmithing” to determine whether the country in question is “an enemy”? That might be the bulk of the testimony.

Courts have to determine if an organization is a religion or not. I think they can determine if a country is an enemy. I’m sure they can come up with one of their famous Three Part Lists.

I’m sure they could, but do we have any examples that didn’t involve an active war?

Let’s expand on the bolded statement. Do cyberattacks count? I would argue they do. Take Stuxnet, which took down Iran’s nuclear program. Bayard and I between us could probably come up with a list of lesser known attacks by state actors that would make your skin crawl. What if a country were to use hacking, bot nets, and other methods to influence our elections - hostile act? I would argue yes. Are they still doing it? According to intelligence sources, why, yes, they are. Who started and funded the California secession movement? Russia again. Why, it almost looks like they are trying to destabilize our government and country. How “friendly”.

The means of war have changed. Make no mistake, however, Russia is very much our enemy, trade agreements or not.

Agreed. When is Trump going to do the right thing and start WW3 with Russia.

They are not “clearly” an enemy, just because certain politicians call them enemies or the media makes them out to be . Treason is a crime, persons accused of treason are entitled to due process, that means a court has to have a basis upon which to define an enemy. Which means to convince a jury to unanimously rule an accused to be guilty as charged.

One is innocent until proven guilty of treason, and there are two ways a court can find for treason. Either indisputable evidence that those aided meet a legal definition of enemy in the words of the law, or based on precedent, standing on who was convicted of treason in the past and who was acquitted, and what their acts consisted of. There is not a lot of settled law on this, which would make a conviction quite extraordinary unless the circumstances were blatant.

Cite? A President gets to decide what is classified and what his not. A President also needs the flexibility to bargain/negotiate freely. Even if it is Trump.

From basically the beginning of the country, treason was a political tool. The Federalists wanted to use treason charges to secure the federal government’s role. Antifederalists, and eventually Democratic Republicans, wanted to make it harder to prove treason to prevent that. Through U.S. history, it has really only gotten harder and harder, while other more specific statutes have sprung up to cover the holes created by this narrowing.

As it stands now, it’s pretty fucking hard to prove treason the crime, even in circumstances that normal people would call treason. That’s not really a measure of what is and what is not treasonous. It’s the peculiar history of that particular crime.

I agree that an enemy doesn’t have to be a country. An organization like Al Qaeda or ISIS can be an enemy of the United States.

But I agree with the OP that there should be some formal definition of who our enemies are as opposed to who we just have an unfriendly relationship with.

I also feel that there should be an additional standard: you shouldn’t get charged with treason unless there was some previous expectation of loyalty. Charles Cornwallis and Benedict Arnold were both enemies of America during the Revolution. But there’s a reason we call Arnold a traitor and don’t call Cornwallis one.

Presidents are also entitled to negotiate legislation with Congress and appoint his senior advisers. That does not mean that their judgment in any such matters cannot be questioned.

IANAL (thanks Og!!), but it seems to me that your typical ambitious lawyer or judge would like nothing more than to put his or her stamp on a new area of jurisprudence. Wouldn’t you like to be the guy who came up with The Tripolar Test for Treason? You’d be as famous as Lemon!!

Despite the jokey response, I’m actually dead serious about that. I don’t see it as a problem at all. More like a golden opportunity for someone.