In the latest of a long list of formerly top-secret government anti-terrorism operations that have been revealed by the Times, last week the paper printed the details of a government program tracking terrorists' financial transactions that has already led to the capture of major terrorists and their handmaidens in the U.S.
In response, the Bush administration is sounding very cross -- and doing nothing. Bush wouldn't want to get the press mad at him! Yeah, let's keep the media on our good side like they are now. Otherwise, they might do something crazy -- like leak a classified government program monitoring terrorist financing.National Review has boldly called for the revocation of the Times' White House press pass! If the Times starts publishing troop movements, National Review will go whole hog and demand that the paper's water cooler privileges be revoked. Then there's always the "nuclear option": disinviting Maureen Dowd from the next White House Correspondents' Dinner.
Meanwhile, the one congressman who has called for any sort of criminal investigation is being treated like a nut. Don't get me wrong: Congressman Peter King is nuttier than squirrel droppings -- but he's right on this.
Unless, that is, the country has simply abolished the concept of treason. We've got a lot of liberals who hate the country and are itching to aid the enemy, so what are you going to do? Indict the entire editorial board of The New York Times? (Actually, that wouldn't be a bad place to start, now that I ask.)
Maybe treason ended during the Vietnam War when Jane Fonda sat laughing and clapping on a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun used to shoot down American pilots. She came home and resumed her work as a big movie star without the slightest fear of facing any sort of legal sanction.
Fast forward to today, when New York Times publisher "Pinch" Sulzberger has just been named al-Qaida's "Employee of the Month" for the 12th straight month.
Before the Vietnam War, this country took treason seriously.
But now we're told newspapers have a right to commit treason because of "freedom of the press." Liberals invoke "freedom of the press" like some talismanic formulation that requires us all to fall prostrate in religious ecstasy. On liberals' theory of the First Amendment, the safest place for Osama bin Laden isn't in Afghanistan or Pakistan; it's in The New York Times building.
Freedom of the press means the government generally cannot place a prior restraint on speech before publication.
But freedom of the press does not mean the government cannot prosecute reporters and editors for treason -- or for any other crime. The First Amendment does not mean Times editor Bill Keller could kidnap a child and issue his ransom demands from The New York Times editorial page. He could not order a contract killing on the op-ed page. Nor can he take out a contract killing on Americans with a Page One story on a secret government program being used to track terrorists who are trying to kill Americans.
What if, instead of passing information from the government's secret nuclear program at Los Alamos directly to Soviet agents, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg had printed those same secrets in a newsletter? Would they have skated away scot-free instead of being tried for espionage and sent to the death chamber?
Ezra Pound, Mildred Gillars ("Axis Sally") and Iva Toguri D'Aquino ("Tokyo Rose") were all charged with treason for radio broadcasts intended to demoralize the troops during World War II. Their broadcasts were sort of like Janeane Garofalo and Randi Rhodes on Air America Radio -- except Tokyo Rose was actually witty, and Axis Sally is said to have used a fact-checker.
Tokyo Rose was convicted of treason for a single remark she made on air: "Orphans of the Pacific, you really are orphans now. How will you get home now that your ships are sunk?" For that statement alone, D'Aquino spent six years in prison and was fined $10,000 (more than $80,000 in today's dollars).
Axis Sally was convicted of treason for broadcasts from Germany and sentenced to 12 years in prison. Pound avoided a treason trial for his radio broadcasts by getting himself committed to an insane asylum instead (which I take it is Randi Rhodes' "Plan B" in the event that she ever acquires enough listeners to be charged with treason).
There was no evidence that in any of these cases the treasonable broadcasts ever put a single American life in danger. The law on treason doesn't require it.
The federal statute on treason, 18 USC 2381, provides in relevant part: "Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States ... adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000."
Thanks to The New York Times, the easiest job in the world right now is: "Head of Counterintelligence -- Al-Qaida." You just have to read The New York Times over morning coffee, and you're done by 10 a.m.
The greatest threat to the war on terrorism isn't the Islamic insurgency -- our military can handle the savages. It's traitorous liberals trying to lose the war at home. And the greatest threat at home isn't traitorous liberals -- it's patriotic Americans, also known as "Republicans," tut-tutting the quaint idea that we should take treason seriously.