It is the ultimate form of betrayal and the nation's most serious crime. In fact, treason is the only crime specifically dealt with in the United States Constitution.
An American commits treason when he or she takes up arms against the U.S. or helps the country's enemies in some other critical manner, such as through espionage. Though it is a rarely invoked offense, treason could soon become an issue in the war on terrorism as a result of the discovery of John Walker Lindh on December 3.
Walker, a 20-year-old native of northern California, was captured by U.S.-backed Northern Alliance troops after a Taliban prison uprising in Afghanistan. While the facts are not altogether clear, it appears that Walker had been fighting alongside the Taliban against the Alliance and U.S. troops during the weeks prior to his capture. According to Walker's mother, her son, a devout convert to Islam, left California in 1999 to attend school in Yemen, and then Pakistan. She said she had not spoken with him in months when she heard the news that he had been captured in Afghanistan.
Treason is considered to be very difficult to prove by legal scholars. The Constitution requires two eyewitnesses to prove that someone committed the crime. For that reason, instances in American history when citizens have actually been convicted of treason are rare. Less than 50 people have even been charged with the crime in our nation's history. And some of the most infamous cases resulted in acquittal.
Federal law says Americans convicted of treason can get anywhere from five years in prison to the death penalty. Whether that is the fate of John Walker Lindh remains to be seen.
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An MTV News Staff report
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