The Making of a Terror Rock Star

I am willing to lay you smooth odds that before today you had never heard of Adam Gadahn; that you never knew he's the American kook who appears in Al Qaeda videos; or that he was raised on goat ranch in California but now spews creepy rhetoric against the country of his birth. But now you and everyone else in the world knows those things, not because I am telling you them, but because our government has chosen to make this insignificant front-man a martyr, a terrorist rock star, another grim face of terror, by making him the first American in half a century to be charged with the capital crime of treason.

Here is what the Justice Department said this afternoon about Gadahn when the feds announced the indictment. "Adam Gadahn is a U.S. citizen who made a choice to join and act as a propagandist for al Qaeda, an enemy of this country responsible for the horrific deaths of thousands of innocent Americans on Sept. 11, 2001," said Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty. "The War on Terror is a fight for hearts and minds, and Gadahn gave himself to our enemies in al Qaeda for the purpose of being a central part of their propaganda machine. By making this choice, we believe Gadahn committed treason - perhaps the most serious offense for which any person can be tried under our Constitution."

Why has our government decided to turn this roadie for Osama bin Laden into a larger-than-life, twice-in-a-century example of the struggle against global terrorism? What has he done to merit what the feds call "perhaps the most serious" charge "under our Constitution"? Is appearing on a video enough, really, to support a capital treason charge? Why do it now? And how precisely does indicting this guy for treason make us safer from terrorists? Don't ask me. I just don't know.

If, as the feds say, they made their move now to counter the propaganda threat posed by Gadahn's participation in those videos than it seems to me that the Administration has just bolstered, and not diminished, that threat. By singling out Gadahn for treason-- remember, neither any of the U.S.-born "enemy combatants nor John Walker Lindh were ever so charged since 9/11-- the government has unilaterally and voluntarily elevated him into a sort of Terrorist's Hall of Fame. And that can only serve to increase both the scope and the power of his ugly message.

There are plenty of other federal crimes with which the Justice Department could have charged Gadahn and, indeed, along with the treason charge, Gadahn is said to now face a charge of providing material support to terrorists. The feds could have charged him with conspiracy. Heck, they could have charged him with the Kennedy Assassination because they have no idea where he is, or where he is likely ever to be, and thus have no reason to believe he will ever have to stand trial and face these charges. Moreover, if the purpose of the exercise was to help find Gadahn, then the government could have put him on its Most Wanted List (as it did today) without charging him with treason.

It just doesn't make sense. If you are going to charge a guy with the only crime specifically mentioned in the Constitution-- a crime federal prosecutors did not even use against Julius and Ethel Rosenberg when they spied for the Soviet Union-- at least do it in a case where you have a reasonable chance of getting the guy to trial and then sending him away to death row or to a prison somewhere. If you are going to turn an obscure spokesman into a national symbol, at least do it because you know in the end that you are going to win. This is not a workhorse move. This is a showhorse move. And right now it looks like just another curious move by an Administration that has made a habit over the past five years of turning unimportant, unworthy men into icons of injustice.

By Andrew Cohen |  October 11, 2006; 4:15 PM ET
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You dare question the wisdom and integrity of our Benevolent Masters in Washington? Perhaps YOU should be arrested for treason! All hail our Brave and Honorable President and his Glorious Regime! Fie upon those who question him! Fie!

Posted by: CT | October 11, 2006 04:38 PM

The administration simply has a screw loose. They insist we see their position on all matters as the wisest course of action, and I can see why; their policy in Iraq has gone so well.

Posted by: Rose | October 12, 2006 01:47 PM

Ve Vould like to see your papers please

Posted by: C A Shipman | October 12, 2006 02:14 PM

Welcome to the "Brave New World". This is absolutely Orwellian. But, of course, our Dear Leader and his wise men are well versed in doublespeak. Perpetual war in order to maintain order. It's uncanny!!!! Orwell had it right, just got the date wrong. HEIL FUEHRER!!!!!!!!

Posted by: Ron Vaughn | October 12, 2006 02:34 PM

THE PERSON THAT GAVE THE NAME OF OUR CIA AGENT HAS COMMITTED TREASON. WHEN I GOT OUT OF THE GOVERNMENT IT WOULD HAVE BEEN TREASON IF I EVEN TALKED ABOUT NSA

Posted by: james, gladysz | October 12, 2006 02:43 PM

My guess is that someone remembered that Tokyo Rose was eventually exonerated of her conviction for treason. Thereupon, they wanted to send a message:
(1) That they disagree,
(2) that they are tough on terrorism, and
(3) that they'll have no tolerance for unpatriotic statements.

Posted by: bureau cat | October 12, 2006 03:18 PM

I hope there is someone out there old enough to remember the "Katzenjammer Kids"(sic) or the "Key Stone Kops" and can now see how they have taken over the GOP and the White House - the sad part is they can really hurt the innocent. Good point on Tokyo Rose (one of whom just died recently). Now there is a tragic story or our legal system going amok.

Posted by: prof. Al | October 12, 2006 04:55 PM

Find him. Hang him.
There's room to dissent, but he's a bona fide member of al-Quada, non-combat propagandist or not. He's a clear cut enemy, and should be treated as such. Being an American as well, that treatment is a charge of treason. I can't say why Lindh didn't face the charge, too, but he should've.

Posted by: Tyler Wilkinson | October 12, 2006 07:08 PM

EVERY SCOCIETY HAS ITS DISCONTENTS. WHAT THIS JERK DID GOES BEYOND FREEDOM OF SPEACH. BUT CHARGING HIM IS USLESS WE ARE NOT IN A POSITION TO FIND THE GUY. WE NEED TO FIND USAMA.

Posted by: DIMITRI IVONABITCH | October 12, 2006 07:37 PM

As with everthing about this administration's hotdogs, if they can't find a legitimate problem to deal with, they create a problem. This is just more hot air and smoke to deflect the public's attention away from their doing nothing to doing something...anything to appear busy.

Posted by: Doc D. | October 14, 2006 05:11 PM

I'm very confused by the liberals mindset!!! Let's see....attack the entire republican party, for the ills,(NOTHING ILLEGAL), of 1 homosexual congressman, while questioning the Justice Dep't for charging a US citizen and KNOWN contributor
to al Qaeda, for treason!! Yes, Gadahn is a small fish in a big ocean, but Mr Cohen, what would your ancestors think if prosecutors at Nuremberg held YOUR beliefs about Baldur von Schirach---who was "only," or "just" the first Hitler Youth Leader!!!

Posted by: Vincent J. DiBacco | October 15, 2006 04:14 PM

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