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.
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