This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Last week, following the Orlando tragedy, Donald Trump essentially accused President Obama of treason. Trump stated that President Obama "either is not tough, not smart, or he's got something else in mind." In response to questions from the Associated Press, Trump said, "President Obama claims to know our enemy, and yet he continues to prioritize our enemy over our allies and, for that matter, the American people." Under the Constitution, "Treason against the United States, shall consist in . . . adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort."
Most leading Republicans immediately condemned this inflammatory rhetoric. But then one who should know much better piled on. Sen. John McCain, the wounded former POW whom Trump once said was not a real war hero, claimed that "Barack Obama is directly responsible for it, because when he pulled everybody out of Iraq, al-Qaeda went to Syria, became ISIS, and ISIS is what it is today thanks to Barack Obama's failures."
Although McCain later tried to back off the "directly responsible" statement and shift to talking about policies, the Trump accusation still stands and the McCain analysis deserves outright refutation. McCain could not have forgotten on whose watch America was misled about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and ties to al-Qaida to start that whole debacle back in 2003. Nor who dismissed all the Sunni and Ba'athist military of Iraq but left them with their weapons to form the insurgency that then brought "al-Qaida Iraq" into being. But AQI did not last because it was overwhelmed by the ISIS gang that was bred in the prisons formed by the U.S. efforts to put a Shi'a government of our choosing into place. AQI later severed ties with ISIS over the brutality and false "caliph" claim.
The future self-proclaimed "caliph" al-Baghdadi had been imprisoned at Camp Bucca in 2004, where he joined up with other radical insurgents and came out to form the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) in October 2006. Maybe it is the 2011 rupture among al-Qaida, al Nusra, and the newly formed ISIL/ISIS to which the senator is referring.
In whatever way one views this vastly complicated history, however, what is not debatable is the effect that this inflammatory rhetoric has become a recruiting tool for violent jihadists. CIA Director John Brennan made this statement to the Senate Intelligence Committee: "Despite all our progress against ISIL on the battlefield, our efforts have not reduced the group's terrorism capability and global reach. . . .[A]s the pressure mounts on ISIL, we judge that it will intensify its global terror campaign to maintain its dominance of the global terrorism agenda."
It hardly takes either a degree in psychology or foreign affairs to realize the obvious every blast at "radical Islam" adds recruiting fodder for jihadist elements. Meanwhile, claims that the U.S. president is responsible for the attacks on U.S. soil will "reward" the militants for their martyrdom while simultaneously fueling the right-wing militants in the U.S. and Europe. The route to peace is not through inflammatory rhetoric.
Moreover, all Americans should be appalled at the willingness of a presidential nominee to accuse the sitting president of treason. Aaron Burr was prosecuted for treason, but that was after he had left political office and tried to form his own nation from part of American territory. Warren Harding was in office when his Secretary of the Interior accepted bribes for oil leases. And William McKinley was elected president through the spending of mega-barons of industry in an early example of current political funding. But even with corruption in the backdrop, I am not aware of any previous accusation of presidential treason by a major political party nominee.
Whatever happens with the Dump Trump movement at the GOP Convention, it is important that the leadership make a strong statement that accusing the sitting president of treasonous behavior without evidence is not acceptable.
Wayne McCormack is the E.W. Thode Professor of Law at the S.J. Quinney Law School at the University of Utah.