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Do They Still Hang People for Treason?
Well, do they? We may need to answer that question soon. Article III, Section 3 of the Constitution defines treason as “levying war” against the U.S. or “adhering to” or giving “Aid and Comfort” to our “Enemies.” Up until recently I would have said that only Isis or its like would qualify as enemies of the United States. The Russians, by contrast, have seemed more like adversaries or competitors.

Recent indictments from the Mueller investigation, however, have detailed a large-scale, comprehensive attack on our system of government (us, in other words) by the Russians. It is not hard to argue that only an enemy would launch such an attack. There have been no official declarations of war, but the Constitution doesn’t mention such formalities in its discussion of treason. I am beginning to think we might be there after all.

Death has always been the go-to punishment for treason, of course. Fines and imprisonment are also options, but execution (if it is ever appropriate) seems a good match to this particular crime. Oddly, however, no one has ever been executed under U.S. law for treason. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were put to death for “conspiracy to commit espionage,” not treason. That case, it should be noted, was decided in 1953. America was in full paranoia mode over The Red Menace at the time, and most agree that our legal system was not at its best at the time of the Rosenberg trial.

The last American sentenced to death for treason was Tomoya Kawakita, whose conviction rested on his activities as a guard in a Japanese concentration camp. His sentence was later commuted by President Eisenhower. No one from the Confederacy paid the ultimate price for their offenses against our country. There were executions for war crimes and murder, but not for treason. Benedict Arnold never faced the consequences for his treachery, either, and died a quiet death in rural England. From complications of dropsy, if you must know.

So there is no real precedent here. If Donald Trump (to pick a name out of the air) were to be convicted of treason and sentenced to death, wouldn’t hanging be the first option that enters your mind? It seems like a means of execution especially made for traitors.

But let’s not be hasty. Drawing and quartering is is also on the menu, but I am not prepared to argue for its return to fashion. There’s no need to be cruel here. Justice should be our main concern — along with establishing a deterrent to the willful destruction of our society. If our state is going to kill someone, our method of choice should reflect our highest values as a people.

I’m not sure where the Mueller investigation will go, but we can certainly imagine ending up with a long list of traitors to deal with. The President, Don Jr., Jared, half the Cabinet, Mike Pence — they could all be implicated. That’s a lot of rope. The Rosenbergs died in the electric chair, so there’s is some precedent for that method. It’s not old school, though, and it doesn’t seem to match the unique nature of the crime. The same goes for any of those drug “cocktails” they’re experimenting with in the modern dens of horror we call prisons.

We’ll need something quick, humane, cost-effective, and earth-friendly for this job, but the method also must speak to the long tradition of punishment for betrayal of one’s country. Allow me to humbly suggest, then, this modest proposal: let’s dust off the guillotine — just in case. It has a history rich with symbolism, and it seems particularly fitting under the current set of facts. That’s if there are convictions, of course. We must all have a due respect for the rule of law and allow for it to take its course. After that, off with their heads!

Besides, there’s no harm in being prepared. We might be called upon to dispense large amounts of speedy justice in the near future, especially with all the traitors running around Capitol Hill these days (hi there, Devin Nunes). The guillotine would certainly qualify as a candidate for that job. It would spare us a lot of the waste associated with electrocutions or firing squads or gas chambers.

Besides being environmentally sound, multiple guillotine executions would surely serve as a deterrent as well. I do not, however, subscribe to the idea of placing all those severed heads on pikes along the National Mall. That is not who we are or who we want to become (though it would be a very efficient use of resources).

Still, I can understand why you might want to hang people for treason. It’s quick, it’s clean, and it just seems right. Unless hangin’s too good for ‘em, that is.

Please Note: Tim Eagan will read your comments but he is currently not publishing them.

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No "new normal" for me, this shit ain't normal.
~ MS, Truckee