In an April 1 conference call with reporters, Sen. Jim Bunning (R.-Ky.) said that fired MSNBC reporter Peter Arnett “should be brought back and tried as a traitor to the United States of America, for his aiding and abetting the Iraqi government during a war.”
On the Senate floor that day, Bunning said, “I think Mr. Arnett should be met at the border and arrested should he come back to America.”
Bunning’s ire was raised by an interview Arnett gave in Baghdad to Iraqi television, a propaganda arm for Saddam’s regime.
“Clearly, this is a city that is disciplined, the population is responsive to the government’s requirements of discipline,” said Arnett. “My Iraqi friends tell me there is a growing sense of nationalism and resistance to what the United States and Britain are doing.”
“Clearly, the American war planners misjudged the determination of the Iraqi forces,” Arnett said. “I’ve been here many times and in my commentaries on television I would tell the Americans about the determination of the Iraqi forces, the determination of the government, and the willingness to fight for their country.”
Arnett even explained how his reporting was helping Saddam’s cause. “It is clear that within the United States there is a growing challenge to President Bush about the conduct of the war and also opposition to the war,” he said. “So our reports about civilian casualties here, about the resistance of the Iraqi forces, are going back to the United States. It helps those who oppose the war, when you challenge the policy, to develop their arguments.”
So does this amount to treason as Bunning suggests?
Article 3, Section 3 of the Constitution says: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.”
Did Arnett give “aid and comfort” to the enemy? Should he face prosecution? HUMAN EVENTS Assistant Editor David Freddoso found no takers for Bunning’s proposition on Capitol Hill.
The constitutional definition of “treason” is giving “aid and comfort” to the enemies of the United States. Senator Bunning yesterday called for Arnett to be tried for treason. Do you agree with him?
SEN. ROBERT BENNETT (R.-UTAH): I’m not sure that stupidity rises to the level of treason. Yes, he gave aid and comfort to the enemy. But it’s not in a situation where he was, for example, a military person who gave out secret information, or someone who assisted in a material way, one of our enemies. He just said some really dumb things that exposed his own inability to understand. And the enemy seized on it and used it to their purposes. But I don’t think he’s quite at the level of, say, Tokyo Rose of World War II. He’s just a really, really dumb guy.
So you’d say that strictly by the definition “giving aid and comfort,” you’d say he committed treason, but he shouldn’t be prosecuted?
BENNETT: Well, yeah. The question of aid and comfort to the enemy, I think, has to do with your standing. And he’s not an American official in any way. And he’s not speaking or acting for the American government. He showed the same level of intellectual maturity that Jane Fonda did in the Vietnam War. But of course, she was a movie star in her 20s, and he’s an experienced journalist, so he clearly should have known better.
Senator Bunning yesterday called for Arnett to be arrested at the border and tried for treason. Do you agree with Senator Bunning?
SEN. SAM BROWNBACK (R.-KAN.): We are at war, and we are losing lives, and the comments that he made were totally inappropriate. I don’t know if I’m at the point of calling it a treasonous act that he should be arrested for, but I certainly deplore what he said.
Would you consider what he did to be “aiding and comforting” the enemies of the United States?
BROWNBACK: I don’t know the interpretation of what the definitions are. It was deplorable, it was wrong, he shouldn’t have done it, it was harmful, but I don’t know-that’s for somebody who prosecutes that sort of case.
Senator Bunning said yesterday that Arnett should be tried for treason. Do you agree?
SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R.-TEX.): Well, I know Senator Bunning is angry, as I am. I’m glad to see that the network terminated his employment. He made a terrible blunder. I’m not sure that what he did technically qualifies as treason. But I’ll bet that if he had it to do all over again, he would have chosen differently.
You don’t think that he gave “aid and comfort” to the enemy by what he said?
CORNYN: Well, I think, in a non-technical sense, he did. That’s why I think that what he did was so deplorable. But I’m not sure that I believe that prosecution is the best outcome.
Subsequent to [Arnett’s] TV interview, Senator Bunning of Kentucky has called for him to be tried for treason. Do you agree?
REP. VITO FOSSELLA (R.-N.Y.): I think his actions were despicable, his words were ridiculous. Clearly he doesn’t appreciate the tyranny of Saddam Hussein. I think his words, and what he said-his actions-if not criminal, clearly border on criminality.
Do you think he gave aid and comfort to the Iraqi regime?
FOSSELLA: Yeah, I think in part, his statement about the “resolute stance” and bringing resolve to the Iraqi people, I think it’s arguable that a direct effect of that was to hurt our troops, our men and women in harm’s way.
So should he be tried for treason?
FOSSELLA: I don’t think so. I think what he did was-like I said-worth looking to see whether his actions were criminal or border on criminal, that’s at the surface. My initial reaction at this point is that he shouldn’t be tried for treason, but that what he said came pretty darned close.
Senator Bunning of Kentucky, over on the other side, has said that [Arnett] should be met at the border when he comes back, arrested, and tried for treason. Do you agree?
REP. RAUL GRIJALVA (D.-ARIZ.): No. I think, obviously, one can assess the fact that, depending on your perspective, it was poor judgement for a journalist to give an interview to Iraqi television. But nevertheless, I think our ability as a country for free speech, our ability for free expression, extends beyond our continental borders. I don’t consider it an act of treason.
The constitutional definition of treason-giving “aid and comfort” to the enemies of the United States-do you think that he did that by what he said in that interview?
GRIJALVA: Not from what I read. I don’t think he revealed any classified logistical issues, nor did he rally people against the United States Army. I think he was enamoured with the fact that he was giving an interview-but in terms of giving classified information, or rallying the Iraqi people with more intensity toward the United States military-I didn’t interpret it that way. The worst that could be said is, poor judgement. I wouldn’t extend that to aiding and abetting the enemy.
Senator Bunning. . .said Peter Arnett ought to be arrested at the border and tried for treason for the interview he gave to Iraqi state television. Do you agree with him?
SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R.-NEB.): Oh, I think Arnett is kind of a pathetic joke, and I think that any more attention we give to him is exactly what he wants.
Do you agree that what he said was aiding and comforting the enemies of the United States?
HAGEL: I think we should just accept him for what he is.
Senator Bunning said that Arnett should be arrested at the border and tried for treason. Do you agree?
SEN. TRENT LOTT (R.-MISS.): I don’t know that I would advocate that. . .But it was a highly irresponsible thing. And the best thing for him to do is to go find some small school where he can teach freshman English.
Do you think that by what he said, he gave aid and comfort to the enemies of the United States?
LOTT: I do. I think it was very unhelpful. I’m not prepared to say we ought to literally try him for treason, but it was not a good thing to do.
This week, Peter Arnett gave an interview to Iraqi state TV. It caused a little bit of an uproar, and-
REP. LORETTA SANCHEZ (D.-CALIF.): Who is that?
Peter Arnett, the journalist with-he was working with MSNBC, and he gave an interview with Iraqi state TV, and he said that his reporting is helping people in the States to oppose the war, and-
SANCHEZ: I don’t know-I don’t know who any of these guys are. I don’t really watch TV. Sorry.