Treason Terrorism Wartime Crimes Term Paper

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Treason, Terrorism and Wartime Crimes


Treason is the term legally used to describe different acts of unfaithfulness, treachery and betrayal. The English law was the first to make a distinction between high treason and petit (petty) treason in the Statute of Treasons (1350). It described petit treason as an act in which one's lawful superior is murdered by him/her. For instance, if an apprentice murdered his/her master, it was stated as a petit treason. On the other hand, high treason was defined by the English law as any grave threat to the permanence or stability of the state. High treason consisted of "attempts to kill the king, the queen, or the heir apparent or to restrain their liberty; to counterfeit coinage or the royal seal; and to wage war against the kingdom" ("treason," 2012).

Treason is regarded as both a prehistoric misdemeanor and an acknowledged epithet (Eichensehr, 2009). The turncoats, traitors and double agents were executed in ancient times by using particularly brutal methods. The English law of treason was developed by the court decisions into a tool for curbing confrontation to governmental policy. Every measure of violent behavior in conveying hostility and protest to parliamentary endorsements was regarded as a levy of war and a danger to the emperor's life. However, reformation took place in the English Law in the nineteenth century after which petit treason was brought to an end, unkind means of traitors' execution were made illegal, and different kinds of treason like forgery were categorized as criminal acts that involved a less significant punishment than death. Article 3 of the United States Constitution states that "treason shall consist only in levying war against the United States or in giving aid and comfort to its enemies and that conviction may be had only on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act or on confession in open court" ("treason," 2012). This definition was put forwarded in order to avoid the abuses of the English law ("treason," 2012).

There have been less than forty federal trials for treason and yet lesser convictions regarding the same. One of the first treason prosecutions was carried out in 1794 Whiskey Rebellion against several men who were, however, later exonerated by George Washington. Aaron Burr's case (1807) was the most famous treason trial that resulted in his release. Treason became, in principal, a wartime trend in the twentieth century. On the other hand, the treason cases of World Wars I and II turned out to be of inconsequential implications. In United States of America, there have been just 2 victorious prosecutions for treason on the national level. The first one was of Thomas Dorr in Rhode Island and the other one was of John Brown in Virginia ("treason," 2012).

Many argue that the treason is an "anti-liberal, too difficult to prove, unnecessary in times of stability and security, and based on a sense of loyalty to the state that has become extinct in the modern era" (Eichensehr, 2009). Critics envisaged that treachery prosecutions would become outdated with the passage of time. In the contemporary era, treason has fallen into disuse because the pertinent states no more face disagreements like Great Wars I and II (Eichensehr, 2009).


Terrorism can be simply defined as the threat or making use of violence, frequently against the civilian population for the achievement of political or societal ends, for the intimidation of rivals, or for the exposure of accusations. According to a declaration of the Security Council of the United Nations, "any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of their motivation, whenever and by whomsoever committed and are to be unequivocally condemned, especially when they indiscriminately target or injure civilians" (as qtd. In Lawless, 2007).

The term "terrorism" dates back to the Reign of Terror (1793 -- 94) in the French Revolution. However, the twentieth century has given it additional meanings. Terrorism entails activities like murders, terror campaigns, bombings, indiscriminating assassinations, and usurps. It is principally used for political purposes by groups that are too fragile to escalate open assaults. Thus, terrorism has turned out to be a modern tool of the estranged, alienated and separated from the society. It has increasingly impacted the public psychologically due to its extensive coverage by media ("terrorism," 2012).

The terrorism that is carried out politically may also be a part of the governmental operation against the opponents as under Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin etc. It may also be the part of an avant-garde effort to cause the downfall of a government. Guerrilla warfare also makes use of terrorist attacks as a regular scheme. The attacks by terrorist groups are mostly difficult for the governments to put a stop to. However, most governments seem to avoid them by signing international agreements to squeezing borders. Sometimes, terrorist attacks are prevented by returning terrorists for trial ("terrorism," 2012).

Since the late twentieth century, acts of terrorism have been connected with the "Italian Red Brigades, the Irish Republican Army, the Palestine Liberation Organization, Peru's Shining Path, Sri Lanka's Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the Weathermen and some members of U.S. "militia" organizations" ("terrorism," 2012). Terrorist acts fuelled with religious inspiration have also taken place by the extremist religious groups around the world such as Hamas, Al Qaeda, Aum Shinrikyo etc. ("terrorism," 2012).

In simple words, terrorism is, if truth be told, not a movement but an approach that a large number of groups use known as "freedom fighters" in different countries. Professed state-sponsored terrorism is also a common phenomenon whereby terrorist groups are supported or protected by the governments to do proxy attacks against rival countries. This kind of supported terrorism makes international efforts to end terror attacks difficult. However, a number of countries have placed financial sanctions on organizations that support terrorists openly or obliquely ("terrorism," 2012).

War Crimes

The concept of war crimes presents the idea that individuals can be detained and considered criminally responsible for the actions of a country or its soldiers. The international law categorizes war crimes among the most severe crimes. Their graveness can be judged from the fact that there is no time of restriction for such crimes meaning that those involved in committing war crimes can be put on trial and penalized regardless of how much time has slipped away since the commitment of crimes ("War Crimes," 2012).

Thus, a war crime may be defined as "a violation of international law regulating the legality and conduct of war, especially in relation to non-combatants (civilians, prisoners of war, the wounded)" (McGlynn, 2011).

The concept of war crimes is not an old one. Before the 20th century, it was common for armies to behave in a brutal and cruel manner towards the enemy soldiers and non-combatants alike. Punishments for such crimes were dependent on the fact that who won the war in the end. Thus, there was neither a prearranged approach to cope with war crimes nor any commonly-acknowledged agreement for the political and military leaders to take scandalous blame for the acts of their countries or their troops ("War Crimes," 2012).

However, the world witnessed a change in the attitudes during World War II when several million Jews were murdered by Nazi Germany. In the same event, both civilians and prisoners of war were mistreated by the Japanese. Thus, such incidences of brutal treatment prompted the Allies to take legal action against the people who were believed to be responsible for the war crimes ("War Crimes," 2012).

War crimes consist of infringements of the laws or customs of war that include violence or offence against people or property, killing and ill treatment of the civilians in occupied territory or their transportation to slave labor, murder or ill treatment of prisoners of war, killing of captives, torment or merciless treatment, looting of property…

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