• U.S.

Acts of Betrayal

3 minute read
Elisabeth Salemme

The streets of America shall run red with blood.” The threat, delivered on one of those al-Qaeda videos that appear occasionally online, wasn’t that unusual. Except that the man in it and three other videos spoke in perfect American English. His name is Adam Yahiye Gadahn, 28, a Californian who converted to Islam as a teen. Gadahn, who first appeared in an al-Qaeda video as a half-masked terrorist identified as “Azzam the American,” was charged last week with treason for conspiring against the U.S. Now thought to be in Pakistan, he was added to the FBI’s most-wanted list.

Treason is a rare crime. According to the FBI, just eight people have been convicted of it in the nation’s history, most for wartime actions. Gadahn is the first American charged since Tomoya Kawakita, a Japanese American who abused captured U.S. troops during World War II and was convicted in 1952. Kawakita was pardoned by President John F. Kennedy, but not all accused traitors have been so lucky. Here are a few of the most memorable.



The Continental Army general was a hero early in the Revolutionary War but switched sides and plotted to deliver to the British the fort at West Point, N.Y.–where he was commander. He fled and joined the British army before he could be tried for treason.



Dorr led a failed rebellion against Rhode Island’s Governor, who refused to recognize a new state constitution that Dorr had drafted with other liberal reformers. Sentenced to life in solitary confinement and hard labor, Dorr was pardoned in 1854.



Intent on waging war against slavery in the South, the militant abolitionist led a raid on the federal armory at Harper’s Ferry, Va. Local militiamen captured him, and he was hanged after being convicted of treason, murder and inciting slave insurrection.



He had only helped a stranger with a broken leg, he said. But that stranger was John Wilkes Booth, on the run after assassinating Abraham Lincoln. Mudd was jailed for life for treason and for conspiring to assassinate the President but was pardoned in 1869.



While living in Italy during World War II, the poet and Mussolini fan broadcast anti-U.S. radio commentaries. Imprisoned by the U.S. Army in an outdoor cage, he suffered a breakdown and was found mentally incompetent to stand trial for treason.



Tokyo Rose’s European counterpart, “Axis Sally” worked to weaken the morale of U.S. troops with her broadcasts on Radio Berlin. After the war, she was convicted of treason, served 12 years in jail, was paroled and became a music teacher in Ohio.

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