The devil is often in the precise details. This must-read op-ed (which I missed) gives more context to the case of Tarek Mehanna, and I have to say I found its details troubling. There is no real doubt that Mehanna is an al Qaeda supporter, traveled to Yemen to try to get some Jihad on (failed), translated al Qaeda documents to spread propaganda and clearly hates his own country's foreign policy to a degree that allowed him to want to see his fellow citizens incinerated, like "BBQ," in his analogy. But I see no tangible, direct, organizational links with al Qaeda as in the Awlaki case; and mere translation and abhorrent, treasonous views. I can see why some conspiracy charges might have been salient, but a 17 year sentence? That seems unduly punitive to me.

Part of the problem is that Mehanna's backers really don't believe we are at war (hence the fact that both sides can talk past each other). But if we are at war, enemy propagandists have not historically been treated as untouchable. A reader writes:

I have no idea why anyone thinks that the propagandists for our military enemies should be afforded freedom of speech. Here’s a quick list of Axis propagandists tried, imprisoned, and in some cases executed after World War II:

* William Joyce – Lord Haw-Haw, British propagandist for the Germans
* Fred W. Kaltenbach – Lord Hee-Haw, American propagandist for the Germans
* Iva Toguri D’Aquino – Tokyo Rose, American propagandist for the Japanese
* Mildred Gillars – Axis Sally, American propagandist for the Germans
* Rita Zucca – Axis Sally, American propagandist for the Italians

These individual did not take up arms in the field of battle, but they all betrayed their native lands in their attempts to destroy Allied morale and extol the virtues of fascism during wartime.  It is uncontroversial that they were guilty of treason.  How is it controversial when the enemy is Al-Qaeda?

We have aired both sides of the argument and after reading more, I feel less confident in my previous position. But I wonder if, say, Glenn Greenwald, believes that treason itself is a crime. Or should be. And if Mehanna is not a traitor, who would be?