What distinguishes a civilian charge of treason versus being an enemy combatant? Richard J. Leon ruled:

"Enemy combatant" shall mean an individual who was part of or supporting Taliban or al Qaeda forces, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners. This includes any person who has committed belligerent act or has directly supported hostilities in aid of enemy armed forces.


  1. What's a belligerent act?
  2. What distinguishes directly supporting hostilities vs indirectly supporting hostilities?
  3. Is merely indirectly supporting hostilities excluded from the things that makes one an enemy combatant?

2 Answers 2


What distinguishes a civilian charge of treason versus being an enemy combatant?

Nationality. Someone who is not a US national cannot commit treason against the US, because treason is a breach of allegiance, and non-nationals do not owe allegiance. The ruling you mention is not concerned with treason because the defendant is not a national of the United States.

If a US national meets the definition of enemy combatant then that person has committed treason, the definition of which is limited in the constitution to "giving aid or comfort to the enemy." It is also possible to commit treason without being a combatant, for example by giving indirect support to an enemy where that indirect support is found to constitute "aid."

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    Treason is actually defioned as "levying war against the US or adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort." aside from that this answer is correct. Commented Nov 23, 2020 at 10:18

Well, one would require a description of 'treason' that is fit for purpose. A few years ago I came across a parliamentary report that said that the term was no longer fit for purpose in modern times.

Given that the US and the U.K. have similar legal ststems, it's quite likely that the same applies to the US. Given that there has been no prosecutions for treason, a crime mandated in the constitution, under US law for several decades, it suggests similar does apply.

This is one of the uses of international law in that bridges the difference between nations by crafting a language suitable for all nations-states party to a particular dispute.

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    The question is tagged united-states, so a parliamentary report is irrelevant, because the US has no parliaments. (Furthermore, the phrase "fit for purpose" is quite rate in the US.) Which parliament produced it? Also, treason is an issue of national law, not international.
    – phoog
    Commented Nov 23, 2020 at 6:38
  • The adjective 'rate' is quite rare in the US and the UK. Dunno about Australia. Commented Nov 23, 2020 at 9:26
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    US Federal law still makes trwason a crime, altho9guh ther have not been any prosecutions for it in several decades -- I think not since the WWII era. Treason in US law is defined in the Constitution, the only crime for which this is true. The above answer is not correct as regards US law. Commented Nov 23, 2020 at 10:15

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