“Give me the liberty to know, to utter and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.”
John Milton, “Areopagitica,” speech in 1644 for unlicensed printing
President Obama is one of the few public people who doesn’t want to pardon Edward Snowden although he has granted amnesty to hundreds of non-entities far less worthy.
Three human rights groups have launched a campaign to pardon Snowden: the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Their drive includes a petition signed by technologists, law professors and celebrities.
The ACLU ran a full-page ad in the New York Times declaring: “Snowden fought for our freedom. It’s time he has his own freedom. He is a whistleblower who exposed a vast surveillance system that violated the Constitution. His actions led to reforms that strengthened our democracy.”
And, the 21-member of the House Intelligence Committee signed a letter urging the president to pardon Snowden.
Snowden, a 29-year-old computer whiz, worked as a spy for the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency. The documents he released in 2013 were the largest intelligence leak in history.
The British Guardian, edited by Alan Rusbridger, first published the leaks. In the forward to the Luke Harding book, “The Snowden Files,” Rusbridger wrote that Snowden “made off with the electronic equivalent of libraries full of triple-locked filing cabinets and safes.”
The film dramatist, Oliver Stone, joined the fight by releasing his new film, “Snowden.” Stone has devoted his career as a filmmaker to pursuing the truth.
A.O. Scott, Times film critic, calls the biopic “Snowden” a “quiet, crisply drawn portrait of the world’s most celebrated whistleblower, an absorbing view of Snowden.”
Snowden released documents revealing abuse of power by the United States. He has been granted asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in Moscow. Sweden wants him to appear in its country to answer rape charges.
Snowden, speaking at a news conference by remote video link, said that his case has a much broader implication than his individual fate.
“If we are to maintain a free society, we must ensure that whistleblowers can act again and again with safety as a check on governmental power,” he declared. “We don’t want the public to be without information it needs to know because of fear.
“My disclosures have improved individual privacy. Being patriotic does not mean simply agreeing with your government.”
UPHOLDING AMERICAN BIRTHRIGHT
Snowden is a hero and patriot, upholding an American birthright of free speech without fear or favor.
But Lisa Monaco, Obama’s counterterrorism adviser, denounced that notion, declaring: “Snowden’s dangerous decision to steal and reveal classified information had severe consequences for the security of our country and NSA people. He should come home to America and be judged by a jury of his peers.”
Snowden knows he cannot get a fair trial in America because he has been charged under the Espionage Act. The act does not allow defendants to argue to a jury that he should be acquitted because whistleblowing serves the public interest.
The New York Times, in an editorial, insisted Snowden be pardoned: “He probably left the biggest mark on public policy debates during the Obama years. He opened our eyes and changed our country. Even the president acknowledged the importance of his revelations.
“A newspaper that published his accounts won the Pulitzer Prize. The United Nations issued resolutions protecting digital privacy and created a mandate to promote the right to privacy.”
The two major presidential candidates, who seldom agree on anything. chimed in. Republican Donald Trump called Snowden a traitor. Democrat Hillary Clinton demanded that Snowden be “brought home to face the music.”
But as the Times editorial concluded: “There is scant evidence that his information caused any harm to national security or to the nation.”
Nevertheless, the U.S. revoked his passport, stranding him in Russia. Surely a public servant like Snowden deserves a greater reward than a lifetime in a high-security prison in the United States.
Jon Wiener, attorney for ACLU director Ben Wizner, told Nation magazine that he agrees that Snowden should be pardoned. He recalls how the U.S. put Daniel Ellsberg on trial for leaking the Pentagon Papers in 1971.
The government prosecutor stated his objection. The judge replied: “Sustained,” calling the Ellsberg motivation irrelevant. He said the only thing the government needs to show is that Ellsberg provided information to someone not authorized to receive it.
Ellsberg’s motivation was highly relevant. But the government stacks the cards in Espionage Act prosecution. Snowden’s disclosures led to historic legal reforms when Congress passed legislation restricting NSA.
Jake Highton is an emeritus professor from the University of Nevada, Reno. (firstname.lastname@example.org)