Edward Snowden has been unfavorably compared to Daniel Ellsberg: both leaked classified documents that exposed government wrongdoing, but Ellsberg was brave enough to stand and face the legal system. Now Ellsberg himself repudiates that argument. America has changed over the last 40 years. We now live in a country that actively suppresses whistle-blowers, with a lapdog media that colludes in maintaining government secrecy.
I hope Snowden’s revelations will spark a movement to rescue our democracy, but he could not be part of that movement had he stayed here. There is zero chance that he would be allowed out on bail if he returned now and close to no chance that, had he not left the country, he would have been granted bail. Instead, he would be in a prison cell like Bradley Manning, incommunicado.
He would almost certainly be confined in total isolation, even longer than the more than eight months Manning suffered during his three years of imprisonment before his trial began recently. The United Nations Special Rapporteur for Torture described Manning’s conditions as “cruel, inhuman and degrading.” (That realistic prospect, by itself, is grounds for most countries granting Snowden asylum, if they could withstand bullying and bribery from the United States.)
Snowden believes that he has done nothing wrong. I agree wholeheartedly. More than 40 years after my unauthorized disclosure of the Pentagon Papers, such leaks remain the lifeblood of a free press and our republic. One lesson of the Pentagon Papers and Snowden’s leaks is simple: secrecy corrupts, just as power corrupts.
I remember the Nixon years, and thinking it was a disgrace to be living in a crook’s regime. Who would have thought I’d someday be living in that same country, with a slightly more liberal Democratic president, and be pining for the days before Reagan?