Calls for a pardon for Snowden


With the release of the film Snowden, there have been renewed calls for president Obama to pardon him or at least provide some means so that he can return to the US. Currently he faces draconian charges under the Espionage Act that could enable the Obama administration to immediately take him out of circulation and prevent him from any contact with the outside world and deny him all due process rights. Snowden himself has made a moral case for a pardon, saying that people had benefited from his actions.

The grounds for the pardon are that Snowden did us a public service by enabling the exposure of the vast secret network of surveillance on people around the world and that this exposure has led to at least some reforms of the system to curtail some of the abuses. Jenna McLaughlin and Talya Cooper helpfully provide a complete list of all the programs that he helped expose and what they did. The House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence also met last week to discuss a report about Snowden’s disclosures.

Peter Maas calls for a wider network of pardons for all the whistleblowers who have been viciously persecuted by the Obama administration, such as Chelsea Manning, Stephen Kim, Jeffrey Sterling, John Kiriakou, and Thomas Drake, all of whom have suffered greatly for their actions.

Maas feels, and I agree, that it is highly unlikely that Obama will pardon Snowden and Manning, though there is an extremely slight possibility for the others. This is because the vicious prosecution of Snowden and Manning and other whistleblowers is something that Obama seems to really want and believe in and is not something that is being imposed on him by others. Obama has been a secrecy-obsessed president, running one of the least transparent administrations, directly counter to his promise when he took office in 2009. So I am not holding my breath.

The editorial board of the Washington Post has rejected the idea of a pardon and instead called for the prosecution of Snowden. Glenn Greenwald says that it is the first time that a newspaper has called for the prosecution of the very source that it used in its own news stories that resulted in it getting a Pulitzer prize.

Greenwald emphasizes an important point: that it was not Snowden who published the documents.

But this highlights a chronic cowardice that often arises when establishment figures want to denounce Snowden. As has been amply documented, and as all newspapers involved in this reporting (including the Post) have made clear, Snowden himself played no role in deciding which of these programs would be exposed (beyond providing the materials to newspapers in the first place). He did not trust himself to make those journalistic determinations, and so he left it to the newspapers to decide which revelations would and would not serve the public interest. If a program ended up being revealed, one can argue that Snowden bears some responsibility (because he provided the documents in the first place), but the ultimate responsibility lies with the editors of the paper that made the choice to reveal it, presumably because they concluded that the public interest was served by doing so.

Yet over and over, Snowden critics — such as Slate’s Fred Kaplan and today’s Post editorial — omit this crucial fact, and are thus profoundly misleading. In attacking Snowden this week, for instance, Kaplan again makes the same point he has made over and over: that Snowden’s revelations extended beyond privacy infringements of Americans.

Leave aside the narcissistic and jingoistic view that whistleblowers and media outlets should only care about privacy infringements of American citizens, but not the 95 percent of the rest of the planet called “non-Americans.” And let’s also set to the side the fact that many of the most celebrated news stories in U.S. media history were devoted to revealing secret foreign operations that had nothing to do with infringing the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens (such as the Pentagon Papers, Abu Ghraib, and the Post’s revelations of CIA black sites).

What’s critical here is that Kaplan’s list of Bad Snowden Revelations (just like the Post’s) invariably involves stories published not by Snowden (or even by The Intercept or The Guardian), but by the New York Times and the Washington Post. But like the Post editorial page editors, Kaplan is too much of a coward to accuse the nation’s top editors at those two papers of treason, helping terrorists, or endangering national security, so he pretends that it was Snowden, and Snowden alone, who made the choice to reveal these programs to the public. If Kaplan and the Post editors truly believe that all of these stories ought to have remained secret and have endangered people’s safety, why are they not attacking the editors and newspapers that made the ultimate decision to expose them? Snowden himself never publicly disclosed a single document, so any programs that were revealed were the ultimate doing of news organizations.

Jeffrey Sterling has written an article where he describes the way that people are categorized in prison.

In this particular prison where I live, there are S-Os (sex offenders), Cho-Mos (child molesters), and gun and drug offenders, among others. Considering the charges and conviction that brought me here, I’m not exactly sure to which category I belong. No matter. There is an overriding category to which I do belong, and it is this prison reality that I sadly “compare unto the world”: I’m not just an inmate, I’m a black inmate.

I didn’t have to be taught the rules of prison society, particularly in regard to racial segregation, because they are so ingrained in just about every aspect of prison society that they seem instinctual. Even though there is no official mandate, here, I am my skin color. Whenever, in my stubborn idealism, I refuse to acknowledge being racially categorized and question the submission to it, the other prisoners invariably respond, “Man, this is prison.”

Call me naive, call me a dreamer, and I’ll wear those monikers proudly because I still believe, even from prison, in this country and what it is supposed to stand for. Has that been my personal experience and what I’ve been seeing from prison? No. As merely one example, during my time in the CIA it became clear, in the organization’s words and actions toward me, that they saw me not as an American who wanted to serve his country but as “a big black guy.”

Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt talked with Stephen Colbert about what surprised him when he met with Snowden in order to get insight into him to play the role in the film.

Comments

  1. Holms says

    Greenwald emphasizes an important point: that it was not Snowden who published the documents.

    But this highlights a chronic cowardice that often arises when establishment figures want to denounce Snowden. As has been amply documented, and as all newspapers involved in this reporting (including the Post) have made clear, Snowden himself played no role in deciding which of these programs would be exposed (beyond providing the materials to newspapers in the first place). He did not trust himself to make those journalistic determinations, and so he left it to the newspapers to decide which revelations would and would not serve the public interest. If a program ended up being revealed, one can argue that Snowden bears some responsibility (because he provided the documents in the first place), but the ultimate responsibility lies with the editors of the paper that made the choice to reveal it, presumably because they concluded that the public interest was served by doing so.

    I completely disagree, Snowden was the one that broke the normal wall of secrecy to hand information to those outside that wall. The papers and such do have responsibility in what they do with the information that they recieve, but that choice that they made would not have been possible without Snowden and therefore he deserves the lion’s share of the blame / credit.

    And I suspect all here would agree with the appropriate word being credit rather than blame.

  2. says

    Obama has been a secrecy-obsessed president, running one of the least transparent administrations, directly counter to his promise when he took office in 2009

    Just wait for Clinton. That’s gonna really suck.
    Of course Trump’d waterboard whistleblowers, if he doesn’t have them drawn and quartered.

  3. says

    Greenwald emphasizes an important point: that it was not Snowden who published the documents.

    That’s remarkably disingenous for Greenwald. He certainly understands how the disclosures happened, and understands secrecy and privacy well enough to know how stupid that argument is.

  4. Mano Singham says

    I don’t think that Greenwald is wrong. The are so many cases where at least some media outlets chose not to publish documents. The FBI Cointelpro files is one example. The Bay of Pigs is another. No one forced the media to publish the Snowden files. To freely choose to publish the material and then call for the prosecution of only the person who gave it to them and for which they reaped rewards is what is wrong.

  5. John Morales says

    Upon consideration, I have to agree with Mano — and I also agree that the relative degree of responsibility (or should that be culpability or perhaps credit?) for whatever was actually published* is arguable.

    * It’s also arguable whether sending material to a news organisation constitutes publishing that material.

  6. dphuntsman says

    I’ve wrestled, for days, over talk about whether Snowden should be pardoned or not before Obama leaves office. I do think we need to drop the overly-simplistic “hero” vs. “traitor” crap; and think about this seriously; because it goes to who we are as a people, whether our government can operate effectively as a people both in terms of following our values, and able to keep necessary secrets, what are the rules, does our justice system work, etc.

    I’ve been a dedicated Federal employee for 42 years now (and counting); including 9 years as a Senior Executive, who had a security clearance for twenty years and worked classified programs. I naturally support legitimate restrictions on information sharing in the name of true national security, which is, security aimed at our enemies. All that government experience also tells me that, as often as not, ‘security’ is used to keep things, not from our enemies, but from a dedicated, informed, American citizenry, for many different reasons. Most reasons are bureaucratic, believe it or not; some are partisan political, some even involve ‘corruption’, i.e, the improper influence of money on politics and government.

    After a lot of thought, I guess I’ve, reluctantly, come to a few conclusions:
    1. It’s wrong for the law to not differentiate between exposing government wrong-doing, versus, for example, selling secrets directly to enemies. So there’s an inherent breakdown, now, where there is a heavy bias against things like ‘justice’, rule of the Constitution, and duty – to the American people. And as long as that remains the way our jurisprudence works, good people are going to be continuously put in very bad situations where they have to make a choice: between duty (to the Constitution and the American people), vs. their personal safety, income, and freedom.
    2. All of us in Federal service, or supporting, take an oath to support the Constitution first – ahead of any unjust law; ahead of any regulation, or Federal agency, or order to not divulge wrong doing. There’s even a Federal statute, signed by President Carter, that has codified those words into law.
    3. Because of laws, regs, and even more importantly court precedents – which have repeatedly sided with government secrecy, even if not done for true security reasons – all of which, taken together, essentially constitute an American “Official Secrets Act” against which whistleblowers almost always lose – it is clear, to me, that Snowden simply cannot get a fair trial if he returns to the US without a pardon. It is sad for me to have to come to grips with that; but, unfortunately, I think it is true.
    Because of these mitigating circumstances, I’ve come to the reluctant conclusion that the President should indeed issue Snowden a pardon. I don’t think he will. I voted for Obama – twice – but these last several years, after running on promising the most transparent Administration in history, he not only has not done that; he’s prosecuted (persecuted?) more whistleblowers than any president in history. Given the mitigating circumstances, it would be worse for America overall to prosecute Snowden, than to pardon him.

  7. John Morales says

    dphuntsman,

    Because of these mitigating circumstances, I’ve come to the reluctant conclusion that the President should indeed issue Snowden a pardon.

    Pragmatically, it’s not as if Snowden is likely to ever again be in a position to repeat his feat.

    (So, what’s left is punishment and deterrence)

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