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.