There is heated debate as to whether Edward Snowden should be pardoned or not with protagonists and adversaries making a strong case for and against clemency. There is some historical precedent for presidents granting clemency in leak-related cases.
In the past, presidents have made a splash with clemency on their way out. However, President Obama says that “The process that I put in place is not going to vary.” He said he’d make the calls “based on the merits, as opposed to political considerations.”
With the presidential inauguration of Mr. Trump just days away, efforts for clemency are heating up. Supporters of Snowden, including the ACLU and Amnesty International have taken out full page New York Times ads. Snowden may have a better chance for clemency through grass roots organizations than through our present and future presidents. His supporters plead First Amendment privileges. Activists recently displayed a light show of 4,000 notes from supporters on the wall of the News Museum, an institution just two miles from the White House, (without the institution’s knowledge or consent).
A CNN opinion piece says “Snowden’s forced exile in Russia is an international relations publicity nightmare for the U.S. It’s dogged pursuit of charges under the Espionage Act has made Snowden an international celebrity.”
President elect Trump has called Snowden a traitor who deserves execution. His incoming CIA Director, Rep. Mike Pompeo, has actually called for the death penalty against Snowden.
Yet, As President Obama’s first Director of Privacy and Civil Liberties for the White House National Security Staff said, ”It took Snowden to spark meaningful change… Snowden forced the NSA to become more transparent, more protective of privacy and more effective.” Even Eric Holder, Former Attorney General, said “Snowden actually performed a public service!”
Indeed supporters say Snowden’s leak was a public service, leaking surveillance programs that the U.S. kept on the internet, digital communication and phone traffic of millions of Americans. Supporters claim Snowden turned the information over to respected journalists, and in so doing, allowed the process and the ethics of journalism to filter the leaked documents. His leak led to Congress reforming the Patriot Act to end the collection of domestic phone call metadata.
The most unlikely supporters, fifteen former staff members of the Church Committee, the 1970’s congressional inquiry into illegal activity by the CIA and other intelligence agencies, have asked President Obama to end Snowden’s “untenable exile in Russia, which benefits nobody.” In eight pages of argument, they reminded the President of the positive debate Snowden’s disclosures stimulated which led to Congressional change.
The committee reminded President Obama of his former leniency to those who have broken secrecy laws, and that their own Church committee reports had found six former U.S. presidents guilty of abusing secret powers. The committee claims Snowden’s actions were intended to spur reform, which they did, and were not intended for his personal benefit.
They point out former CIA Director David Petraeus violations of the law and national security by leaking confidential information to his biographer, who lied about doing so to the FBI; yet Petraeus received official leniency.
Snowden, who took refuge in Russia after his leaks of NSA data in 2013, is wanted on three federal felony charges as a result of his disclosures. Officials believe a pardon is unlikely as his disclosures also hurt intelligence gathering and put lives in danger.
While the White House has urged Snowden to come home and stand trial, to date, he has not, in part as he could face decades in prison. President Obama told German magazine Der Spiegel ”I can’t pardon somebody who hasn’t gone before a court and presented themselves.” While he credits Snowden with having raised “legitimate issues;” how he did it was something that “did not follow the procedures and practices of our intelligence community.”
As President Obama’s pardon power is virtually unlimited his statement that he “can’t” pardon Snowden may signal his belief that to do so would be unwise.
Even though there is a lot of pressure to get Snowden a presidential pardon, the chances of this happening are slim, “without a carefully negotiated set of conditions that would likely involve Snowden acknowledging error on his part and pleading guilty to some offense.”
A Wall Street Journal opinion article quoted Major General James “Spider” Marks as giving no credence to Snowden’s actions. “He put a whole host of people in danger… Snowden is hoping to get a ticket back to the U.S. He broke the law.”
Many in Congress and others discount Snowden’s claim that he was only a “whistleblower” seeking to expose the overreach of NSA’s information gathering.”
While supporters say he is protected by the First Amendment, because he gave his data to the media and did it for the public good and best interest of Americans, others say that while he leaked information about NSA’s surveillance program, that program had actually been approved by the courts.
A House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Unclassified Executive Summary (9-15-16) stated, “Snowden caused tremendous damage to national security and the vast majority of the documents he stole have nothing to do with programs impacting individuals privacy interest, they instead pertain to military defense and intelligence programs of great interest to Americas’ adversaries.”
So did he harm our intelligence agents? Did he willingly and willfully provide our enemies with techniques and information that has damaged our national security? Or is Snowden a whistleblower who has caused some good to happen as a result? Should he come back to the U.S, face trail and make his arguments to a jury for acquittal?
According to the definition of whistleblower, Snowden qualifies:
A whistleblower is a person, who could be an employee of a company or a government agency, disclosing information to the public or some higher authority about any wrongdoing, which could be in the form of fraud, corruption, etc.
An employee who alleges wrongdoing by his or her employer of the sort that violates public law or tends to injure a considerable number of people.
As a whistleblower myself who followed defined internal corporate and government procedures in exposing wrongdoing at Citigroup, I respect the process. Snowden supposedly decided not to report internally through the NSA Inspector General, who recently was suspended, pending termination, for retaliation against whistleblowers. He perhaps thought it would be useless to do so and took another route.
As I am not an attorney, I can’t opine on the legal arguments as to whether or not Snowden would receive a fair trial. However, I sincerely believe it is right and just for President Obama to pardon Edward Snowden. We, as a country, need to put this behind us.
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