Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the American Civil Liberties Union launched a joint campaign on Wednesday to push President Obama to pardon fugitive whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The petition the groups are promoting through pardonsnowden.org coincides with the release of the Snowden biopic Friday, and has so far garnered the support of high profile lawyers and celebrities, including writer Joyce Carol Oates and actor Martin Sheen.
The White House has made it very clear that they will not budge on this issue. They recently rejected aa petition that garnered 160,000 signatures. White House press secretary Josh Earnest disputed that Snowden was a whistleblower and said he would enjoy legal due process at a trial in the United States, where he faces up to 30 years in prison for espionage and theft of state secrets.
“His conduct put American lives at risk and it risked American national security. And that’s why the policy of the Obama administration is that Mr. Snowden should return to the United States and face the very serious charges that he’s facing,” Earnest told reporters.
In 2013, Edward Snowden fled the country with classified documents that detailed the surveillance patterns of the United States government since 9/11. In essence, the National Security Agency, which Snowden worked for, had been spying on the American people.
“If we are to sustain a free society through the next century, we must ensure that whistle-blowers can act again, and safely, as a check on future abuses of power,” Mr. Snowden said. If he is sentenced to a long prison term, he added, people in the future who have information that the public needs to know will be afraid to come forward.
Since his revelation about the NSA, reform has taken place. Last year, an appeals court ruled that the NSA’s bulk collection of phone records, the first thing Snowden revealed, was illegal. Congress has since changed the program with one that keeps the bulk data in the hands of phone companies. Many technology companies have increased the security of their products in response to the NSA’s revealed internet surveillance operations overseas, where few limits apply, its hacking operations, and its efforts to weaken encryption.
It seems strange that a man marked as a traitor to the American people could generate so much positive change and sympathy. The main argument for his arrest is one that declares that the risk he put our country in far outweighs any benefits received, which is a faulty argument at best. Saying this requires one to think that security is far more important than liberty, and that speech should be suppressed if it’s dangerous.
One example of a security breach that yielded positive results was the hacking of the DNC. Senator Bernie Sanders had been crying foul for months, saying that the committee had demonstrated clear bias towards his opponent, now Democratic Nominee for President, Hillary Clinton. While most of his supporters felt similarly, it did not seem that anyone was going to take his claims too seriously.
Then on the Saturday before the Democratic National Convention, Wikileaks uploaded 20,000 emails taken from DNC servers, courtesy of an anonymous source. In them, the press secretary write to the communications director about leaking to the press that Sanders’s campaign was a ‘mess’, while another discusses ways to defend Clinton from allegations made by Sanders. Most controversially, one from a DNC staffer discussed spreading the rumor that Sanders did not believe in God in an attempt to win key Southern states for Clinton.
This isn’t to say that the hack wasn’t disturbing, especially in terms of national security. There’s an ongoing investigation about the motivation behind the two Russian based organizations behind the cyber-attack, and questions have been raised about whether they possess ties to Russian Premier, Vladimir Putin. While there are still questions to be answered, this story has a mostly happy ending. DNC Chairwoman, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, succumbed to pressure and handed in her resignation from her post, something Sanders had been wishing for. As for the Senator, he was met with a substantial standing ovation when it was his turn to speak at the National Convention.
The argument can be made that since the hackers are being sought after so that they can be brought to justice, the same should be said of Edward Snowden. There is a difference, however, in that while Russian hackers trying to sabotage the DNC were most likely doing so to harm the American people, Snowden ultimately had the public at heart.
There’s an entire amendment in the constitution dedicated to patriotism in spite of a corrupt government. The second amendment, as originally intended by the framers, was meant to provide the means for citizens to be armed in case the government became too corrupt and needed to be overthrown. Marching on the government with rifles is by all means totally illegal, but in the face of an institution that has forgotten its people, the amendment said that it was necessary and therefore right.
Now, the debate seems to be whether or not American citizens need semi-automatic rifles in order to properly accomplish this, but the original intent remains. Similarly, Edward Snowden committed a crime to ensure that basic liberties were protected. In effect, he took up his rifle and marched on an institution he believed to be corrupt. While today’s institution has decided to call him a traitor, the founding fathers would look at his intent and call him a hero.