Is Edward Snowden a Hero Who Deserves Obama's Pardon?
Edward Snowden and his allies are lobbying President Obama to pardon him.
Edward Snowden wants President Obama to pardon him and, along with his supporters, has launched an extensive campaign to make that happen. The timing coincides with the last months of Obama’s Presidency and the release of a sympathetic Oliver Stone film about the whistleblower. Human rights organizations such as ACLU, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and others have joined Snowden’s cause.
His many supporters hope that the high-profile film will help change the minds of many about the divisive figure who was charged in 2013 under the Espionage Act. Snowden’s lawyer Ben Wizner, who is also the director of ACLU's Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, felt very positive after screening the movie:
"I think Oliver will do more for Snowden in two hours than his lawyers have been able to do in three years," Wizner related to Motherboard.
To take advantage of the potentially pro-Snowden climate, the groups that support pardoning him have launched a website - https://www.pardonsnowden.org, which allows his supporters to sign a petition.
The site describes him as “a young American who became aware of a mass surveillance system that had been growing secretly for years without democratic consent. At great personal risk, he blew the whistle.”
The site makes the case that Snowden should actually be deemed a hero since as a result of his actions, “the NSA's surveillance powers were reined in for the first time in decades”.
"The information disclosed by Edward Snowden has allowed Congress and the American people to understand the degree to which the NSA has abused its authority and violated our constitutional rights.”
Despite acknowledging the good he has done, Sanders doesn’t advocate for a full pardon, as Snowden did break the law, instead calling for “some form of clemency or a plea agreement that would spare him a long prison sentence or permanent exile.”
This kind of sentiment is similar to the 2014 editorial by the New York Times, which thought the value of what Snowden revealed far outweighed his crime, saying:
“Considering the enormous value of the information he has revealed, and the abuses he has exposed, Mr. Snowden deserves better than a life of permanent exile, fear and flight….. When someone reveals that government officials have routinely and deliberately broken the law, that person should not face life in prison at the hands of the same government.”
Snowden himself lobbied for clemency in an interview with “The Guardian,” stating:
“Yes, there are laws on the books that say one thing, but that is perhaps why the pardon power exists—for the exceptions, for the things that may seem unlawful in letters on a page but when we look at them morally, when we look at them ethically, when we look at the results, it seems these were necessary things, these were vital things.”
And Snowden believes that his actions had concrete results:
“I think when people look at the calculations of benefit, it is clear that in the wake of 2013 the laws of our nation changed. The Congress, the courts and the president all changed their policies as a result of these disclosures. At the same time there has never been any public evidence that any individual came to harm as a result.”
Political activism may get people invested in politics, and affect urgently needed change, but it comes at the expense of tolerance and healthy democratic norms.