Snowden was joined by the ACLU, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch to push for a presidential pardon.
Following the premiere of Oliver Stone’s biopic of Edward Snowden, activist groups as well as Snowden himself are pushing Obama to pardon the whistleblower. Internationally-recognized organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International are among those supporting Snowden’s absolution. Snowden, a former contractor for the National Security Administration (NSA), fled the US in order to leak documents revealing secret US surveillance programs that collect an enormous amount of data on innocent Americans, a violation of the 4th amendment. Snowden, who originally fled to Hong Kong, was granted asylum in Russia in 2013, where he currently resides. Snowden has expressed his desire to return to the US if a deal can be reached that would grant him the right to a free trial. Snowden made his case for a Presidential pardon via video at a press conference Wednesday morning, calling upon Barack Obama to reverse his established practice of prosecuting whistleblowers. In his plea, Snowden called whistleblowing “democracy’s safeguard of last resort” and said the continued prosecution of whistleblowers would ultimately damage democracy by creating a dangerous “legacy of secrecy. “
Snowden’s revelations ultimately led to a court decision that declared the bulk collection of innocent American phone records illegal, as well as the passage of the first congressional surveillance reform bill in decades. In addition, Snowden pressured technology companies and concerned citizens alike to begin encrypting their communications. Federal government’s ire at encrypted communication soon followed, climaxing with the government seizure of US-based encrypted email service Lavabit. Despite Snowden’s efforts and his assertions that he leaked the information to serve the public interest, the US government claims that Snowden doesn’t even qualify as a whistleblower. Obama’s administration has continually rejected a pardon for Snowden. He stands accused of leaking classified information, which according to Justice Department spokesman Marc Raimondi, inflicted serious harm on national security. They also point to his flight from the US as evidence of his guilt, saying he avoided the official channels available to whistleblowers to avoid wrongdoing.
However, based on the Obama administration’s handling of previous whistleblower cases, it’s understandable why Snowden fled. US whistleblowers John Kiriakou, Jesselyn Radack, and Tom Drake all tried to address illegal government actions. The three sought to expose CIA torture, questionable interrogation techniques of the Justice Department, and the NSA’s illegal surveillance programs, respectively. Instead of being rewarded, all three lost their jobs and were faced with legal action. Kiriakou went to prison for over two years for his efforts. Obama then decreed absolute immunity to any official involved in the CIA torture program. The most famous whistleblower after Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, is currently serving a 35 year prison sentence for exposing US war crimes in Iraq. Snowden clearly had no reason to think that his treatment in the US would have been even remotely fair.
Obama has justified his “War on Whistleblowers” using the outdated 1917 Espionage Act, which was passed under questionable circumstances during World War I. Based on its name, one would assume that it was meant to protect against spying. However, it provides penalties up to 20 years in prison for
“Whoever, when the United States is at war, shall willfully cause or attempt to cause insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny, or refusal of duty in the military or naval forces of the Unites States.”
After its passage, the act was used to imprison Americans who spoke or wrote against the US’ involvement in the first World War. According to late historian Howard Zinn’s acclaimed book A People’s History of the United States, the Espionage Act also gave the US government a convenient excuse to destroy the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), as well as other popular working class political movements of the era.
In 1963, President Kennedy expanded the Espionage Act to include statements uttered by Americans abroad. As the US is now embroiled in a never-ending “War on Terror,” the archaic law can apply to any American at any time who says anything “seditious” about US government actions, regardless of their illegality. Especially important in the Snowden case is the fact that the Espionage Act prevents the use of a whistleblower or public interest defense in court, thereby preventing Snowden from a free trial. If Obama continues to deny Snowden a pardon, he will be complicit in protecting the Police State practices that Snowden tried to save us from.
You can sign a petition to support a Presidential pardon of Snowden by clicking here.
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