NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden may have a last-ditch chance at a presidential pardon as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), along with Amnesty International, plans to launch a campaign this coming Wednesday that would seek to convince President Obama that Snowden’s acts were in the interests of the people of America, and as a result should be dealt with clemency.
Snowden, a former NSA data analyst and systems adviser, was granted temporary political asylum by Russia after he leaked classified documents that showed that America’s intelligence agencies, and especially the NSA, had been conducting mass surveillance on American citizens, including tapping and archiving their phone calls, emails, credit card purchases, and almost all other online activities without the explicit permission of the Congress. Snowden’s leaks were revelatory in that they showed that other intelligence agencies of the world, including British security organization GCHQ, had been intruding the privacy of their citizens which directly violated their constitutionally granted rights.
Moreover, Snowden’s leaks also showed how the modern nation-states of the world had started to spy on the activities of all their citizens — without discrimination — in the name of safeguarding the national security of the respective nations.
While Edward Snowden continually maintains that he leaked the documents to bring to widespread attention the staggering scale of surveillance being conducted by intelligence agencies around the world, his critics argue that Snowden has “damaged” the United States by revealing its secrets to rest of the world, and by consequence, to organizations not well-disposed to the interests of America. They have called on Snowden to return to America to face a court trial, but the NSA whistleblower has questioned the credibility of such a trial, pointing out that the nature of his leaks will mean that he is denied a fair treatment by the Department of Justice.
So now, after months of speculation on whether there would be a last-ditch attempt to grant Snowden impunity before President Obama leaves office, Motherboard revealed on Monday that the ACLU, together with Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, is set to launch a campaign Wednesday urging the President to pardon Snowden.
The campaign has been timed keeping in mind the release of Oliver Stone’s Snowden, a Hollywood biopic about the NSA whistleblower’s career trajectory which has attempted to show him in a positive light. Stone himself, as well as the actor playing Snowden, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, hope that the release of the movie this coming Friday will go a long way in helping American citizens understand the nature of the leaks that he initiated, and why his case needs to be seen with sympathy.
Ben Wizner, Snowden’s lawyer and director of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, agreed, before going on to explain how the campaign would seek to bring some very “prominent individuals” from around the world on board to support the cause.
“I think Oliver will do more for Snowden in two hours than his lawyers have been able to do in three years..
“We are going to be doing both a mass signature campaign around the world and trying to get prominent individuals and organizations to join our call to President Obama to pardon Snowden before he leaves office.”
To this end, a password-protected website called pardonsnowden.org is already online, and social media accounts have also been registered for the same.
Snowden himself set out his case for why he deserves a pardon in a video interview with the Guardian early Tuesday morning, arguing that his revelations have benefited the public rather than harm them.
“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.
“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 [US] 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.”
While advocates of internet freedom and privacy will no doubt hope that President Obama seriously considers pardoning Edward Snowden, experts believe such a reversal is highly unlikely. Obama has categorically stated that he does not consider Snowden a patriot, and his administration’s aggressive prosecution of whistleblowers, including Chelsea Manning, hardly suggests otherwise. As Anthony Zurcher of the BBC notes, the chances of Obama pardoning Snowden are next to zilch.
“The chances of President Obama pardoning Edward Snowden before he leaves office stand somewhere between zero and infinitesimal.
“The head of an administration that aggressively prosecuted Chelsea Manning, that has shown little sympathy for government whistleblowers and leakers of all stripes, will not find last-stroke-of-midnight sympathy for a man who has caused endless headaches for the US intelligence community.”
Even so, the campaign is certain to bring to focus the discourse surrounding individual privacy and the right (or lack, thereof) of the modern nation-states to invade it, but more importantly, it will perhaps give American citizens an opportunity to see the real intentions behind Edward Snowden’s actions.
Do you think Snowden deserves a presidential pardon?
[Image via YouTube]