Edward Snowden is a Patriot

Edward Snowden is a patriot.

As a whistleblower of illegal government activity that was sanctioned and kept secret by the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government for years, he undertook great personal risk for the public good. And he has single-handedly reignited a global debate about the extent and nature of government surveillance and our most fundamental rights as individuals.

Monday's court ruling declaring the NSA surveillance program unconstitutional highlights the irony of the government’s prosecution of Snowden. For more than 12 years, the ACLU has raised concerns about the massive changes occurring in our democracy: the rubber stamping of expansive surveillance powers by the judiciary, the clandestine nature of programs that invade the rights and lives of millions of Americans with virtually no oversight, and the quiet acquiescence of a public that believed that individuals had nothing to fear if they had done nothing wrong.

That was true until Snowden awakened the American people – and others across the globe – from complacent lethargy. For his actions, Snowden should be applauded, not vilified.  He should be granted full immunity from prosecution. And he should be allowed to resume his life in the United States as a proud American citizen.

Let’s unpack the arguments that are surely rifling through many Americans’ minds as to why Edward Snowden should not be granted immunity and allowed to return home.

First, many thoughtful observers note that Snowden has revealed important facts about an otherwise clandestine program, but wonder why he took it upon himself to bring his evidence to journalists rather than to Congress or the executive branch. The simple answer is that Snowden was too smart to expect real results from the "official" channels. Since September 11, 2001, Congress and the courts have failed miserably at providing constitutional oversight. When the New York Times finally found the courage to expose the earlier NSA spying program in 2005, Congress responded by legitimizing and extending this illegal program through the FISA Amendments Act of 2008. The courts proved little more vigorous in their willingness to serve as a meaningful check on such surveillance programs. Two different lawsuits brought by the ACLU – one in Detroit and one in New York that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court – were dismissed because it was impossible to prove that our clients were in fact targeted by these secret government surveillance programs. Absent such proof, which the government was never going to provide, no American would be in a position to challenge the government surveillance programs. As Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked Solicitor General Don Verilli in our Clapper litigation: "General, is there anybody who has standing?" In disclosing these documents Snowden took the patriotic route, knowing that nothing short of public release would get the attention of the American people, our government and our allies. He didn’t turn to the normal, government channels to raise his concerns of illegal government activity because he knew that others had used those channels and failed. Fortunately, both the courts and Congress seem to have renewed vigor in looking into the constitutionality of NSA surveillance – but such vigor is a direct result of Snowden’s revelations.

The second argument against immunity goes something like this: "He was employed by the government. He knew he was breaking the law. He should have stayed home and faced the music if he was truly well-intentioned." If Snowden had stayed in Hawaii after his first revelations became public, the government would have arrested him that very day. The laws that are being used against Snowden do not distinguish between patriotic whistleblowers and foreign agents. It would be a true miscarriage of justice if the government succeeded in imprisoning for life a person who revealed unconstitutional government conduct. Snowden would surely have been subjected to "special administrative measures" and would have been prevented from working with the journalists or engaging the broader public debate. Snowden knew that he couldn’t stay in the U.S. and ignite the public debate that he felt was missing – so he forsook his homeland to further American democracy.

A third argument – often read in The Wall Street Journal editorial pages – questions the authenticity of his motivations by the countries in which he received refuge. If Snowden were such a true believer in democracy, he would never have traveled to China or Russia. That argument fails to recognize the massive power of the American government to lean on other governments to repossess one of its most wanted. Recall the full court press that the American government made through the efforts of President Obama and Secretary Kerry to ensure that Snowden had no other door except one to an American federal prison. Even those countries that have voiced outrage at the NSA surveillance of their leaders and citizens – Germany, Brazil, Mexico – have failed to offer political asylum to the man who uncovered it. Their hypocrisy and capitulation to American diplomatic strong-arming left Snowden with little recourse but to receive help from governments that may have their own agendas in housing someone wanted by the United States.

Edward Snowden is a great American and a true patriot. My colleagues and I at the ACLU are proud to be his legal advisors. We are committed to assisting him on legal issues he may confront.

Thank goodness for patriots like him, who are willing to endure personal sacrifice to defend truths that we hold self-evident, but which too many Americans take for granted.

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Debra A N

I completely disagree.

Snowden stole documents and released them to other countries. The only thing he told us that we did not know was our spying on other countries.

Snowden believed that HE had the right to sabotage policies enacted by a duly elected government just because he doesn't like them.

No one elected Edward Snowden to expose documents about domestic or foreign surveillance.

Either way, neither man seems to have much respect for representative democracy.

Pretty bad for a guy who said that "leakers should be shot".

A Real Patriot

Kwende Idrissa Madu, you must hate America if you don't see what is wrong with your ideals. Please leave this country.

Anonymous

Those that say Edward Snowden is an agent of Russia and China must not have taken Social Studies classes yet. That will start in 5th or 6th grade. So soon I guess?

Anonymous

wouldn't be surprised if some of these anti Edward Snowden comments were wrote by government lackys

Keith Davis - S...

While I agree Edward is a hero, and wish fervently there were more, I do admit that he has committed a crime. And this is obvious. Let us compare a person who runs a red light to avoid running over a mother with a baby carriage. OK, this person did the right thing. But still, there is also the fact that the person ran the light. A more serious example would be a person who tortures just one person and only a little bit and thereby saves thousands of lives. This person is also a hero, to me. However, a crime was committed. The question is only, what the punishment should be in these cases. Let's not give him amnesty, but promise a fair trail and fair mitigation of the the offense. For example, a fine of 100K and community service for one year. He will get the 100K back in book and movie rights.

Anonymous

To say Snowden is a patriot is to say Bill O'Reilly is a patriot. Both put on the Red, White & Blue and swear up and down that they love 'Merica but both are equally dangerous. Snowden is more so than Billy, I hate to say. Snowden's actions were not only the acts of a traitor, but directly put US citizens' lives in danger. I never thought I would say this, but Fox is right about something. Edward Snowden is a traitor, and most likely responsible for the loss of American lives.
Bad call ACLU, very bad call.

Anonymous

In response to Richard Harnack's comment:

1. He fled with the information first to the PRC making the patently inane claim that they respected freedom of the press.

He fled to Hong Kong, which has a different political system then the rest of China. Amongst other things it has a high level of autonomy, with its own constitution and law framework. A place where they actually do respect the freedom of the press. The US government tried to extradite him legally, going through Hong Kong's legal system. Up to this point I do not believe the government did anything out of the ordinary.

2. He goes to Russia, the Russia of Vladimir Putin, with the equally inane idea that his "rights" will be protected.

He does not go to Russia with the intent on staying there. He was supposed to transfer flights, but was not allowed to board thanks to his passport being rendered invalid. He is then on international ground. The US then tries to pressure the Russian government into apprehending Snowden on international ground. In response Putin offers this statement:

"Mr. Snowden is a free man, and the sooner he chooses his final destination the better it is for us and for him," Putin said. "I hope it will not affect the business-like character of our relations with the U.S. and I hope that our partners will understand that."

Making him look like the face of democracy and principle.

3. He has stated that his information is encrypted so that only he has access, and it cannot be broken. Of course he has claimed to reveal that such code-breaking is exactly what the NSA has been involved in.

Yes, this is pretty much the only point in which you are correct. Thankfully the NSA already have their copy.

In response to "Kwende Idrissa Madu", I refer to CBS:

"Our special services never worked with Mr. Snowden and aren't working with him today," Putin said at a news conference during a visit to Finland.

Which can be read in its entirety here: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/russian-president-vladimir-putin-says-edward-snowden-still-in-airport-signals-no-extradition/

anonymouse

If Snowden had limited his revelations to the monitoring of US citizens, which is all you discuss above, then I would agree that he was a whistleblower and he would deserve amnesty. But he didn't stop there - his revelations have extended to NSA targets and methods which fall directly into the charter of the NSA. This turns him from a heroic whistleblower into a 1st rate spy, probably the most damaging to our intelligence organizations since Ames.

I am disappointed that the ACLU is holding this position, there are so many ways that the authorities are overstepping their bounds in which the ACLU could play an important role. I would love to continue to support the organization, but I cannot if you insist on supporting this spy.

Ron Pedone

My only quibble with ACLU is, "why did it take you so long to recognize the merits of Snowden's initial actions?" Otherwise, thanks for now going to bat for him.

Anonymous

" capitulation to American diplomatic strong-arming"

Equally worthy of condemnation are the European countries that shut down air travel for a diplomat, simply because U.S. authorities had an "articulable suspicion" (false, of course) that Snowden might be his companion on the flight.

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