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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catphil

It is good to defend ES, , but it is completely unrealistic to expect (any) Government to give amnesty to some one who has by all accounts (including his own) broken the law and an oath of secrecy. The argument -surprisingly not mentioned in this piece- is that it would encourage all staff and contractors of NSA ( also CIA, FBI, etc..) to do the same for a number of motives -less noble than ES's. It would be much more productive to develop a detailed guide book for whistle blowers and lobby for a credible independent mechanism for them to bring their evidence of suspicions, without fear of retribution

Anonymous

Ok we all knew the government was tracking/snooping on individuals and groups. And yes we all subject ourselves to this by fb,Twitter,ect ,ect . But...... Just because they have the capability to track ppl , don't mean it should be allowed. Unlike a lot of ppl posting negative things on Snowden ,i believe he is a hero , remains a hero. If you were in his position , where he put his life and liberty up just so we knew the extent that we were being monitored. Then a judge rules that the NSA is unconstitutionally storing mass quantities of data on everyday citizens and Everyone still looks at him as a traitor. Our own government betrays the American ppl everyday tho they hold one man accountable. What about john Clapper who lied to the American ppl about their snooping. How else are u to expose a company to its deceit without having to cross those very same lines. And sometimes that's what is needed to shine light in a very dark n shady area of our government, Stand up Job Mr. Snowden

Anonymous

and Obama is not.

jeff davis

I'm astonished at the storm of intellectual defect demonstrated by the commenters here. I'm guessing that the ACLU attracts right wing cowards/bullies/defectives looking to flame and be flamed. But the dark cloud of (mal)education by Kool-Aid TV has at last a silver lining: the clueless are practicing their reading and writing skills, and venturing beyond their echo-chamber to occasionally encounter genuine critical thought.

Good luck on your speedy recovery.

"Patriotism" in an environment of nationalist exceptionalism means "We're always right, they're always wrong." Which has led the US imperium to the arrogant notion that "The US ruling class must use the US military to dominate the rest of the world. "We're the good guys. We know what's best." (In particular, profits for the MIC, the 1%, and the political elite, are the best of the best, don'tcha know.)

You want to get Snowden in front of a US court and into a US dungeon? No problem. Just make sure he takes his proper place in line, behind Clinton for the mass murder of half-a-million Iraqi children; Bush, Cheney,&Co and the Congresses that enabled them, for the illegal Iraq war (ie the Iraq war crimes); and Obama for spinelessness and betrayal (Okay, technically for Libya); the officer corps of the US Military for war crimes (participation in the unlawful aggressive Iraq war); and finally, the NSA, CIA, FBI, DEA et all for serial violations of the forth amendment (and probably several others).

When that backlog has been adjudicated and the malefactors (those found guilty) are assigned their terms of penal redemption, or, for those at the pinnacle of authority, the war crimes initiators, the death penalty; when all that is settled, then I will personally escort Edward Snowden into the dock.

Edward Snowden gave the ENTIRE WORLD the chance to counter encroaching tyranny. Let us hope for a world with ever fewer savage "patriots" and more Snowdens with their clarity of thought, strength of character, and courageous integrity

Greg Anderson

well, for one thing, if you are fleeing your own country and in fear of your life, then you will not choose to go to another country that is an ally and that no doubt has an extradition agreement with your home country.

both russia and china are logical choices for snowden to flee to given the fact that both are in strained relations with the usa. its a good chess gambit on his part.

second, if you are an actual patriot and the government of the country you are a patriot of (make no mistake in conflating government with country) is behaving in ways that are contrary to that country's highest principles and ideals (in this case the decl. of ind. and the constitution/bill of rights) then of course you are going to flee because you know you wont be protected by that govt.

third, IT IS WRITTEN IN THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE that citizens are obligated, that is, it is their SACRED DUTY, to not allow govts to become tyrranical or get away with the kind of oppressions and violations of liberties that the USA was created to escape from in the first place. ANY american who follows the spirit intent and literal meaning of the declaration of independence is a true american patriot.

fourth, snowden is in a position the rest of us cannot even concieve. the incredible power he is up against, the massive resources available to the USA, the strategical advantage it has requires him to engage in this whole thing with a game plan we cannot even imagine nor comprehend. he seems like a smart guy--when exposing corruption at these levels of power transparency is really the only thing that has a chance of keeping you even marginally safe--so that he went public and made the moves he made seems like the optimal decisions given the situation.

if hed stayed stateside, i wonder: how long before he was gunned down by the authorities and labeled a psycho like so many former agents and personnel in govt positions who went "rogue"? i can think of at least 3 in recent history meaning within the past 5 years. blips on the screen and they were discredited by being labeled unstable and PTSD after being hunted down and shot.

Anonymous

I came to your web site prepared to make a donation, but after reading that you support Edward Snowden, I have decided not to contribute. If he is innocent, let him return to the United States and face a jury of his peers.

Anonymous

What Richard Harnack (#1) said, exactly.

Anonymous (#2) doesn't have to worry about Edward receiving the same treatment as Bradley, since he is not in the military. President Obama himself would have to declare Snowden an 'Enemy Combatant' for the military to hold him.
That is literally taking up arms against the US.

Anonymous

America devastates IRAQ in 2003 and immorally bombs it in 1991 and stands by while SYRIA is destroyed by its own (terrorist) leader Assad, and the ACLU believes that the US needs no screening of International communications to track those desiring to kill Americans?

Idiotic.

Vicki

He's also a jerk. IMO. Which admittedly is no longer a HUMBLE viewpoint.

I had no feelings one way or the other about him until I read an article that put his words in direct quotes, which in Journalism 101 they told us you CAN'T get away with lying about if you use quotation marks or you'll cease to exist as a journalist. Unless you decide to get hired on at Fox News.

He said he wished someone would shoot the president. I don't care who the president is or from what party, my dad told me you don't say things like that. If you don't like the person you vote him out the next time.
And Bush Junior was guilty of the same THING in terms of knowing information and hiding it from people. He even TORTURED people and court-martialed soldiers who refused to do his bidding when questioning prisoners, but never mind.
I don't think the hiding of information started in 2008 and nobody's going to convince me we just now started doing these things that Snowden "discovered." So it's not even all one person's fault, but one person is the only one HE wanted to see "blown away with bullets."

I'm a gunshot victim whose attempts at a "normal" life afterward were completely destroyed. I can't even eat food and feel like I deserve to eat b/c of all the selfish brats who assume EVERY disabled person is a mooching jerk. And not the victim of a stupid shooting that IMO did NOT need to happen.

I take cracks about gunshots more seriously for the simple reason that I'm going to live out the rest of my life in excessive pain with no cure for it, and I don't find it pleasant to wish this agony on anybody else. I wouldn't even wish it on the guy who shot me.
He can still purchase a weapon NOW the same way he did THEN, which was legal, right under our noses and never alerted police to the fact until AFTER the robbery had occurred.
He bought the gun legally.
I never want to hear another WORD about a gun owner being denied rights b/c it bull-freakin-sh**.

Anonymous

The Bill of Rights took centuries to get, it can be erased in an instant. Surveillance States father turnkey tyranny. The founding fathers read over 200 constitutions before creating ours. we cannot allow the dream of America to be thrown away by unchecked powers.

Snowden is a side issue

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