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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Anonymous

The NSA is as un-American, anti-American as you can get. They are the traitors, Period! Ask how Germany got to the point they did and how the German citizens let it get so far? We can look to our own country and see the same seeds growing and the same fruit beginning to come forth. Osama Bin Laden couldn't have dreamed of doing the harm our own government is doing to us. To expose Gestapo and Neo Nazi type of government is not treason. It is patriotic! Cops gun down our citizens and beat them for standing on the corner while being black. They make up evidence to get warrants they never should be able to get. They pry into our homes, our work, our mail, our email, our conversations, they stop and frisk us and question us at will. They lock us up and say PROVE you are innocent all because they are out of control. The anti-American courts keep giving them more and more power to lie cheat and murder while being mostly immune from the same laws as the rest of us. In the NSA case they could not show ONE case where they stopped an act of terrorism. In fact look at the Boston Bombings. They had the info from Russia that these people were terrorist and dangerous and they couldn't stop them because they are focused on gathering as much information on ever American citizen they can. Our government is no better than Nazi Germany. They just have not reached a point where they can actually do all they want to but it is coming. You are blind if you can't see it coming.

Marvin Mitchell

Snowden had a choice on how to implement his view that civil liberties were in great danger. The one alternative that he did not have to follow was to disclose foreign policy matters,sensitive intelligence actions and other harmful information. Plainly his ego and sense of self importance were too strong to overcome good judgment.

The ACLU's crowning of Snowden as a hero makes it a challenge to support the organization's other good works.

Anonymous

I don't agree with this vacuous proclamation by the ACLU's President. It essentially espouses theory over actuality. Snowden's revelations have already had real world consequences. And I'm afraid to consider what else they might help engender. Note--we haven't had a major domestic terrorist attack since 9-11. It beggars belief to think that U.S. government surveillance, domestic and foreign, is unrelated to that extremely--and certainly unexpected--positive scenario. Snowden is not to be celebrated but to be deeply regretted.

Anonymous

This collection of comments does not reflect a full range of opinion. I just attempted to post a critical comment but was unsuccessful--blocked by the ACLU's "spam filter". Disgraceful.

Anonymous

Finally the real truth not just some government propaganda......

AnonymousT. And...

While the issue is complicated it has to be looked at in a different context. That is the Constitution and what the Nation has as its foundation. The purpose of the Government and who serves whom.
The founding principle for the Government. “By the people for the people” is simple enough.
When the Government is no longer acting in the best interest of the majority of the people of the Nation, it needs to be brought back into line with it’s intended purpose.
Recent examples are many.
The Vietnam War and its connections to the interests of large US corporations and the money made.
Richard M. Nixon’s actions that were outright criminal.
Iran Contra.
And more recently George W. Bush’s administration fabricating and falsifying information to support military action and the resulting cost in lives and US resources wasted.
The Government has used 911 as an excuse to justify a broad policy of “the ends justify the means”. Where nothing is held sacred and “National Security” comes before everything else.
The Snowden aftermath is proof that the majority of citizens and government insiders believe that the NSA and others simply went to far.
Would the powers that be, have ever come to this point if left on their own?
Is the Governments moral and ethical compass functioning in the best interest of the people?
We as a people once again need to evaluate what is a patriot’s responsibility?
Again is the United States of America it’s Government or it’s people. If the answer is its people. Then the “my country right or wrong”, “love it or leave it” mentality is in grave error.
Is a Patriots obligation to support or follow a corrupt or illegally functioning Government. Or is it to make his best effort to bring the Government back in line with its obligation to the Nation.
In Snowden’s case, only time will tell if his was the right course of action.
Ultimately it should be judged by the outcome. Was more good done than harm.
On the surface politicians give lip service to supporting whistle blowers when in the best interest of the Nation. The line seems to be drawn when the focus of the Whistle Blowers are Government agencies themselves.
Corporate wrong doing = OK
Government wrong doing = not OK
Only a small double standard here.
Given how far from “By the people, for the people” the current Government has strayed, and who is really in control of the country and our rights, the outcome of this might be one of the best things to happen the United States in many years.
If positive change continues to happen as a result of Snowden’s action’s then it is a given, he is a Patriot and a hero.
If it causes the collapse of the United States as a Nation then he is a traitor.
If the outcome is that a whole bunch of politicians, administrators and organizations wind up looking like over reaching power hungry fools. Well then it’s pretty clear they were wrong in the first place and he was right.
Maybe there is hope that someday Americans will wake up and remember whose country this really is.

Anonymous

I listened to john kerry , he sounded nervous to me. Maybe Snowden knows something about our sec. of state. Far as I'm concered welcome to the U.S.S.A comrade.

Anonymous

I am a very new member of the ACLU. I wonder if the Edward Snowden issue is so clear-cut. Is he a patriot or a traitor? We will never know if he continues to hide in Russia. I am concerned that the ACLU has taken such a strong stance on this without all the facts being presented in a forum other than the media.

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