Should Obama pardon Snowden?

Paul Schwietering
By Paul Schwietering

Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency contractor – turned whistleblower, has been holed up in the “airport transit zone” of the Moscow Airport in Russia for the past three weeks.  He has been offered asylum by three countries (so far) in South and Central America.  The rest of the nations in South America issued a statement of solidarity with those offering asylum after a feckless and clownish attempt by the U.S. State Department to kidnap Snowden by pressuring some of our European allies to deny permission to fly over their airspace to an airplane carrying President Evo Morales of Bolivia.  The State Department had presumed that Snowden was on the plane.  He wasn’t.

So far, this Snowden saga has damaged our relations with Hong Kong, China, Russia and nearly all of Latin America, to say nothing of the embarrassment it has caused.  President Obama and NSA Director Alexander have publicly claimed to “welcome the debate” that we are now having over the scope of the NSA’s spying on innocent Americans and the role of the secret “Foreign Intelligence Surveillance” courts which issue new “laws” pertaining to domestic spying on American citizens that most Americans have never even been aware of.  This is a debate which, like it or not, we wouldn’t be having if it were not for Edward Snowden.  The fact that a hysterical Congress passed a so called “Patriot Act” which was blatantly unconstitutional at the behest of the worst administration in American history is bad enough, but at least a citizen can vote against a Congressman or Senator who voted to pass it.  What recourse does a citizen in a “democracy” have against secret judges in secret courts issuing secret “laws” of which almost no one knows whether or not they are being applied equally to rich and poor or Republican or Democrat, or even what the laws are?

 In ancient times, there was once an Emperor who had the laws of the day written near the very top of a high wall, so that no one could read them.  As a result, citizens who didn’t know what the laws were frequently were caught unwittingly violating the law.  This supplied a steady stream of revenue to the Emperor in the form of fines.  Once that Emperor passed on, this practice was forbidden and a principle was established that is supposed to survive in our law to this very day.  That principle is that a citizen should not be held accountable for violating a law that could not be found by a reasonable effort to discover what the law is.

There can be no doubt that if the framers of our Constitution could know about these “FISA” courts they would be outraged.

Instead of hounding Ed Snowden from Hong Kong to Moscow, perhaps President Obama should take a step back and look at the big picture and re-evaluate the situation.  The longer the State Department continues to harass Snowden, the more famous he becomes and the bigger a hero he becomes to millions of people all over the world.  Also, it makes the United States government look like a bunch of hypocrites because of cases like the case of “two brothers, William and Roberto Isaias, who ran a bank at the center of a huge Ecuadorean scandal in the 1990’s.  They were convicted in absentia in an Ecuadorean court.  They now live in the United States, but repeated requests for extradition have been unsuccessful.” (N.Y. Times, July 12, page A5).  Now, for the sake of argument, I will grant the administration the point that bankers are quite commonly thieves (just look at our Wall Street banks) but it still makes the United States look like a bunch of hypocrites when we refuse to extradite criminals wanted by other nations, and yet we expect the rest of the world to instantly help us persecute a young whistle-blower who has provided a public service.

The time has come for Mr. Obama to consider a Presidential pardon for Snowden.  The conduct which he exposed was, for the most part, conduct the U.S. government should not have been engaged in anyway, and the continuation of this David versus Goliath saga can only be counterproductive, stimulating further sympathy for Snowden, as the underdog, and further embarrassment for the administration, which appears to be acting out of spite rather than any rational assessment of the situation.

I think it is more important to do what is right than what is popular, but in this instance I think it is possible to do both.  “In a national poll from Quinnipiac University released Wednesday (July 10th) voters said by 55 percent to 34 percent that he [Snowden] is a whistle-blower, not a traitor.” (N.Y. Times “Poll shows complexity of debate on trade-offs in government spying programs” by Scott Shane, July 11, page A18).  “Peter D. Feaver, a Political Science Professor at Duke who studies public opinion and foreign policy said that ‘It would be a mistake to say that the public has a settled and coherent view’ on the surveillance programs a month after they were disclosed.  But he said sympathy for Mr. Snowden appeared to be growing.”

Paul Schwietering is a former Democratic state central committeeman for the 14th state senate district.