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Should Edward Snowden Be Pardoned?

There may be no time like the present to address the thorny issue of a pardon for Edward Snowden for activists determined to see him roaming free on US soil. The question is seemingly timed to the release of Oliver Stone’s blockbuster, Snowden, and  the  chorus for  clemency is gaining momentum.

After all, the whistleblower’s story is one of the most compelling public scandals of the past decade, and the Democrats could use a boost in the polls this Fall with the younger generation (who mainly lionize Snowden), if only President Obama would pardon him  .

It might be too much to ask, though, of a president who famously derided him, and who minimized the impact of his revelations in 2013, to now turn around and celebrate the event by pardoning him. But that’s just what many people are campaigning for him to do.

On the other hand, it would be just like the president to tweak the nose of the many flag-waving Republicans who have bedeviled him throughout his two terms in office. President Obama is busily burnishing his legacy with hundreds of pardons of late – mostly of drug felons – in an attempt to raise his standing in the eyes of black voters, as they will be important at the polls in November.

But while he’s emptying the jails of drug thugs, his thinking might be: why not go for broke, and pardon a high profile person such as Edward Snowden? What could be a bolder statement than that, especially coming from the least privacy-friendly president in history?

It would be quite a contrarian coup. Presidential pardons are frequently issued in the twilight hours of an administration, when outgoing presidents face fewer political risks. So, until the election is over, the risks are just too high now.

The USAToday, in an op-ed piece, weighs in on the possibility and reasons why a pardon at some point before Obama leaves office may not be so far-fetched. Whether  Snowden is a candidate for a pardon depends on whether you view him as a patriot who performed a needed public service, or a traitor who jeopardized US national security and put lives at risk. I will attempt to raise arguments on both sides of the question in this article.

To be sure, the discussion of leniency will likely be a contentious one, and in any case, with a presidential election hanging in the balance, don’t hold out hope for any meaningful debate on the prospects for a Snowden pardon before the November election is in the books.

The Snowden pardon parade, being led by the ACLU, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch, argues vehemently that his whistle-blowing on NSA activities was, in fact, a public service in two ways: It revealed the NSA’s domestic spying, and it showed US citizens how their tax dollars are being spent in overseas wars – without giving away much our adversaries didn’t already know.

Former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, Martin Dempsey, pointed out in a 2014 appearance before Congress that Snowden’s leaks were more about revealing military secrets than about domestic spying – the charge he for which he is being held to account under the Espionage Act. Thus, invoking the Act, which Obama has successfully done in shutting down more whistleblowers than any other president in history, doesn’t hold water.

Even so, Dempsey is wrong even on the military secrets accusation, as our enemies knew all too well about our capabilities and weaknesses. Just look at how feeble the military has been in recent campaigns, and the incessant terrorist attacks that continue unabated. For Snowden’s advocates, the issue is less murky.

His supporters say there is a clear difference between espionage (leaking classified information to other nations) and whistleblowing, and point to necessary surveillance reforms and the development of stronger encryption as positive outcomes of his revelations. He should, therefore, be thanked and exonerated, rather than vilified and punished.

Activists are realistic, however, especially when they look at the forces arrayed against Snowden who clamor for his prosecution. Yet, their hope is that, while the efforts to get him pardoned may fail in this turbulent climate, the evidence they compile, and the arguments they advance, now may lay the groundwork for future clemency. Snowden is also realistic about the prospects, but remains sanguine.  He remarked not long ago at a press conference,

 “The question of whether I as a whistleblower should be pardoned is not for me to answer, but I will say this. I love my country. I love my family. And I have dedicated my life to both of them. These risks, these burdens I took on, I knew were coming. And no one should be in a position to make these kinds of decisions. That’s not the kind of place we’re supposed to be.”

What about you? Where do stand on the issue of a pardon for Edward Snowden?


Stan Ward Stan Ward has enjoyed writing for 50 years. Writing has been a comfortable companion to a successful business and teaching career for him. Find him on Google+.

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21 responses to “Should Edward Snowden Be Pardoned?

  1. Why do you want discuss about a ‘pardon’ when someone has done a right thing for every one and for a very long time ?
    Someone brought a small light hidden in a deep obscurity ; is this man a hero ? The gods of the universe could judge him as a traitor , as an informant and punish him but the humanity must honor him : now we know the best way to be free with the opened eyes.
    * the key is not inside a prison but always in your hands.

  2. Edward Snowden should be welcomed home as one of the greatest heroes of our time. He sounded the wakeup alarm of what is happening to this country. If you believe 24/7 government surveillance of everyone is necessary then he is a traitor. If you believe 24/7 government surveillance is an infringement of your rights then he is a hero.

  3. Yes he should be pardoned, his motives were far more honourable and public spirited than those who wish to vilify and punsish him. He gained nothing from his actions on a personal level whereas those he exposed were shown to be aloof and unaccountable to those they claim to serve.

  4. He is a hero. Most people don’ t have the balls to risk their own life to inform the American people about all the criminal goings on that affect all of our lives. I would help him by being a body guard for him.

  5. I wholeheartedly second the remarks made by John (September 20, 2016 at 5:40 am).

    Invoking “They Know Everything About You,” by Robert Scheer (see http://www.truthdig.com/theyknoweverythingaboutyou and the reviews at https://www.amazon.com/They-Know-Everything-About-Data-Collecting/dp/1568584520), Philip Roth’s alternate-history novel “The Plot Against America” and the 1935 Sinclair Lewis seminal classic “It Can’t Happen Here” is spot-on; to them I should like to add these two quotes:

    “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.”
    — Mr. Justice Louis Brandeis

    “The best weapon of a dictatorship is secrecy, but the best weapon of a democracy should be the weapon of openness.”
    — Neils Bohr

    Yes, IMHO, Edward Snowden is a national hero; at the very least, he is deserving of a full and unconditional pardon.

  6. “Our secrets”? Really? They aren’t MY secrets and I’m willing to bet their not yours either, not in any personal way. Dog pack “us vs. them” thinking doesn’t help and doesn’t make Snowden an enemy. What Snowden revealed was massive illegal acts by a U.S. government agency taken against American citizens, acts specifically forbidden by U.S. law. Want to rethink that “traitor” remark? Ah well, probably not.

  7. I wholeheartedly second the remarks made by John (September 20, 2016 at 5:40 am).

    Invoking “They Know Everything About You,” by Robert Scheer (see http://www.truthdig.com/theyknoweverythingaboutyou and the reviews at https://www.amazon.com/They-Know-Everything-About-Data-Collecting/dp/1568584520), Philip Roth’s alternate-history novel “The Plot Against America” and the 1935 Sinclair Lewis seminal classic “It Can’t Happen Here” is spot-on; to them I should like to add these two quotes:

    “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.”
    — Mr. Justice Louis Brandeis

    “The best weapon of a dictatorship is secrecy, but the best weapon of a democracy should be the weapon of openness.”
    — Neils Bohr

    Yes, IMHO, Edward Snowden is a national hero; at the very least, he is deserving of a full and unconditional pardon.

  8. It seems to me, judging by historical accounts, that when a government knows everything about everybody, it enables that government to become some variation on a theme of DICTATORSHIP. Then, if we think about an irrational, dishonest & self-serving person like D.J.T. becoming president, we the people, could be in for a world of trouble & unease. Things could easily change to a bad political and living environment we never dreamed possible (with worldwide ramifications). Considering various things, I strongly believe E. Snowden has done us a VERY valuable service. And our collective knowledge increase of what our government is doing, has probably already caused some welcome changes. Bottom line: Of course the govt doesn’t like it, but the general population should give thanks. My opinion.

  9. The question is completely irrelevant. He will be pardoned because of popular sentiment. What he did was commendable, how he did it was treasonous.

  10. The man is a TRUE HERO

    unlike the pussies the repigs think are heroes

    /cops for example ARE NOT heroes they are doing a job…
    many of them VERY POORLY
    /A simple IQ test is whether or not you think trumpetit
    is worth more than spit
    Voting for that idiot is like admitting you are a hopeless retard

  11. I think it was too much for him to keep to himself, he did try but no one listened.
    When something is not right, it has to come out somehow.
    Is he a treator?? This is a pretty heavy word,, I think he wanted the world to know, not just about NSA but in general, the issues we are dealing with today with modern technology..

  12. part of me says no he should not be pardoned but i had to ask my self would i be happy knowing (or rather NOT knowing) what bush and now obama are reaching into our lives and knowing now what “OUR”Government is not only capable of but is now doing?? I can only come to the conclusion that he did us(America) a Huge Favor!! Pardon him! A concerned Republican.

  13. Snowden is a hero. He risked his life to inform the world about Orwellian mass surveillance by the NSA being conducted against hundreds of millions of innocent people who are not suspected of any wrongdoing. The surveillance even included NSA agents watching live videocam sessions, which often involved intimate behavior. One NSA agent said she was embarassed to watch the videocam sessions. NSA agents used surveillance to spy on their girlfriends, trade deal officials, and environmental agreement negotiators. Read Glenn Greenwald’s book and watch his TED video about privacy on YouTube. Read, also, “They know everything about you” by Robert Scheer, who says that the NSA’s elimination of privacy has killed democracy. Attorneys, human rights workers, activists, protestors, journalists, and sources all depend on privacy to protect themselves, their clients, and the process of ensuring justice for the accused and the disenfranchised. And the abuse could get much, much worse if a dictator wins the presidency in the U.S. Read “It can’t happen here” by Sinclair Lewis and “The plot against America” by Phillip Roth. Wake up.

  14. A man, with a dignity, as citizen, looking in front of a mirror must see at least during a short moment that he must do. You are a hero if you success it and a traitor for the others who never could even pass through the first step.
    Sir snowden is one of them , one of this human being who have said “no”.

    1. Hi Donald,

      Traitor to the American government? Maybe. Traitor to the American people? No (in fact quite the opposite). When a government acts against the values and interests of its own citizens, which of the two is more important?

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