Ed­ward Snow­den de­serves clemency

‘The Washington Post’ gets it wrong in call­ing for its star whis­tle-blower to face the mu­sic

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - TECH - @rem­rieder USA TO­DAY

Well, this is cer­tainly some­thing you don’t see all the time: a ma­jor news­pa­per call­ing for the crim­i­nal prose­cu­tion of one of its all-time all-star sources.

Yet here was The Washington Post, com­ing out force­fully in an ed­i­to­rial over the week­end against a par­don for for­mer NSA con­trac­tor and leaker to the stars Ed­ward Snow­den. In­stead, it wants to see one of Moscow’s best-known res­i­dents in a U.S. court­room.

“Ide­ally, Mr. Snow­den would come home and hash out all of this be­fore a jury of his peers,” the Post said of the man who brought the news­pa­per a cov­eted Pulitzer. As a con­so­la­tion, the Post would set­tle for a plea bar­gain in which Snow­den “ac­cepts a mea­sure of crim­i­nal re­spon­si­bil­ity for his ex­cesses and the U.S. gov­ern­ment of­fers a mea­sure of le­niency in recog­ni­tion of his con­tri­bu­tions.”

Def­i­nitely an odd way of say­ing thanks.

Snow­den and his sup­port­ers see him as a whis­tle-blower, one who per­formed an ex­tremely valu­able pub­lic ser­vice when he dis­closed the NSA’s blan­ket col­lec­tion of the tele­phone records of Amer­i­can cit­i­zens.

The case trig­gered an im­por­tant de­bate over pri­vacy and led to sub­stan­tive changes. Now, the records are held by tele­coms, and the NSA has to get per­mis­sion from the su­per­secret For­eign In­tel­li­gence Sur­veil­lance Court to gain ac­cess.

Last week, three hu­man rights groups — Amnesty In­ter­na­tional, Hu­man Rights Watch and the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union — launched a cam­paign to se­cure a par­don for Snow­den. The ef­fort dove­tails with the re­lease of Snow­den, an Oliver Stone movie that of­fers a sym­pa­thetic por­trait of its name­sake.

The Post isn’t ar­gu­ing that Snow­den is com­pletely evil. In fact, it gives him credit for a sig­nif­i­cant achieve­ment.

“The (blan­ket col­lec­tion) pro­gram was a stretch, if not an out­right vi­o­la­tion, of fed­eral sur­veil­lance law and posed risks to pri­vacy,” the ed­i­to­rial says. “Congress and the pres­i­dent even­tu­ally re­sponded with cor­rec­tive leg­is­la­tion. It’s fair to say we owe these nec­es­sary re­forms to Mr. Snow­den.” So what’s the prob­lem? It seems the Post feels he went too far in leak­ing doc­u­ments about other pro­grams. “He also pil­fered, and leaked, in­for­ma­tion about a sep­a­rate over­seas NSA In­ter­net-mon­i­tor­ing pro­gram, PRISM, that was both clearly le­gal and not clearly threat­en­ing to pri­vacy,” it says. And, the news out­let adds, “Worse — far worse — he also leaked de­tails of ba­si­cally de­fen­si­ble in­ter­na­tional in­tel­li­gence oper­a­tions.”

But, in breath­tak­ing fash­ion, the Post ig­nores a key part of the Di­nah PoKemp­ner, left, gen­eral coun­sel for Hu­man Rights Watch, lis­tens as Ed­ward Snow­den speaks via video link from Moscow dur­ing a news con­fer­ence Sept. 14. equa­tion. Snow­den didn’t make any­thing pub­lic on his own.

Un­like Ju­lian As­sange and Wik­iLeaks, which re­sort to irresponsible, un­fil­tered doc­u­ment dumps, Snow­den worked in tan­dem with top news or­ga­ni­za­tions — in­clud­ing The Washington Post! His reve­la­tions emerged from a care­ful edit­ing process de­signed to with­hold in­for­ma­tion that was dan­ger­ous and irresponsible to dis­close.

And, in fact, the Post won a Pulitzer Prize for Pub­lic Ser­vice for ma­te­rial from the Snow­den doc­u­ments. And, tellingly, it re­ported on the PRISM project, whose rev­e­la­tion the ed­i­to­rial board found so dis­taste­ful.

The three other news outlets that pub­lished Snow­den’s ma­te­rial — The New York Times, the Guardian and The In­ter­cept — have all called for some sort of clemency for Snow­den. While the Times stopped short of call­ing for a com­plete par­don, it said in a 2014 ed­i­to­rial, “It is time for the United States to offer Mr. Snow­den a plea bar­gain or some form of clemency that would al­low him to re­turn home, face at least sub­stan­tially re­duced pun­ish­ment in light of his role as a whis­tle-blower, and have the hope of a life ad­vo­cat­ing for greater pri­vacy and far stronger over­sight of the run­away in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity.”

Glenn Green­wald, who first re­ported on the blan­ket col­lec­tion of tele­phone records for the Guardian, ex­co­ri­ated the Post ed­i­to­rial.

“Hav­ing basked in the glory of awards and ac­co­lades, and ben­e­fited from un­told mil­lions of clicks, the ed­i­to­rial page ed­i­tors of the Post now want to see the source who en­abled all of that be put in an Amer­i­can cage and branded a felon,” wrote Green­wald, a found­ing ed­i­tor of The In­ter­cept. “That is warped be­yond any­thing that can be de­scribed.” He may be on to some­thing. It’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that at rep­utable news or­ga­ni­za­tions, there is an ab­so­lute fire­wall between the ed­i­to­rial page and the re­port­ing staff, and here we have pow­er­ful ev­i­dence that is true at the Post.

So it’s not as if the same peo­ple who re­ported on Snow­den’s reve­la­tions, win­ning that Pulitzer in the process, are now try­ing to put him in the slam­mer. One of the Post’s lead Snow­den re­porters, Bart Gell­man, told Wash­ing­to­nian magazine that the ed­i­to­rial was wrong about PRISM, adding, “I sup­pose (the ed­i­to­rial) sets a mile­stone of some kind for its pas­sive ag­gres­sive cri­tique of the pa­per’s own jour­nal­ism.”

Re­gard­less of the church/state sep­a­ra­tion thing, the Post ed­i­to­rial is so wrong-headed and off­putting as to be a black eye for the pa­per.

That’s too bad, as the Post, af­ter seem­ingly losing its way, has had an ad­mirable resur­gence un­der the own­er­ship of Ama­zon CEO Jeff Be­zos and the lead­er­ship of ex­ec­u­tive ed­i­tor Marty Baron.

As for the par­don is­sue, that seems moot, given Pres­i­dent Obama has shown no en­thu­si­asm for is­su­ing one, and it’s hard to picture Hil­lary Clin­ton or Don­ald Trump do­ing so.

MARY ALTAF­FER, AP

Rem Rieder

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