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