Amnesty International has issued a statement criticizing the Obama Administration’s prosecution of Edward Snowden. While the media has largely yielded to demands from the White House not to call Snowden a “whistleblower,” Amnesty International views him in this light and specifically objects to the use of the Espionage Act by the Obama Administration in this case. I discuss the charges against Snowden in a column today in USA Today.
Widney Brown, Senior Director of International Law and Policy at Amnesty International stated that “No one should be charged under any law for disclosing information of human rights violations by the US government. Such disclosures are protected under the rights to information and freedom of expression.” The organization further stated that “[h]is forced transfer to the USA would put him at great risk of human rights violations and must be challenged.”
The position of Amnesty International could prove helpful to Snowden. Even with countries with an extradition treaty with the United States, there is an exception for criminal charges viewed as political or cases involving a dissident. Moreover, countries can consider the denial of due process in the requesting country. Many Americans may be surprised to learn that the United Stats is increasing viewed as a country that is a menace to due process in the denial of basic rights and a heavily skewed legal system in national security cases. It is important to remember that President Obama has retained the claimed authority to send some people to real courts and some to military tribunals on his discretion alone. The use of the Espionage Act only magnifies those concerns from many civil libertarians.
The charge appears in part a desire to paint Snowden in the most sinister light. The White House and its allies appear surprised by how, despite such efforts, many Americans and people around the world view Snowden as not just a whistleblower but a hero. Even if you do not view him in such a light, he does appear to be a source of a journalist. President Obama is responsible for 70 percent of all charges brought under the 1917 act — targeting sources of journalists. This comes after his administration was found to have put journalists under surveillance and called one reporter a possible criminal conspirator for speaking with a source. The Justice Department would have been wiser to focus on the crimes of theft and disclosure of classified information.
The Administration could not be working harder to create a defense to extradition for Snowden. The rhetoric and the charges in the case make this look more and more political and undermine assurances of fair treatment in the eyes of many abroad. This may be why the United States is now putting such pressure on Russia to return him in transit. Once he arrives and is admitted into a country, a long extradition process will follow where these issues can be explored. That can be avoided if he is simply put on a plane to New York. Russia however appears not inclined to help according to reports out this morning.