Mr. President, We Must Not Allow a Data-mine Credibility Gap.

Submitted by Darren Smith, Guest Blogger

220px-Drstrangelove1sheet-Most are aware of the situation Eric Snowden faces: stranded essentially in a legal and diplomatic limbo the result of a protracted effort by the US government to arrest him by pulling nearly all diplomatic stops out. To encourage the Russians to deny him asylum and convey him to the United States for trial, is a letter promising to provide Mr. Snowden due process of law from an administration widely criticized to respect those rights to be believed? Or is it that they can have credibility given the allegations of abuse of the rights to privacy of the American citizenry by data mining their private information, the activities of which Mr. Snowden is alleged to have revealed?

On July 23, 2013 a letter was transmitted addressed from United States Attorney General Eric Holder to Russian Minister of Justice Alexander Konovalov to address concerns of the fate of whistleblower Edward Snowden should he return to the United States.

The letter may be read here. Courtesy ABC News

The letter seems to be an attempt by the United States government to address to the Russian government assertions made by Mr. Snowden that he should be permitted asylum because he would face torture and a death penalty prosecution.

Let us look at this letter and some of the claims made by the U.S. Government.

In the letter Mr. Holder claims “We understand from press reports and prior conversations between our governments that Mr. Snowden believes that he is unable to travel out of Russia and therefore must take steps to legalize his status. This is not accurate; he is able to travel. Despite the revocation of his passport on June 22, 2013, Mr. Snowden remains a U.S. citizen. He is eligible for a limited validity passport good for direct return to the United States. The United States is willing to immediately issue such a passport to Mr. Snowden.”

And thus begins what can be debated as a possible credibility gap. The United States government previously began a systematic effort to halt the movement of Mr. Snowden. Firstly cancelling his passport then contacting various governments of nations suspected to likely receive him and then making demands of such nations. The intrusion in the affairs of other governments was wide, especially culminating in the directives that denied airspace to Bolivian President Evo Morales’ aircraft when on his return flight from Moscow where he attended an energy summit. President Morales’ plane diverted to Austria, reportedly low on fuel, where it remained grounded for thirteen hours before being allowed to depart after having been searched. All of this intrigue was caused by rumors that Mr. Snowden might be aboard President Morales’ aircraft and upon suppositions because President Morales had made inferences his country might consider an asylum request. The ramifications of this intrusion were shocking to many including the presidents of other nations. And this was well founded considering that the US would instigate the seizure of a president’s aircraft while travelling on official business due to rumors of a fugitive might be aboard. It begs the question on whether or not the United States government considers sovereign embassies to be searchable at will. And searchable might be another relative term. It was revealed by Ecuador that it found a listening device in its London embassy where Julian Assange is staying and there recently was a row over revelations that the US Government is in fact spying on its own allies, to which President Obama dismissed significance in declaring that everyone spies on one another.

It could be considered rather disjointed how AG Holder can claim that Mr. Snowden cannot assert he is unable to travel out of Russia because the US would issue him effectively a one way travel ticket to the United States. Some might offer it seems rather self-serving of the United States. Mr. Snowden had previously proclaimed he was essentially a “stateless person” due to the revocation of his passport and being relegated to the limbo the situation of his de facto residency in a Russian airport. Essentially the US Government could be violating Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which reads “(2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.”

The letter from AG Holder proffers that Mr. Snowden’s claims he would be tortured are “entirely without merit… Torture is unlawful in the United States.” Again, one has to look at the credibility of the United States with regard to its involving the usage of the word “torture” especially in regard to claims made in the past that waterboarding is not considered torture. And even an analogue of Mr. Snowden’s case, that of Private Manning, had some questions as to how inmates are treated. Presiding Judge Lind credited 112 days confinement due pre-sentencing punishments and illegal treatment he received.

Moreover, one only has to look at another person accused and convicted of an serious espionage offense, Robert Hanssen who was attributed to at the time the largest intelligence disaster in U.S. history, is serving a life sentence in the Florence ADX prison facility and is reportedly incarcerated 23 hours a day in solitary confinement. Some NGOs consider an incarceration of this type to be that of a psychological torture. Would Mr. Snowden be subjected to such an incarceration?

But Mr. Holder asserts in the letter that Mr. Snowden would receive due process rights afforded to all criminal defendants. Again, would this assurance of due process be another relative term?

Finally, the letter seeks to sum up the government’s claim that Edward Snowden’s worries are to be allayed by guarantees:

“We believe that these assurances eliminate these asserted grounds for Mr. Snowden’s claim that he should be treated as a refugee or granted asylum, temporary or otherwise. Please ensure that this letter reaches the head minister for the Federal Migration Service, as well as any other Russian Federation agency responsible for receiving and considering Mr. Snowden’s application for Asylum.”

One has to ask if this two page letter, signed by Attorney General Holder, is to be believed given the behavior and practices of the U.S. Government with regard to whistleblowers, due process, torture, and incarceration, credibility, sovereign rights of nations or the diplomatic process. Especially given to the extent in which it has gone to apprehend Mr. Snowden and others to begin with. And, is this something the United States government expects a country such as Russia that statements of this kind are credible given its history as well?

28 thoughts on “Mr. President, We Must Not Allow a Data-mine Credibility Gap.

  1. Mr. Smith, You have hit the nail right on the head. If the Administration seems to lack credibility now, it has itself to blame. It’s not that Mr. Putin & Company really care one little bit about Edward Snowden’s rights or his fate. It’s all about appearances and a great opportunity for the Russians to score a propaganda coup. When our leaders began waffling about waterboarding and decided to disregard our people’s historic abhorrence of torture, they left themselves wide open. Now, what went around has come around. We collectively have egg on our faces if we have not spoken out against “enhanced interrogation techniques” and kangaroo courts, as well as the contemplated indefinite military detention without charges or trial of U.S. citizens.

  2. Nice job Darren. It is interesting how Mr. Holder has just forgotten what this administrations and ones preceding it have done to prisoners. Has he forgotten about a little place called Gitmo???

  3. What kind of country do you live in when your government has to assure a foreign government that you won’t torture a prisoner if that prisoner is returned to you?

  4. Strong, strong column, Darren.

    Way to speak truth to power.

    And the answer to your rhetorical(?) question, LK, is “illegitimate”. Possibly “despotic”. Certainly “tyrannical”.

  5. Fantastic post, Darren. Unfortunately, in most cases on this blog, you are preaching to the choir. I had an e-mail the other day asking me to ‘sign a petition’ and I had to ask myself, what good is petitioning the government for ‘redress of grievances’ when the success of the petition depends on those whom you are petitioning paying any attention to the peoples voice? We know how well THAT works any more! It certainly says a lot when an American citizen feels that the only way he can be safe from imprisonment, torture or death is to flee to the former Soviet Union. How low have we fallen!

  6. Note Holder does not give assurances regarding extraordinary rendition, only that torture “is illegal in the United States”.

  7. When I was dying a few years ago, as I lay for days on my hospital bed and all seemed so hopeless I felt like giving up, one quotation sustained me and gave me courage: “Do not go gently into the night”. Thank you Darren, as we face what we know are long odds we must continue speaking truth to power and not go gently into the night.

  8. lottakatz 1, July 28, 2013 at 9:33 pm

    What kind of country do you live in when your government has to assure a foreign government that you won’t torture a prisoner if that prisoner is returned to you?

    I can assure you, lottakatz, that such “Assurance” ain’t worth the paper it is written on; This Dept. of Justice already proved that if it wishes, DAY can be redefined as NIGHT, TORTURE is redefined as mere INTERROGATION. Shall I go on?

    “Governments do lie” said Prof. Zinn, and by Jove, is he right!

  9. Well done, Darren!


    martingugino 1, July 28, 2013 at 10:56 pm

    Note Holder does not give assurances regarding extraordinary rendition, only that torture “is illegal in the United States”.

    But enhanced interrogation IS legal.

  10. Given Mr. Holder’s track record, let alone that of the USG as a whole in the past decade, I’d say the credibility of the USG isn’t worth a cent. The irony of an American citizen fleeing to Russia due to fears of treatment by the USG is truly compelling, but it doesn’t appear than anyone in the USG–or many in among the public–understand that point.

  11. “The irony of an American citizen fleeing to Russia due to fears of treatment by the USG is truly compelling, but it doesn’t appear than anyone in the USG–or many in among the public–understand that point.”

    Sean T.,

    It is a bitter irony indeed and I think you’re right those in power here don’t get it.

  12. Very nice piece Darren :)

    And I’m glad we have people William K Black around.

    ** The idea that the Attorney General of the United States of America would send such a letter to the representative of a foreign government, particularly Russia under the leadership of a former KGB official, was so preposterous that I thought the first news report I read about Attorney General Holder’s letter concerning Edward Snowden was satire. The joke, however, was on me. The Obama and Bush administrations have so disgraced the reputation of the United States’ criminal justice system that we are forced to promise KGB alums that we will not torture our own citizens if Russia extradites them for prosecution. **

  13. Robert Hanssen who was attributed to at the time the largest intelligence disaster in U.S. history, is serving a life sentence in the Florence ADX prison facility and is reportedly incarcerated 23 hours a day in solitary confinement. Some NGOs consider an incarceration of this type to be that of a psychological torture. Would Mr. Snowden be subjected to such an incarceration?

    ADX prisons are a last resort for extremely violent and dangerous prisoners – and also for Houdini prisoners who have escaped from high-security prisons.
    They just got repurposed in the interests of vindictiveness.

    Solitary confinement makes people mentally ill. It’s inhuman.

    Of course Snowden will spend the rest of his natural(?) life in ADX if the US gets their hands on him. That’s after they have finished chatting with him about who exactly might have been given what information exactly.
    He’s clearly a very violent serial escapee. ADX is the only option.

    It’s the same with Manning.
    You’ve seen the photograph of him with the four huge guys escorting him?

    He looks like butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth, but he’s lethal.
    He’s so awsome and dangerous that three of the escorts have to wear sunglasses that are mirrored on the inside.

  14. Darren,

    This is a well written post. That it has come to this here is overwhelmingly sad. Bill Black said this letter was obscene. I agree.

  15. Trust, like respect – even more so, is earned, not due.

    I’ve never seen an American politician in my lifetime worthy of trust.

    The campaign finance and lobby systems don’t attract trustworthy people.

  16. From the Pew poll . . .

    “Nearly half of Americans (47%) say their greater concern about government anti-terrorism policies is that they have gone too far in restricting the average person’s civil liberties; 35% say their greater concern is that they have not gone far enough to adequately protect the country. There has been a 15-point rise in the percentage saying their greater concern is civil liberties since Pew Research last asked the question in October 2010. This is the first time a plurality has expressed greater concern about civil liberties than security since the question was first asked in 2004.

    The increase in concern about civil liberties has taken place across the board, with double-digit shifts in opinion among nearly all partisan and demographic groups.”

  17. “Mr. Smith has penned an excellent article. It is an outrage that the American people would necessarily be represented by the likes of eric holder in communications with the former Soviet KGB master.

  18. USGinc. is very scared that people are getting information about what is actually happening in our nation. They are terrified of a liberal-liberatarian alliance for the rule of law. Just as they are showing their terror of Snowden by hounding him in obviously heavy handed, illegal ways, they are trying diligently to dismantle the emerging coalition of people who are saying NO to govt. abuse of the people.

    Greenwald’s twitter has several links to both the alliance and the attempts by the govt. to tear it down. I say, let’s take the information that the govt. is afraid and push even harder to bring this govt. back to the rule of law. This isn’t going to come from Congress, it will come from us showing courage, intelligence and concern for others.

  19. I hope for more of this on behalf of Manning and Snowden: “Open Letter from Members of the European Parliament to President Barack Obama and US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel

    As Members of the European Parliament, who were elected to represent our constituents throughout Europe, we are writing to express our concerns about the ongoing persecution of Bradley Manning, the young U.S. soldier who released classified information revealing evidence of human rights abuses and apparent war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    The U.S. Army has charged Private First Class Manning with 21 different crimes, including ‘Aiding the Enemy’; a capital charge. To convict a person who leaked information to the media of “Aiding the Enemy” would set a terrible precedent. Although we understand the US government is not seeking the death penalty for Bradley Manning, there would be nothing to stop this from happening in future cases. As it is, PFC Manning faces the possibility of life in prison without parole, recently rejected as “inhuman and degrading treatment” by the European Court of Human Rights…”

  20. “we face what we know are long odds”

    It is early and nothing is certain. But the tide has changed.

    Thanks to Snowden, it will be much more difficult for courts to dismiss cases because plaintiffs lack standing.

    The NYT discusses the political ramifications of Snowden’s documents:

    Politicians who have ducked these important issues for more than a decade now have no cover and must address NSA spying.

    The few representatives who have opposed NSA spying can now speak openly without violating security. They can refer to articles, interviews and documents available to anyone who can read msm.

    Snowden has made it necessary to acknowledge and debate policies and practices that administrations have claimed simply did not exist.

    The spy master’s greatest fears have been realized. Now anyone who can read knows the truth even if not all the details.

    If you believe that NSA spying and the open democratic society are fundamentally incompatible, then Snowden is a true patriot and great American hero.

  21. I don’t always agree with Eugene Robinson. But sometimes he gets things just right. Here he is writing about Snowden and the debt that we all owe to him:

    In part Robinson says:

    “…officials grudgingly acknowledge, however, that public debate about the NSA’s domestic snooping is now unavoidable.

    This would be impossible if Snowden — or someone like him — hadn’t spilled the beans. We wouldn’t know that the NSA is keeping a database of all our phone calls. We wouldn’t know that the government gets the authority to keep track of our private communications — even if we are not suspected of terrorist activity or associations — from secret judicial orders issued by a secret court based on secret interpretations of the law….

    You can cheer Snowden’s predicament or you can bemoan it. But even some of the NSA’s fiercest defenders have admitted, if not in so many words, that Snowden performed a valuable public service.

    …antithetical to the idea of a free society, in my view, is the government’s position that we are not permitted to know even how the secret intelligence court interprets our laws and the Constitution. The order that Snowden leaked — compelling a Verizon unit to cough up data on the phone calls it handled — was one of only a few to come to light in the court’s three decades of existence. Now there are voices calling for all the court’s rulings to be released.

    We’re talking about these issues. You can wish Edward Snowden well or wish him a lifetime in prison. Either way, you should thank him.”

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