Submitted by Darren Smith, Guest Blogger
Most are aware of the situation Edward 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?