The Case For A Pardon For Edward Snowden

President_Barack_Obama228px-Picture_of_Edward_SnowdenBelow is my column in the Sunday Los Angeles Times on the basis for a pardon for Edward Snowden. It is clear that President Obama (and ranking congressional members) are opposed to such clemency. Snowden embarrassed a great number of powerful people in Washington, including the President. However, there is historical precedent for such a pardon and compelling arguments that such a course may be the right course for the country.

Former CIA Director R. James Woolsey weighed in last week on the subject of Edward Snowden. Asked about calls of clemency for the former National Security Agency contractor, Woolsey insisted that Snowden should be “hanged by the neck until he is dead.”
Woolsey reflects the current thinking in Washington: reform for the NSA and the rope for Snowden. However, it may be time for President Obama to show real leadership and acknowledge that Snowden is the reason for the current reform push.
It may be time to pardon Edward Snowden.

He has almost certainly committed criminal acts in removing and disclosing classified material. As someone who has held a top-secret clearance since the Reagan administration, I do not condone such violations of national security laws. However, Snowden is a better candidate for clemency than many believe.
A presidential pardon is not an endorsement of the underlying actions of an individual. To the contrary, the vast majority of pardons follow criminal convictions. Rather, pardons are issued because of mitigating or extenuating circumstances.
Sometimes clemency is a way of healing a national divide or bringing closure to a national controversy. George Washington pardoned all of those in the Whiskey Rebellion, and John Adams considered it in “the public good” to pardon Pennsylvania rebels. Likewise, Gerald Ford did not condone the crimes of Richard Nixon, but he viewed a pardon as in the best interest of the country.
YEAR IN REVIEW: Highs, lows and an ‘other’ at the Supreme Court
Presidential pardons can be issued at any time after an alleged offense, even before a person is charged or convicted. Such was the case with Jimmy Carter’s pardon of draft dodgers and Ronald Reagan’s pardon of the six officials accused in the Iran-Contra affair.
When considered in light of the thousands of past pardon and commutation recipients, Snowden compares favorably. Indeed, there have been many questionable pardons granted over the years to well-connected defendants, like that of businessman Marc Rich, who was convicted of tax evasion and other crimes but then pardoned by Bill Clinton.
While the Obama administration continues to insist that Snowden does not fit the definition of a whistle-blower, even the White House admits that abuses occurred in the massive NSA surveillance program that he revealed. Snowden’s disclosures have prompted the creation of two task forces, one of which came back last week with a recommendation of numerous reforms. Moreover, a federal judge has now ruled that the NSA program is flagrantly unconstitutional.
Snowden may have revealed a larger volume of material, but he is not the first to disclose highly classified matters. Most whistle-blowers release either confidential or classified material. Indeed, Daniel Ellsberg’s leak of the Pentagon Papers (celebrated as one of the most important moments in our history) involved the release of classified documents that the Nixon administration insisted placed the entire nation at risk.
Snowden faced a system that was entirely uninterested in, if not outright hostile to, hearing about abuses. Indeed, various people had tried to raise questions about the extent of government surveillance in previous years. I represented one prior NSA whistle-blower who disclosed the massive surveillance program, but the public ignored him and he was threatened with arrest.
Despite such cases and media coverage, the White House and Congress turned a blind eye to abuses. It was Snowden who forced action by leaking documents to a journalist. Both Obama and congressional leaders have called for Snowden’s arrest, but he was as much their creation as his own.
Some NSA officials have already suggested that amnesty could be used to secure thousands of documents still in Snowden’s possession. A pardon could be conditioned on the return of all these documents and the signing of a nondisclosure agreement that would allow prosecution for any further disclosures.
Moreover, a pardon would demonstrate to both Americans and our allies that the White House is serious about reform, and accepts responsibility for the abuses that have been documented.
Finally, a pardon would resolve a glaring contradiction in how the White House has dealt with alleged crimes by national security officials. After all, this is the president who pledged early in his first term that no CIA employee would be investigated, let alone prosecuted, for the Bush torture program. Likewise, no one was prosecuted when CIA officials admitted destroying torture tapes to avoid their use in any future prosecution. Finally, when the NSA program was raised in public, National Intelligence Director James Clapper appeared before Congress and lied about the program. He later said that he gave the least untruthful statement he could think of. But it was nevertheless untrue and potentially a crime for which he could be prosecuted.
But instead of firing Clapper and calling for his arrest, Obama asked him to participate on a task force to review the program.
Snowden could certainly take additional actions that could destroy any claim to a pardon. However, as he stands now, he has a greater claim than many who have received reprieves. He certainly deserves the same consideration in disclosing abuses that Obama officials received in concealing them from the public.
Jonathan Turley is a professor of public interest law at George Washington University and has served as lead defense counsel in national security cases.

Los Angeles Times (Sunday) December 22, 2013

55 thoughts on “The Case For A Pardon For Edward Snowden

  1. Secrecy and its ramifications….
    Written by Andrew Kreig []
    Published on December 22, 2013

    Peter Janney

    Editor’s Note: Author Peter Janney wrote this guest column to provide his views regarding the two most recent columns in the Justice Integrity Project’s “JFK Murder Readers Guide.” Janney, sought to make three major points about the two columns, JFK Murder, The CIA, and 8 Things Every American Should Know Dec. 9 and JFK Murder Prompts Expert Reader Reactions Dec. 20, 2013. Janney, reared in a CIA family, is the author of Mary’s Mosaic. Its subtitle is, The CIA Conspiracy to Murder John F. Kennedy, Mary Pinchot Meyer and Their Vision for World Peace
    Guest Column: Author Peter Janney Amplifies JFK ‘Readers Guide’
    By Peter Janney

    [special excerpt]:
    So, in April 1967, the CIA created a 50-page memo. Known as “CIA Dispatch 1035-960,” the directive was sent to various CIA stations; it instructed agents to contact their media contacts and explain to them how to best respond to anyone who was criticizing the conclusions of the Warren Report. [The document is here in the original, and here in reformatted text of its summary.] A set of “talking points” was also included that raised questions about the motives and competence of anyone who called into question the lone gun-man theory.

    With this memo and the CIA’s influence in the media, the concept of “conspiracy theorist” was engendered and infused into our political lexicon and became what it is today: a term to smear, denounce, ridicule, and defame anyone who dares to speak about any crime committed by the state, military or intelligence services. People who want to pretend that conspiracies don’t exist, when in fact they are among the most common modus operandi of significant historical change throughout the world and in our country become furious when their naive illusion is challenged.

  2. For anyone interested in reading those (2 = here & here) documents mentioned in the text above, the link to the full Peter Janney article is here (with full live links included in the text) :

  3. Regarding Robert Aronson’s comments, an observation by American scientist/philosopher/logician Charles Sanders Peirce would seem to apply:

    “Pronouncing a thing inexplicable does not explain it.”

    And regarding Mr Aronson’s unwillingness to come to a conclusion regarding the salutary consequences of Edward Snowden’s many — and continuing — documentary revelations, consider:

    The Suspension of Judgment Principle

    If no position comes close to being successfully defended, or if two or more positions seem to be defended with equal strength, one should, in most cases, suspend judgement about the issue. If practical considerations seem to require an immediate decision, one should weigh the relative risks of gain or loss connected with the consequences of suspending judgement and decide the issue on those grounds.

    — T. Edward Damer, Attacking Faulty Reasoning

    Now in the present instance, and quite obviously, Edward Snowden’s revelations seem admirably defended with copious documentary evidence and analysis by many diverse and respected journalistic institutions from several countries, while the U. S. government’s case against Edward Snowden remains woefully undefended — if one can even consider threats, bluster, lies, and pathetic claims to absolute secrecy as a “defense.” So given the fact that one side — Edward Snowden’s — has been quite successfully defended while the U.S. government’s side remains laughably inept, ad hoc, and continuously changing, a decision to suspend judgment in this matter simply implies an unwillingness to face the facts.

    The government of the United States has gotten caught — yet again — with its collective pants down (so to speak) with documentary evidence supplied by Edward Snowden clearly establishing the incompetence, malfeasance, mendacity, and utter lack of credibility, not just of the U.S. government, but many other “allied” governments, as well. So on the basis of what we actually do know thanks to Edward Snowden, it seems altogether proper to call him not just an American patriot , but a hero — of global stature.

    Additionally, speculating about what Edward Snowden might have given other governments or private for-profit interests — with no evidence whatsoever to support such suppositions — amounts to an argument from ignorance, a notorious fallacy. What we do not know does not ad one iota of fact or evidence to any discussion. And assuming that some evidence might exist to tarnish Edward Snowden’s reputation does not mean that any such evidence exists, only that a person on the losing end of an argument wishes that some contradictory evidence might come to light someday if the discussion only goes on long enough. But in fact, the longer this discussion goes on and as further documentary revelations come to light — promised by journalist Glenn Greenwald and others in possession of the evidence — the better Edward Snowden looks and the worse the U.S. and several “allied” governments look.

    So again, I see no reason to suspend judgement about Edward Snowden’s courage, patriotism, and ultimate salutary impact on freedom and democracy. Those, like Robert Aronson, who wish to suspend judgement may of course do so, but so far they have advanced no factual evidence or logical argument supporting their position. What they seem to hope for, I can only surmise, but they do seem uncomfortable with the truth and evidence revealed by Edward Snowden to date. Why?

    • @Michael Murry: Merry Christmas to you. Your statements are more than comment; they are a learning process and it demonstrates that authentic public education can be brought out under honest exchanges and carefully reasoned open dialogue. This in itself demonstrates why the state can not operate in secret, by secrets and for the (sake of) secrets.. in a country that still pretends to be of the people, for the people and by the people!
      Happy New Year ! May Open Freedom reign!

  4. MM,

    Perhaps they reserve judgement simply because they are not persuaded about certain questions by the evidence as it exists currently. Uncomfortable with conclusions and uncomfortable with the quality or quantity of evidence are not the same thing.

  5. Speaking of pardons….or rather lack of same….Marine Corps vet Eric Pizer ended his second combat tour in Iraq in 2004. A couple of days after his return, he went to the assistance of a friend involved in a fight. Pizer tried to break it up, and in the process punched the assailant. He was charged with battery. He pleaded no contest, served 2 years of probation and paid over $7000 in medical bills after punching the man in the face. Pizer went on to college, completing an Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice. He is not allowed to carry a firearm because of the conviction.

    He wants to be a police officer, but with that conviction for “assault” hanging over his head, he is prohibited from becoming a police officer. A pardon from the Governor can restore his rights, allowing him to pursue his chosen career. Unfortunately, his state Governor is Scott Walker. Yep, THAT Scott Walker, who says he will never issue a pardon to anyone for any reason. Walker feels that decorated Marine combat vet Pizer should just get over it and go into another line of work. Never mind that Pizer put his life on the line. Walker The Fearful never served, and hides behind an impressive security detail.

    One other thing. One of his associates is getting out of prison early. Walker’s buddy Kevin Kavanaugh stole $51,000 from a veterans fund. Scott Walker put Kevin Kavanaugh in charge of the veteran’s fund when Walker was Milwaukee County Executive, but Kavanaugh was caught in the “John Doe probe.” The early release was ordered by the state Department of Corrections, which is headed by a…wait for it…Walker appointee.

    Perhaps the President will see fit to override Walker’s intransigence, but I am not holding my breath.

  6. The fallacious argument from Ignorance in an Orwellian State:
    The Quote
    “ … there are known knowns; there are things we know that we know.
    There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know.
    But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don’t know. ”

    —United States Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld

    The above statement was made by Rumsfeld on February 12, 2002 at a press briefing where he addressed the absence of evidence linking the government of Iraq with the supply of weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups. FROM A direct transcript of a news briefing.

    One might venture to say that this is an argument from stupidity since ignorance is excusable!

  7. Full pardon and exoneration.

    It must be immediately followed by the seating of grand juries to discuss matters of those who created it, as the NSA is adjacent to other vile acts of the time, including torture and the treaties it abrogated.

    Those who maintained it since can save themselves through telling what they know of it. But we’ll have to hear it first.

    For the first time, well, ever, one predicts that day is actually coming. Something in the air… call it a hope in hunch formation.

  8. “Glenn Greenwald ‏@ggreenwald 2h

    Law professor (and pre-2009 MSNBC regular) Jonathan Turley in the LA Times argues for a pardon for Snowden …”

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