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.
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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. anonymously posted

    It’s a given that Snowden won’t be pardoned any time soon, but I’m guessing that he deeply appreciates the show of support.


    I hope so. I also hope he understands that many of his fellow countrymen understand why he took the initiative, applaud him for it, and wonder if they would have had the kind of courage he possesses. I like to think I’m a courageous sort, but I, honest to God, don’t know if I would have been able to make the kind of sacrifices Mr. Snowden knew he would be making.

    Whatever happens, he is always going to be a touchstone.

  2. The “pretense” to Justice is tragically amusing and Woolsey’s statement indicates clearly that they have killing him in their hearts…and you can see it in their faces. Tyranny is in their works and Snowden dared to interfere with their lust for power. As the writer Jim Garrison has pointed out ( Martial Law by Executive Order) the constitution is all but dead. Snowden would get a kangeroo court and be locked away to disappear deep inside the matrix of ‘virtual’ democracy.

  3. Agree. Snowden has watched what’s happened to other whistleblowers and he’s better off staying away. If he gave himself up, there would be a plane crash, suicide, some ‘accident’ that got rid of him before he could get to trial. Better off if this ‘transparent’ administration exonerated him completely and gave him back his passport.

  4. I agree with Mespo that Snowden should be completely exonerated and given a medal for his service to the country. Jonathan hit the highest note in his well reasoned argument when he contrasted the Obama Administration’s promise that no one would be prosecuted for the crimes committed by the prior administration, which is in effect a pardon. That administration’s record shows hundreds of thousands of foreign citizens killed; many thousands of our own troops killed and maimed; Trillion$ flushed down the toilet in two unneeded wars; thousands tortured and illegally imprisoned; and most seriously of all the compromise of our Constitution’s Bill of Rights. Yet the perpetrators and organizers are living out their lives without a care. Snowden on the other hand exposed a program that in my judgment is extra-constitutional and highly dangerous to the nature of this country’s Constitution. Despite the highly suspicious claims of harm charged by the Intelligence Community, I think the greatest damage he inflicted was bring to light the work of out of control zealots, acting out of a misguided sense that they protect the citizens as they destroy their lives.

    Bruce E. Voych’s contribution of the background of Snowden’s employer, Booz-Allen also contributes to exposing the venal criminality that is taking place here in the name of “protecting” America. Booz Allen is a wholly owned subsidiary of the infamous Carlyle Group prominently operated by the Bush Family and their Saudi Allies. It’s a sick, sad tale that I’ve written about in the past.

  5. It’s a given that Snowden won’t be pardoned any time soon, but I’m guessing that he deeply appreciates the show of support.

  6. An old opinion piece by Ellsberg that’s worth revisiting, given my view of what’s transpiring in the U.S.:

    Snowden made the right call when he fled the U.S.

    By Daniel Ellsberg, Published: July 7


    Many people compare Edward Snowden to me unfavorably for leaving the country and seeking asylum, rather than facing trial as I did. I don’t agree. The country I stayed in was a different America, a long time ago.

    It was, in effect, a global expansion of the Stasi, the Ministry for State Security in the Stalinist “German Democratic Republic,” whose goal was “to know everything.” But the cellphones, fiber-optic cables, personal computers and Internet traffic the NSA accesses did not exist in the Stasi’s heyday.

    As Snowden told the Guardian, “This country is worth dying for.” And, if necessary, going to prison for — for life.

    But Snowden’s contribution to the noble cause of restoring the First, Fourth and Fifth amendments to the Constitution is in his documents. It depends in no way on his reputation or estimates of his character or motives — still less, on his presence in a courtroom arguing the current charges, or his living the rest of his life in prison. Nothing worthwhile would be served, in my opinion, by Snowden voluntarily surrendering to U.S. authorities given the current state of the law.

    I hope that he finds a haven, as safe as possible from kidnapping or assassination by U.S. Special Operations forces, preferably where he can speak freely.

    What he has given us is our best chance — if we respond to his information and his challenge — to rescue ourselves from out-of-control surveillance that shifts all practical power to the executive branch and its intelligence agencies: a United Stasi of America.

  7. Although there is precedent for a pardon, perhaps even clemency, I agree with SwM … perhaps in the distant future … maybe … posthumously.

    Right now all these “smart” Washington people have had their own incompetency so boldly exposed that pardoning Snowden is an across-the-board, ego impossibility.

    The incompetency of the officials who failed to anticipate and stop 9/11 in spite of all the warnings was supposed to have been remedied by this expanded, all encompassing new bunch of laws thus meeting the excuses given for the 9/11 failure. So what happens? A guy, right under their noses, walks out with all the secrets and releases them to the world. Nobody anticipates it, nobody stops him, and nobody could even catch him after the fact.

    So sure, all these foreign leaders are feigning indignation but behind closed doors they’re laughing their asses off at the boobs in Washington. The strutting general with the swoosh doors, the get tough on terror legislators that knowingly sanctioned lies to their Committees and their constituents, the President with the Noble Peace Prize waging a secret war on his own people’s right to privacy … all exposed to the world because, once again, the, ahem, the ‘Intelligence’ Services failed to do their job.

    As far as Washington is concerned, Snowden was another 9/11. There is no way in hell they’re going to pardon him … it’s an ego impossibility.

    As to what is in the best interests of the country? Come. On. Washington doesn’t have a clue. That’s why Snowden did what he did.

  8. What Mespo said!
    Snowden is a whistleblower who pulled the veil away to disclose the “secret” the government is violating the law.
    By the way, I do not agree that Ford pardoned Nixon to help the country. The country and our democracy would have been better served to bring Nixon up on charges. If we had, we might not have the Presidential overreaches that we are complaining about now.

  9. Well when you have no backbone to start with you don’t have far to fall….. At least bush did things and fell far…. But he turned out to be a corporate interest chromosome …..

  10. Pardon Snowden. then charge the Director of the NSA, and others for letting it happen in the first place. There is not a judge anywhere on a bench that would not grant a warrant to phone tap a known terrorist. Get the warrant, leave law abiding U.S. citizens completely out of this surveillance process. Alot of people say Bush started this process need to realize how it has expanded under new leadership. It needs to be stopped now.

  11. A pardon and an exoneration are necessary. But there is a bigger picture here and it goes international or what some would call ballistic.

    There have been crimes and human rights violations which are being revealed by the Pentagon Papers of the 21st Century. There should be an international human rights tribunal established to accuse, try and convict human rights criminals. In America we need to prosecute those who lied to Congress. Some guy named Clapper comes to mind.

    If I was Snowden, I would stay outside the reach of the U.S. war criminals and continue releasing documents. Keep barking Edward. I know that you read this blog. The NSA told me so.

  12. I agree. It will NEVER happen. He will be in exile the rest of his life. As I’ve said previously, my pragmatic hope is he gets out of Russia and to some good country where he can make a good living. He “took one for the team.”

  13. It is difficult to believe that this is the core outsource for National
    Security and major questions must be raised just by the nature of how this ever was put into place, let alone how
    much authentic National Security might be compromised by its connection to its parent corporation. There are absolutely no guarantees that the foundation of our National Security is not in the wrong hands…, for potential private interests or for seriously questionable reasons! PASS THIS AROUND: The Lowdown on Booz Allen is startling!
    The details of this reality should be a bigger scandal then Snowden’s revelations… It is difficult to believe that this is the core outsource for National Security and there are major questions raised just by the nature of how this ever was put into place, let alone how much authentic National Security is compromised and in the wrong hands…for questionable reasons! PASS THIS information around, it is obscured by the ongoing media fixations of Snowden as victim, saint & sinner.

  14. Pardon? I rather thought an exoneration is appropriate coupled with a commendation for serving the interests of the public in spite of a law that clumsily seeks to vitiate that act. Secrecy is the enemy of freedom everywhere when that secrecy protects the evil that men do to undermine the interest of citizens. Not understanding that the fundamental purpose of law is to serve the public’s interest and elevating it’s text above its spirit is what infuriates the public — and so offends natural justice.

  15. 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.” – JT


    If we stop following The Powell Manifesto, which is false dogma, the efforts of people like Snowden will no longer be so very necessary.

  16. A pardon is appropriate, but not in exchange for keeping secret the rest of the information. We already know that the secrecy has done nothing to protect Americans, quite the opposite. It is the disclosure of spy tactics that protects Americans.

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