Briefly, because I can’t say it better than these people did, please check out the links below for eloquent arguments about the value of Edward Snowden’s lawbreaking, and the Obama administration’s pernicious folly in persecuting him.
On the last day of October, from his exile in Russia, Snowden wrote a letter seeking clemency.
On the first day of January, a New York Times editorial endorsed his request.
Considering the enormous value of the information he has revealed, and the abuses he has exposed, Mr. Snowden deserves better than a life of permanent exile, fear and flight. He may have committed a crime to do so, but he has done his country a great service. It is time for the United States to offer Mr. Snowden a plea bargain or some form of clemency that would allow him to return home, face at least substantially reduced punishment in light of his role as a whistle-blower, and have the hope of a life advocating for greater privacy and far stronger oversight of the runaway intelligence community.
In a series of tweets, a US business journalist who has cheered on the excesses of the security state, condemned the Times’ position.
The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf eviscerated Barro’s argument in a logical tour-de-force.
When should a leaker of government secrets be forgiven rather than jailed? Here are some possible standards:
- When the leak reveals lawbreaking by the U.S. government
- When the leak reveals behavior deemed unconstitutional by multiple federal judges
- When a presidential panel that reviews the leaked information recommends significant reforms
- When the leak inspires multiple pieces of reform legislation in Congress
- When the leak reveals that a high-ranking national-security official perjured himself before Congress
- When the leak causes multiple members of Congress to express alarm at policies being carried out without their knowledge.
The Snowden leak meets all of those thresholds, among others….
Leaks of classified information in the United States will remain common, regardless of what happens to Snowden, because they frequently serve the interests of people in power—and they won’t be prosecuted precisely because they are powerful or connected. That longstanding, bipartisan dynamic is far more important to the norms surrounding official secrets in the U.S. than how a singular, unrepeatable, once-in-a-generation leak is handled….
For apparently altruistic reasons, Snowden revealed scandalous instances of illegal behavior, and the scandal that mass surveillance on innocents is considered moral and legal by the national-security state, though it knew enough to keep that a secret. It is difficult to imagine another leak exposing policies so dangerous to a free society or state secrets so antithetical to representative government. The danger of a Snowden pardon creating a norm is virtually nonexistent.
The Friedersdorf piece in particular deserves to be read in its entirety.