The ACLU is behind a campaign to prompt President Obama to pardon National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden. As Snowden told the Guardian, he knows he violated "laws on the books," but "that is perhaps why the pardon power exists — for the exceptions, for the things that may seem unlawful in letters on a page but when we look at them morally, when we look at them ethically, when we look at the results, it seems these were necessary things."
Snowden shows an understanding of the president's pardon power. Still, I have a few questions I would want answered before I would sign onto the notion that the ex-NSA contractor acted morally and ethically — and hence deserves clemency. To wit:
How did a guy who's against authoritarian governments that spy on their citizens end up in Vladmir Putin's Russia? (Snowden blames the State Department for revoking his passport after he left Hong Kong, but why is he in Moscow? His residence belies his rhetoric.)
If Snowden wanted to stop the NSA's practices in 2013, then why didn't he, as former CIA Deputy Director Mike Morell suggested in his book "The Great War of Our Time," simply copy a couple of documents and mail them to the Washington Post instead of downloading 1.7 million documents and taking them to China?
If Obama pardons the biggest leaker of all time, then won't he also have to pardon others — Chelsea Manning, former CIA chief David Petraeus — who also shared classified information? If Obama pardons Snowden, then how does the intelligence community keep secrets in the future?
Director Oliver Stone's "Snowden" comes out this week — which gives immediacy to the ACLU's effort, as does the calendar countdown on Obama's ability to absolve Snowden. Photogenic and self-deprecating, Snowden fits the central casting image of a reluctant hero. In Laura Poitras' documentary "Citizenfour," Snowden repeatedly urges others not to make the NSA story about him — which of course Poitras does. Better to make this a morality play than a hard-boiled look at the cost of these leaks to U.S. intelligence and America's allies.
Snowden has bravely committed — under his own name — what he frames as an act of civil disobedience. But if Snowden truly is who he says he is, let him come home and face the criminal charges against him before a jury of his peers. As long as Snowden remains holed up in Moscow, he might as well be Donald Trump, who is so smitten with Putin's praise that he compliments him in turn. Trump and Snowden share a willingness to live in Putin's thrall, but at least Donald Trump doesn't live under Vladimir Putin's thumb. President Obama should not pardon Edward Snowden.
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