As Paul points out, Edward Snowden is a bona-fide hero who deserves the Nobel Peace Prize, for which he was just nominated.
That hasn't prevented Representative Rick Larsen (D-Washington's Second District) from taking credit for surveillance reforms prompted by Snowden's whistleblowing, while calling for Snowden to face trial for charges brought under the World War I-era Espionage Act—which prevents him invoking the public good to defend his alleged law-breaking.
On Monday, a press release from Larsen's office crowed that the Department of Justice is implementing the Government Surveillance Transparency Act, which he proposed back in June 2013, after the first revelations of NSA data-gathering of American citizens hit the press. Now, the DOJ will allow technology companies like Google or Yahoo to disclose "the volume and type of data" they are forced to turn over to the state.
Larsen praises the move and concludes, "“Congress can no longer take ‘trust us’ as an answer. We need to strongly reform government surveillance programs so they are limited, transparent and accountable.”
So I asked Larsen's office whether the guy who enabled us hold government surveillance programs accountable—who created the debate on this issue out of whole cloth by daring to leak information to journalists—deserves clemency. The New York Times editorial board says he does. Several members of Congress (as well as Kshama Sawant) have suggested he deserves a clemency deal of some kind.
Not Larsen, whose spokesman wrote back: "No. Mr. Snowden should return to the United States and avail himself of the full protections of the justice system, including the presumption of innocence and the right to a jury trial by his peers."
But Snowden can't get a fair trial.
He's been charged with three felonies under the Espionage Act, which was intended for charging spies, not whistleblowers. As the Press Freedom Foundation's Trevor Timm explains (Snowden's legal advisor Jesseyln Radack also made this case last week in the Wall Street Journal):
Snowden will not be able to make the case he’d like to make in court because, contrary to common sense, there is no public interest or whistleblower exception under the Espionage Act. In recent cases, prosecutors have convinced courts that the intent of the leaker, the value of leaks to the public, and the lack of harm caused by the leaks are irrelevant, and are therefore inadmissible in court.
This means Snowden would never be able to tell the jury that his intent was not to help foreign countries or harm the U.S., but to inform the American public about the government’s secret interpretations of laws used to justify spying on millions of citizens without their knowledge.
Snowden would also not be able to explain to a jury that his leaks sparked more than a dozen bills in Congress, and half a dozen lawsuits, all designed to rein in unconstitutional surveillance. He wouldn’t be allowed to explain how his leaks caught an official lying to Congress, or that they’ve led to an unprecedented review of government secrecy.
Rep. Rick Larsen: Hypocrite of the day.
(Rep. Jim McDermott, by the way, who's generally more progressive and voted for the Amash amendment to outlaw NSA surveillance last year, refused to comment on whether Snowden deserves clemency.)