No, Edward Snowden Should Not Come Back

I’ve heard a lot of people, including some of the alleged liberals in Congress (I’m looking at you, Mark Udall) make the argument that if Edward Snowden really thinks he was a legitimate whistleblower, he should return to the United States to stand trial and make the argument that what he did was in the common good. But as Trevor Timm points out, it’s an argument he wouldn’t even be allowed to make.

If Edward Snowden comes back to the US to face trial, it is likely hewill not be able to tell a jury why he did what he did, and what happened because of his actions. Contrary to common sense, there is no public interest exception to the Espionage Act. Prosecutors in recent cases 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 is why rarely, if ever, whistleblowers go to trial when they’re charged under the Espionage Act, and why the law—a relic from World War I—is so pernicious. John Kiriakou, the former CIA officer who was the first to go on-the-record with the media about waterboarding, pled guilty in his Espionage Act case last year partially because a judge ruled he couldn’t tell the jury about his lack of intent to harm the United States.

In the ongoing leak trial of former State Department official Stephen Kim, the judge recently ruled that the prosecution “need not show that the information he allegedly leaked could damage U.S. national security or benefit a foreign power, even potentially.” (emphasis added)

The same scenario just played out in the Chelsea Manning trial this summer. Manning’s defense wanted to argue she intended to inform the public, that the military was afflicted with a deep and unnecessary addiction to overclassification, and that the government’s own internal assessments showed he caused no real damage to U.S. interests. All this information was ruled inadmissibleuntil sentencing. Manning was sentenced to thirty-five years in jail—longer than most actual spies under the Espionage Act.

Hell no, I wouldn’t come back if I were him. I’d stay on the run as long as I could and hope they don’t track me down and kill me.

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  • As long as that there are documents that would be disclosed upon his death, the US would be better of having him alive.

  • doublereed

    He just needs to hunker down for maybe another year or two until they grant him a pardon or whatever. The longer he stays out is the longer public opinion will turn to his side.

  • laurentweppe

    Edward, if you really believe that abuse of powers where done by the government, you should prove your sincerity by pretending that the Powers That Be will treat you fairly.

  • Look, we already know he’s guilty*. So there’s no need for a trial. Which is probably for the best since he can’t provide a defense and the State doesn’t have to provide evidence in one.

    See how much simpler Law and Justice get when they’re none of those things?


    * …telling us about thing that it’s good he brought up so that we can have the discussion we’re not having about the Security State that doesn’t overreach and anyway it’s good and you’ve got nothing to fear unless you’re guilty or like to hide behind the Bill of Rights which is the one of the greatest ideas of all time and is absolute and must be followed but it’s not a suicide pact, and, besides, he had other avenues than fleeing and releasing all this damaging info about the good things the NSA does but does not do. I mean, he could have gone to his boss who would’ve helped by firing him and blacklisting him or he could have gone to the umbudman who is powerless and doesn’t exist or he could’ve made an appointment with the Intelligence Committee in DC because he would have been protected by whistleblower statutes that protect government workers who aren’t contractors like he is. And, furthermore…

  • billgascoyne

    Hell no, I wouldn’t come back if I were him. I’d stay on the run as long as I could and hope they don’t track me down and kill me.

    Daniel Ellsberg agrees with you.

  • Dear Edward Snowden:

    You have just won an all expenses paid vacation in the Caribbean. Sand, surf*, watersports**, tropical breezes and a very full schedule of fun activities with folks just like yourself***.

    You may have heard rumors that Caribbean vacations are sometimes dangerous due to pirate attacks and other extra-legal acts by roguish sortabrown people. You need have no worries. Our resort features state of the art security and round-the-clock armed guards. You will NEVER be disturbed by anyone that we haven’t vetted while you’re visiting us; you can take that to the bank!

    We aim to please****, so c’mon down, Eddie!*****

    * You will be able to hear it from your “room”, no matter how loud a party they are having up the hall.

    ** We prefer to think of them as “enhanced” infotainment.

    *** Folks who put reality ahead of paranoia, slavish submission to authority and jingoistic nationalism.

    **** Full disclosure: We aim, to please those who are paying us to do so.

    ***** Disclaimer: Due to continuing demand, not all vacations scheduled for our Caribbean location will actually take place there. Of necessity, some winners will be sent to other destinations. No, Silly, we can’t TELL you where, that would take all of the fun out of it.

  • Michael Heath

    This is a perfect opportunity to use the “put up or shut up” cliche.

    If Sen. Udall wants Mr. Snowden to have his day in court, pass a bill that allows him to make such a defense. The onus here is on Udall, not Snowden.

  • I very much doubt the US government has any intent to kill Snowden. He no longer has the documents in his possession, and there is nothing more he can personally do to harm US interests at home or abroad. And as vindictive as some in the security forces are, I doubt it’s in any of their interest in turning him into a martyr. If there is any personal danger to Snowden it would be the risk of abduction and repatriation to stand trial. Even then, it would be an extremely risky proposition given the blow-back it would undoubtedly cause.

    Best to let him slide into obscurity in an increasingly authoritarian Russia (from the US govt POV anyway).

  • dcsohl

    Snowden should absolutely come back and sit down for a nice little one-on-one chat with the full authority and force of the United States Government. Nobody ever tries out these sorts of solutions.

    I mean, really, unions should never strike – heck, they should voluntarily disband and their workers should sit down for one-on-ones with the owners of the multi-billion dollar companies. I’m sure they’d get a fair shake and be treated honestly and respectfully, right?

    The Continental Army had no business taking up arms against the Redcoats, either. George Washington should have taken a little solo voyage to London first and had a little tete-a-tete with King George. Why does nobody go for these peaceable solutions?

    And David shouldn’t have fought Goliath either. Why can’t we all just get along?

  • davidwhitlock

    Snowden is a distraction. The NSA has completely screwed up the US high tech industry with their planting of back doors in US high tech products. The NSA will turn Silicon Valley into a ghost town as high tech industries move elsewhere.

  • tacitus:

    On this one I’m gonna have to disagree. The U.S. is in the habit of holding grudges against people/countries for long periods. Think Vietnam or Cuba.

  • Doug Little

    Good luck finding jurors that can be impartial.

  • Childermass

    A simple suggestion: The law should be passed giving all defendants the right to explicitly argue for jury nullification and where it is appropriate be allowed to present evidence to the jury suggesting it is in the public interest to nullify.

    I grant that there is possibility of abuse, but still I think it is a good idea.

  • colnago80

    Here’s the Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus badmouthing Snowden because he”s not the second coming of Yeshua ben Yusef of Nazareth. I didn’t think anyone could be a bigger asshole then Jennifer Rubin or Charles Krauthammer but ole Ruth is working on it.

  • bushrat

    @9 dcsohl – “And David shouldn’t have fought Goliath either. Why can’t we all just get along?”

    As an interesting aside, I was listening to a talk radio show this morning where some guys had done a forensic interpretation of the David and Goliath fight and came to the conclusion that David wasn’t actually the underdog he’s portrayed to be. From the wording of the biblical story they concluded that Goliath suffered from gigantism and was also very near sighted due to his affliction. This disorder often causes the individual to not only be extremely large, but often extremely near sighted if not virtually blind. Combine that with the fact that Goliath had a sword vs David’s sling, the battle was always skewed in David’s favor.

    Back to the regular programming…stay free Edward.