Former OPC President Calls Snowden Home
Friday, 3 January 2014
DEAR EDWARD SNOWDEN:
First, my thanks. You have done a great service to your country by exposing the appalling range of the National Security Agency’s abuses of our civil liberties, and you have triggered a great debate that, I hope, will end in reining them in.
I’m not among those who call you a coward for your refusal to submit to prosecution for stealing secret documents and disclosing their contents, and for accepting temporary asylum in Russia. That verdict seems to me a bit like saying that no survivor should be given the Congressional Medal of Honor, because a true hero would be dead. To expose the NSA’s excesses, you have sacrificed your career and irredeemably changed your life, and many people will always think of you as a traitor. That’s a huge sacrifice to have made, and I don’t see why you should have to risk being jailed for life to prove you are a true whistle-blower.
I’m surprised, though, at how many reasonable people, including many of my colleagues in the Overseas Press Club of America, condemn you for avoiding prosecution. Obviously, I’m not speaking for the Club. But I’m going to suggest that perhaps you should come home after all and face the music.
You’re in a precarious and unsustainable position in Russia. In effect, Vladimir Putin has you in his pocket as a pawn, to push or sacrifice whenever he pleases in his long game to defeat Western values. Outside of Russia, you are welcome only in countries, including Venezuela and Bolivia, where you rightly don’t want to go. You have been reduced to dickering with Brazil, offering bits of information in exchange for asylum there – a dirty bargain that would further stain your image. You have to ask: If Brazil accepted, how long would the deal be good? Where would you have to turn next, at what further price? How do you expect to spend the rest of your life? What do you want to do now, and how do you want to be remembered?
The New York Times has sensibly urged the government to offer you a plea bargain or some form of clemency, to allow you to come home and be a voice for civil liberties. My sense is that that is highly unlikely to happen as long as you’re on the run. But I think that if you do come back voluntarily, there will be a rising tide of conviction that you should not be punished for performing what has been a huge public service, and you will have a good chance of being freed sooner rather than later.
This may not happen. The fate of Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning, who was tortured in solitary confinement for years and then sentenced to 35 years in military prison for sending classified documents to WikiLeaks, argues against it. You would be marching into the lion’s den with no assurance that the beast will be tranquilized. But unless you do, I’m afraid there is very little prospect that you will join Daniel Ellsberg, of Pentagon Papers fame, in the tiny pantheon of whistle-blowers who have helped preserve our freedoms by exposing the misdeeds of our government. And unless you come home, it will be far more difficult to force our “protectors” to end their abuses. Your service to the public has been huge, but it won’t be completed until you turn yourself in.
I’m sorry to have to say that. And whatever you decide to do, thanks again for what you have done.
Larry Martz is a past president of the Overseas Press Club of America. The writer’s opinions do not represent OPC policy.
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