Former OPC President Calls Snowden Home

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Edward Snowden

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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Jacqueline Albert-Simon's picture
Jacqueline Albe... on 9 January 2014 - 12:13pm

In response to my respected and admired colleague, Larry Martz, thanks for your lucid and humane plea to Edward Snowden to come home. I agree. But I cannot believe your reasonable letter to him could convince him . At this moment, he no longer appears to all of us as a brave and noble figure. He’s a man on the run, and running scared. Yes, he did us an invaluable service by exposing the follies of the clumsy, unthinking and dangerous operations of the NSA’s security super-surveillance. He has my gratitude, as well as yours, and my pledge to support his cause should he come home to be tried and brutally sentenced in the manner of the unfortunate Sergeant Manning.

Following, my version of an open letter to Edward Snowden.

Dear Mr. Snowden: First, my thanks and admiration that you managed to expose our government’s surveillance at home and abroad. That was a brave, even noble act, You became overnight the hero we were looking for. A true patriot. You told us on TV you would be ”happy to spend my life in prison” for what you had accomplished, and you appeared to enjoy and appreciate the fame and the glory you deserved.

But then you cut and ran. Were you afraid of the potential trial for espionage and stealing? Afraid to gamble on the good will of the public to protect and support you, afraid to take the consequences that you knew had to follow that gorgeous flame of fame?. Or did you realize all that before the act and orchestrate your flight to Hong Kong well ahead of the disclosures?

Mr. Snowden, it’s certain your chances to escape a trial and conviction are slim. Clemency is not an option.

You’ve proved you’re smart and shrewd; you stole brilliantly, you implicated others by getting their passwords on false pretenses, you signed an oath of secrecy and loyalty when you took the job in Hawaii knowing you planned to break it. Why are you doing incredibly stupid things now?

For example: not smart to have given media interviews in Hong Kong and Russia about “commitments to human rights” in those countries. Not smart trying to weasel your way into asylum in Brazil promising to give further tidbits from your stolen files to the government in return. Not smart to alienate a good measure of the Americans who loved you. Not smart to lose the vast capital you accumulated . There’s not much time left of your fifteen minutes of fame. I think you’re afraid. Are you a coward?

Come home and face those charges; you did spy, you did steal. But look, you can still retrieve your place in the sun. Certainly a team of expert lawyers will be mobilized to work out a decent d.eal for you and the government you did embarrass You can still rekindle the media and win mass support for you and indignation to protest if your sentence does not seem to fit the crime. Come home, Edward Snowden, before it’s too late and you have no place to go, and no roots. Take the risk to live again with honor in your own country. Be the hero you were meant to be. You have one chance and it’s now. (And a best seller to write.)