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Edward Snowden and his allies have formally made the case that he should be pardoned by President Barack Obama.
The ACLU, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch launched the PardonSnowden.org website today to press the cause, and Snowden himself spoke to The Guardian in a video interview.
“if not for these disclosures, we would be worse off,” said Snowden, speaking to Guardian reporter Ewen MacAskill, one of the journalists with whom he shared secret documents in 2013. “Yes, there are laws on the books that say one thing, but that is perhaps why the pardon power exists.
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, these were vital things.”
Snowden argued that the changes put in place by Congress, US courts, and the president all show that society has benefited from his actions, adding that “there has never been any public evidence that any individual came to harm as a result.”
After he provided top-secret documents to a group of journalists including MacAskill, Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Barton Gellman, federal prosecutors charged Snowden with espionage. He’s been living in exile in Russia ever since.
The “Pardon Snowden” campaign coincides with the theatrical release of the Oliver Stone film Snowden, starring Joseph Gordon Levitt as Snowden.
Snowden, now 33 years old, formerly worked as an IT professional at the CIA and later as a contractor for the NSA.
The human rights groups advocating for his pardon say that Snowden should be hailed as a hero, not charged with the “World War One-era” Espionage Act. “Edward Snowden is a young American who became aware of a mass surveillance system that had been growing secretly for years without democratic consent,” states the website. “Ed stood up for us, and it’s time for us to stand up for him. Urge President Obama to pardon Edward Snowden, and let him come home with dignity.”
The site invites readers to send a message supporting pardon to President Obama and to donate to the cause.
At several points the webpage notes that Snowden was charged under the World War One-era Espionage Act, which doesn’t distinguish between providing secrets to journalists or to a foreign power.
“If he went to trial today, he would not be allowed to explain to a jury why he felt compelled to share the NSA documents with the public, nor would he be allowed to cite the historic legal and technological reforms that have occurred as a result,” states the website’s FAQ page.
It goes on to note that Snowden’s disclosures have led to a worldwide debate about government surveillance and “have led to long overdue reforms,” including the panel of experts President Obama appointed to review NSA surveillance programs.
Both MacAskill and the PardonSnowden.org site note that former Attorney General Eric Holder said Snowden “performed a public service” by creating a debate around the issue of surveillance. However, Holder has also said that Snowden should face the criminal charges against him.
The White House’s last formal statement on what should happen to Snowden was its response to an online petition, published in May of last year. “He should come home to the United States, and be judged by a jury of his peers, not hide behind the cover of an authoritarian regime,” wrote Lisa Monaco, a presidential advisor on national security.
If he doesn’t get a pardon from Obama, things aren’t looking up for Snowden in the future, regardless of how the election turns out. Both major party presidential candidates have said Snowden should face punishment.
“He stole very important information that has fallen into the wrong hands so I think he should not be brought home without facing the music,” Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said during a 2015 Democratic primary debate.
Earlier in the campaign year, Republican nominee Donald Trump called Snowden a “total traitor” and said he “would deal with him harshly.”