January 2, 2014;The Atlantic

Editorials published in the Guardian and the New York Times on New Year’s Day urged the U.S. Government to offer clemency or a pardon to Edward Snowden, thus offering the administration an opportunity to reconsider what has appears to be a fairly hardline position for prosecution of this whistleblower.

Edward Snowden has, of course, requested clemency from the U.S. government. He wrote that its “systematic violations of law” created “a moral duty to act.” 

The Times editorial reads, in part, “Considering the enormous value of the information he has revealed, and the abuses he has exposed, Mr. Snowden deserves better than a life of permanent exile, fear and flight. He may have committed a crime to do so, but he has done his country a great service.”

The Guardian writes:

“Mr. Snowden gave classified information to journalists, even though he knew the likely consequences. That was an act of some moral courage. Presidents—from Franklin Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan—have issued pardons. The debate that Mr. Snowden has facilitated will no doubt be argued over in the U.S. supreme court. If those justices agree with Mr. Obama’s own review panel and Judge Richard Leon in finding that Mr. Snowden did, indeed, raise serious matters of public importance which were previously hidden (or, worse, dishonestly concealed), is it then conceivable that he could be treated as a traitor or common felon? We hope that calm heads within the present administration are working on a strategy to allow Mr. Snowden to return to the U.S. with dignity, and the president to use his executive powers to treat him humanely and in a manner that would be a shining example about the value of whistleblowers and of free speech itself. One of the finest presidents, George Washington, pardoned farmers who took up arms against the federal government (!) to protest a tax on whiskey. He wouldn’t have granted those pardons had he thought that he was making a radical case against the legitimacy of the U.S. government or setting a precedent for anti-tax insurrections. And it is difficult to argue that any such precedent was set, even at the dawn of the federal republic when norms were still being established.” 

The Guardian also suggested some guidelines for when should a leaker of government secrets should be forgiven rather than jailed:

  • When the leak reveals law-breaking by the U.S. government
  • When the leak reveals behavior deemed unconstitutional by multiple federal judges
  • When a presidential panel that reviews the leaked information recommends significant reforms
  • When the leak inspires multiple pieces of reform legislation in Congress
  • When the leak reveals that a high-ranking national-security official perjured himself before Congress
  • When the leak causes multiple members of Congress to express alarm at policies being carried out without their knowledge. 

They write that “the Snowden leak meets all of those thresholds, among others.”—Ruth McCambridge