The New York Times has urged the American government to grant former NSA contractor Edward Snowden clemency or a reduced punishment owing to the public value of his revelations over the National Security Agency’s intelligence-gathering programs.
The daily’s editorial board argues that it is only thanks to Snowden that Americans now understand the extent to which their internet and telephone communications are monitored by the NSA. By leaking the classified information to the media, the whistle-blower has succeeded in his goal of prompting a review of oversight and accountability of the country’s intelligence agencies.
“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 New York Times’ editorial board wrote.
The Guardian, a British newspaper that along with The Washington Post published Snowden’s leaked documents, also called for President Barack Obama to pardon Snowden in its own editorial published on Wednesday.
“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,” The Guardian wrote.
Snowden is currently living in Russia, which granted him temporary asylum when he fled the US after leaking the information, much to the chagrin of American authorities who want him to return and face trial on espionage charges.
Last week, a federal judge ruled that the NSA’s collection of phone call records is lawful, although another judge earlier in December questioned the program’s constitutionality. The Supreme Court is now expected to take up the issue.
Snowden’s temporary Russian visa is due to expire in August 2014. In the US he faces two charges of espionage and one of stealing government property and each of those three charges carries a possible 10-year prison sentence. However, the NYT suggests that in reality state prosecutors would add to those charges so that Snowden would be given a life sentence.
The NSA’s incoming deputy director, Rick Ledgett, recently told CBS News he would be in favour of negotiating an amnesty with Snowden in exchange for the documents in his possession, but the White House has dismissed that suggestion.
Barack Obama has claimed that he passed laws designed to protect intelligence staff-turned-whostleblowers but according to the NYT Snowden’s actions were “clearly justified” as those laws do not cover private contractors, only government employees.
The editorial listed several ways the NSA had violated the public trust, saying it broke federal privacy laws “thousands of times a year.” It appealed to Obama to give Snowden “an incentive to return home”.
“When someone reveals that government officials have routinely and deliberately broken the law, that person should not face life in prison at the hands of the same government,” the newspaper wrote.