Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Goodbye, Mr. Snowden

Last month I wrote a piece about Edward Snowden in which I suggested that his decision to flee the scene and not face punishment after disclosing secret US intelligence information was inconsistent with the country's long history of dissent and civil disobedience. I further suggested that such actions would tend to undermine his moral standing on the issue. Many of you offered comments agreeing or disagreeing.

Now, Mr. Snowden has gone a step further along this path by accepting asylum from Russia. As the New York Times notes in an editorial:

Asylum is for people who are afraid to return to their own country because they fear persecution, unlawful imprisonment or even death because of their race, their ethnicity, their religion, their membership in particular social or political groups, or their political beliefs.

Mr. Snowden undoubtedly fears returning home because he would be arrested and prosecuted. But those fears do not qualify him for asylum. 

Mr. Snowden has unfortunately made a mockery of his principles.  The Times further notes:

And does he really feel safer in a country where Mr. Putin, an increasingly authoritarian leader, has jailed and persecuted his critics?

I'm not saying it would be easy for him back in America.  The Administration will surely throw the book at him to deter others who might consider similar acts.  But we do have a vigorous and independent judiciary, with multiple levels of appeal, as well freedom of speech and press that could be harnessed to build a political coalition in support.  But, by accepting the help of a despotic regime without those structures, Mr. Snowden has forfeited any chance of using the resiliency of the American judicial and political system to help him and his cause.


Matthew Holt said...

I think we can all agree that Snowden has done a great service to American citizens by exposing what is being done to us by the NSA--which has completely subverted the government. Yet it's clear that if h were to return, the Feds would put him away for ever.

Given that he;s seen the recent treatment of Bradley Manning, what exactly do you propose he do?

Paul Levy said...

Perhaps he should have thought of that before acting. There is a cost to civil disobedience. You can't have it both ways and be an effective advocate for your cause.

@medskep said...

Snowden made the right call when he fled the U.S. written by Daniel Ellsberg

Anonymous said...

Your blog should stick to what you know so well - medical. You seem a bit naive in the politics and justice sphere. Of course you are entitled to your opinion. One query: why should anyone who has done such a service to the people of the US as Snowden has done by releasing information that should be in the public sphere anyway (transparency is fundamental to democracy) face life in prison or worse? Civil disobedience is one thing; excessive punishment is another. Why is whistleblowing - for that is what Snowden has done - a capital offense?

Mitch said...

Were it your son would you give this advice, knowing with near certainty he's get life? Maybe in a super max prison where human rights violations are a matter of course?

And yes Russia is bad but sad to say the US is not all that much better. As Chomsky points out, out government is the world's leading terrorist organization.

And I have to imagine Snowden would prefer Iceland, Venezuela or wherever but he's got to get there first-and one can just imagine the pressure they are under.

Paul Levy said...

Dear Anon 8:37,

Thanks for your thoughts, but I actually have more background and experience in politics and government than health care. I'm not naive, just idealistic.

Paul Levy said...


"As Chomsky points out, out government is the world's leading terrorist organization."

There is plenty of terrorism elsewhere, too. Venezuela, for one.

Anonymous said...

I think you're thinking of Chile and Argentina and perhaps even Colombia or Peru - but Venezuela?
Is it idealistic to support the notion that whistleblowing should require life in prison, or worse?

Paul Levy said...

Venezuela has been characterized by an oppressive and corrupt government for years.

The point is that you make a choice when you engage in civil disobedience. You can call it whistle-blowing, but he knowingly violated laws. That's civil disobedience.

If you don't face the consequences, you undermine your own cause. It is something to think about beforehand.

Accepting solace and support from someone like Putin certainly does not send a message that you seek to enhance freedom.

Peter said...

I'm more cynical than you. I believe Edward's name will pop up every time Putin wants to twist the knife. But make no mistake, Russia has been far more interested in his hacking prowess than in the information released. He'll fade from public view, and will depart 'this mortal coil' without fanfare.