Justice for Edward Snowden

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It is time for President Obama to offer clemency to Edward Snowden, the courageous U.S. citizen who revealed the Orwellian reach of the National Security Agency’s sweeping surveillance of Americans. His actions may have broken the law, but his act, as the New York Times editorialized, did the nation “a great service.”

In an interview that the Nation magazine is publishing this week, Nation Contributing Editor Stephen Cohen and I asked Snowden his definition of patriotism. He sensibly argues patriotism is not “acting to benefit the government,” but to “act on behalf of one’s country. . . . You’re not patriotic just because you back whoever’s in power today. . . . You’re patriotic when you work to improve the lives of the people of your country,” including protecting their rights.

That requires hard choices. When a government is trampling the rights of the people in secrecy, patriots have a duty to speak out. Snowden notes that there is no “oath of secrecy” for people who work for the government. Contract employees like Snowden sign a form, a civil agreement, agreeing not to release classified information, opening themselves to civil or criminal prosecution if they do. “But you are also asked to take an oath, and that’s the oath of service. The oath of service is not to secrecy, but to the Constitution — to protect it against all enemies, foreign and domestic. That’s the oath that I kept.”

Snowden’s actions revealed that the National Security Agency was collecting information, without a warrant, on millions of Americans. The revelations properly sparked outrage across the globe, and even in our somnambulant Congress. Countries and companies began seeking ways to curtail the invasion. Two federal judges have ruled that the NSA is guilty of trampling the Fourth Amendment protections of the Constitution. As U.S. District Judge Richard Leon, an appointee of George W. Bush, wrote, “I have little doubt that the author of our Constitution, James Madison, who cautioned us to beware ‘the abridgment of freedom..

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