We recently wrote approvingly of President Obama’s decision to pardon Chelsea Manning. In the past, we suggested that Edward Snowden should not be pardoned but that he should not receive a jail or prison sentence, perhaps, we suggested community service would be a better option. Today, in an Opt-Ed piece for the New York Times, Alan Rusbridger, chairman of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, urged the President to Pardon Snowden.
Rusbridger reinforces his opinion by saying that Snowden could face the death penalty in the U.S. if he is returned and that Donald Trump has openly called for Snowden’s execution. He writes, “Mr. Trump has made it plain that — in contrast to his view of Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder — he considers Mr. Snowden to be a traitor and has implied that he should be executed.”
He notes that if “Mr. Snowden to return to the United States, he would be charged under a problematic law — the Espionage Act, passed in 1917 to punish spies and saboteurs during World War I. Under the law, Mr. Snowden would be given no opportunity at trial to explain his motivation or the importance of his actions.”
Even if the death penalty was not imposed, Snowden would likely receive a draconian prison sentence. We think the espionage law that prevents a defendant from presenting a complete defense, including his motives for doing what he did, is fundamentally unfair. We do not, in our suggestions, mean to undermine the importance of our country’s espionage laws, rather, we emphasize the importance of affording all citizens the right to receive complete due process of law and the application of rigid principles of fairness in any criminal trial.
The law is an old one and needs to be changed. Given the President’s short window of opportunity to take action, and the unfairness that Snowden would face in the event he is prosecuted, President Obama should fashion a remedy whereby Snowden would not receive a jail sentence.