The Los Angeles Times editors began by acknowledging that Snowden, not President Obama, is “the ultimate author” of the so-called surveillance reform enacted into law. They conceded that “the American people have Snowden to thank for these reforms.”
Despite that, they are opposed to a pardon or to clemency. While generously conceding that Snowden has “a strong argument for leniency,” they nonetheless insist that “in a society of laws, someone who engages in civil disobedience in a higher cause should be prepared to accept the consequences.”
I see this argument often and it’s hard to overstate how foul it is. To begin with, if someone really believes that, they should be demanding the imprisonment of every person who ever leaks information deemed “classified,” since it’s an argument that demands the prosecution of anyone who breaks the law, or at least “consequences” for them. That would mean dragging virtually all of Washington, which leaks constantly and daily, into a criminal court — to say nothing of their other crimes such as torture. But of course such high-minded media lectures about the “rule of law” are applied only to those who are averse to Washington’s halls of power, not to those who run them.
More important, Snowden was “prepared to accept the consequences.” When he decided to blow the whistle, he knew that there was a very high risk that he’d end up in a US prison for decades — we thought that’d be the most likely outcome — and yet he did it anyway. He knowingly took that risk. And even now, he has given up his family, his home, his career, and his ability to travel freely — hardly someone free of “consequences.”
But that doesn’t mean he has to meekly crawl to American authorities with his wrists extended and politely ask to be put in a cage for 30 years, almost certainly in some inhumane level of penal oppression typically reserved for Muslims and those accused of national security crimes. The idea that anyone who breaks an unjust law has a moral obligation to submit to an unjust penal state and accept lengthy imprisonment is noxious and authoritarian.
Media Lessons from Snowden Reporting