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Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden speaks remotely at WIRED25 Festival: WIRED Celebrates 25th Anniversary –Day 2 on October 14, 2018 in San Francisco, California. (Photo: Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for WIRED25 )

Saying He Would Return to US for Fair Trial, Snowden Wants People to Know 'Why I Did What I Did'

"Was it better for the United States? Did it benefit us? Or did it cause harm? They don't want the jury to be able to consider that at all."

Andrea Germanos

Edward Snowden said Monday that he would return to the United States if afforded a fair trail where the American public could hear why he leaked global surveillance documents to the press.

The National Security Agency whistleblower, who was charged under the Espoinage Act and lives in exile in Russia, made the remarks in an interview with "CBS This Morning."

"Of course I would like to return to the United States," said Snowden. "That is the ultimate goal. But if I'm going to spend the rest of my life in prison, then one bottom line demand that we all have to agree to is at least I get a fair trial."

"That is the one thing the government has refused to guarantee because they won't provide me access to what's called a 'public interest defense,'" he said.

"I'm not asking for a pardon. I'm not asking for a pass," Snowden continued. "What I'm asking for is a fair trial. And this is the bottom line that any American should require. We don't want people thrown in prison without the jury being able to decide that what they did was right or wrong."

"The government wants to have a different kind of trial" in which they "use special procedures," he explained. "They want to be able to close the court room. They want the public not to be able to know what's going on."

"The most important fact to the government," Snowden said, "is that they do not want the jury to be able to consider the motivations—why I did what I did."

"Was it better for the United States? Did it benefit us? Or did it cause harm?" said Snowden. "They don't want the jury to be able to consider that at all."

The government has yet to produce any evidence his disclosure caused harm—"If they had some classified evidence that a hair on a single person's head was harmed, you know as well as I do, it would be on the front page of The New York Times by the end of the day," he said. The heart of the matter, said Snowden, is that the leak brought to light the government's mass surveillance system.

"When the government is embarrassed after being caught breaking the law," Snowden said, "they say the people who revealed that lawbreaking have caused serious harm to national security." He pointed to the case of Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg.

"What harms the country?" he asked. "Is it a war built on lies? Or is it the revelation of those lies? Is it the construction of a system of mass surveillance that violates our rights? Or is it the revelation of that by the newspapers that we trust?"

"If we can't trust newspapers, if we can't agree on the basic facts and then have a discussion, about whether this was right or wrong, not what's lawful or unlawful," Snowden said, "we're losing our position as a democracy and as a government that is controlled by the people—rather than people that are controlled by the government."

Trevor Timm, co-founder and the executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, explained in 2013 how Snowden's chances at a fair trail are likely nil. 

Timm posited:

If Edward Snowden comes back to the U.S. to face trial, he likely will not be able to tell a jury why he did what he did, and what happened because of his actions. Contrary to common sense, there is no public interest exception to the Espionage Act. Prosecutors in recent cases have convinced courts that the intent of the leaker, the value of leaks to the public, and the lack of harm caused by the leaks are irrelevant—and are therefore inadmissible in court.

In that scenario, Timm continued, Snowden would be unable "to tell the jury that his intent was to inform the American public about the government's secret interpretations of laws used to justify spying on millions of citizens without their knowledge, as opposed to selling secrets to hostile countries for their advantage."

Snowden would also be unable to talk about the consequences of his actions, including the fact "his leaks sparked more than two dozen bills in Congress, and half a dozen lawsuits, all designed to rein in unconstitutional surveillance."

"He wouldn't be allowed to explain how his leaks caught an official lying to Congress, that they've led to a White House review panel recommending forty-six reforms for U.S. intelligence agencies, or that they've led to an unprecedented review of government secrecy," wrote Timm.

Snowden's new interview came a day before the publication of his memoir, Permanent Record. It can be ordered from the publishers here


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