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Press Freedom and Human Rights Advocates Lament Trump's Denial of Pardons for Assange and Snowden

"Trump gave us one final reminder that he is an enemy of press freedom. Now Biden must decide if he wants to continue Trump's legacy."

A sculpture of Edward Snowden (L), Julian Assange (C), and Chelsea Manning (R) by Italian artist Davide Dormino in Geneva, Switzerland. (Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images)

A picture of "Anything to Say?", a bronze sculpture and art installation by Italian sculptor Davide Dormino representing whistleblowers (from L) Edward Snowden, Julian Assange, and Chelsea Manning, is seen on the Place des Nations next to the United Nations Offices in Geneva on September 15, 2015. (Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images)

Former President Donald Trump was roundly condemned by advocates of free speech and government transparency on Wednesday for failing to pardon WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden before leaving office, even as he granted clemency to scores of others, including violent criminals and other convicted felons. 

"I am not at all disappointed to go unpardoned by a man who has never known a love he had not paid for."
—NSA whistleblower
Edward Snowden 

Trump, who campaigned on a dubious promise to "drain the swamp," issued a final flurry of over 140 pardons or commutations, some of whose beneficiaries included corrupt government and business officials, an Israeli colonel who helped recruit an American to spy against the U.S., and his former senior adviser Steve Bannon—who was arrested last August for allegedly defrauding Trump supporters out of tens of millions of dollars.

Trump's latest wave of pardons and commutations followed earlier clemency granted to several war criminals including mercenaries who massacred 17 Iraqi men, women, and children; Republican insiders; former Trump advisers and confidants who refused to cooperate with government investigations; and lesser-known figures including a Maryland police officer who unleashed a German shepherd on an unhoused man looking for a safe place to sleep. 

Trump did not extend clemency to either Assange or Snowden, two men whose exposure of U.S. war crimes and other embarrassing—and classified—information infuriated both Republican and Democratic officials. According to CNN:

While he had once entertained the idea, Trump decided against it because he did not want to anger Senate Republicans who will soon determine whether he's convicted during his Senate trial. Multiple GOP lawmakers had sent messages through aides that they felt strongly about not granting clemency to Assange or Snowden.

Snowden—who revealed the global scale of U.S. surveillance and has been exiled in Russia since 2013—said he was not let down by Trump's refusal to pardon him. 

"I am not at all disappointed to go unpardoned by a man who has never known a love he had not paid for," Snowden tweeted on Wednesday.

"But what supporters of his remain must never forgive that this simpering creature failed to pardon truth-tellers in far more desperate circumstances," he added, referring to Reality Winner, who in 2018 was sentenced to over five years in prison for leaking an intelligence report detailing Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Snowden had been lobbying for her pardon. 

In a separate tweet, Snowden declared, "I would rather be without a state than without a voice."

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Supporters of Assange—who earlier this month avoided extradition to the U.S., where he faces up to 170 years in prison if ever convicted of all counts against him—expressed their anger and disappointment in the wake of Trump's decision. 

Others noted that the proverbial ball is now in President Joe Biden's court, while still other observers expressed doubt there would be pardons for either Snowden or Assange under the new administration:

Evan Greer, deputy director of the digital rights group Fight for the Future, summarized the thoughts and feelings of many Assange and Snowden supporters around the world when she tweeted: "No matter how you slice it, this is a bad thing for press freedom and human rights globally."

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