A common criticism of former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden is his open refusal to return home and face justice. His refusal to return home and stand trial has long been a point of criticism among opponents.
Is it cowardice? Does Snowden have allegiances to other nations?
Reports revealed this past week that President Barack Obama was considering giving Chelsea Manning, an Army Private First Class serving a prison sentence for leaking sensitive information to Wikileaks, clemency. While many celebrated this development and began hopeful for the prisoner, others have wondered why Snowden can’t have the same consideration.
The White House responded to such points by drawing a difference. In drawing this difference, the White House actually admitted why Snowden’s refusal to return home over fear of unfair treatment is a legitimate concern. Whereas Snowden took the documents and ran and leaked them while on the run, Manning went through the military justice system.
The problem is that Manning’s treatment is every reason why Snowden shouldn’t trust the United States Government fairly.
The United Nations had found that Manning’s treatment was torture. Treatment included being placed in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day and forced to strip naked at night. It received widespread condemnation domestically from scholars and organizations, as well as internationally.
Some defended the government’s actions by alleging Manning is a traitor, although there was no legal conviction. How can one be subject to punishment without a conviction?
Our system of government is designed to protect the individual, both from government under the Bill of Rights and mob rule in having a Republic. Popular outcries for certain outcomes don’t overshadow the legal process, and neither should the government. Among these rights is due process and protection from cruel and unusual punishment.
What about Chelsea Manning’s rights?
The pre-trial punishment that seemed to either be an attempt to coerce Manning or make an example out of her. It was cruel and excessive. Either way, why would Snowden want to subject to that kind of treatment?
While Chelsea Manning exposed potential war crimes in Iraq and leaked sensitive communications, Edward Snowden’s revelations were larger and more groundbreaking. He literally pulled the rug out from beneath an unconstitutional surveillance operation and shed light on it. It not only shook the intelligence community and our country, but the world. It embarrassed the government because it was showed that not only was it treating innocent citizens like criminals needing to be constantly watched, it was monitoring our allies’ activities closely.
The outrage was strong, domestically and abroad. There would be many who would want to make an example out of Snowden.
Setting aside any possible prejudice or opinions about Chelsea Manning, consider what she went through over a video and classified communications. Now think about what Edward Snowden did in revealing in detail how the United States government spies on its own citizens without due process of law, as required by the Constitution.
Would you trust the government enough to come home?