Reactions to the New York Times and The Guardian Editorial Boards’ Call for Clemency for Snowden

As Ruchi covered this morning in the news roundup, today the editorial boards of the New York Times and The Guardian called on the Obama Administration to offer Edward Snowden clemency or a plea bargain for his leaking documents relating to the U.S. mass surveillance programs.  The New York Times editorial board argued that “[c]onsidering the enormous value of the information he has revealed, and the abuses he has exposed, Mr. Snowden . . .  may have committed a crime to do so, but he has done his country a great service.”  The Guardian noted that “Mr Snowden – through journalists, in the absence of meaningful, reliable democratic oversight – had given people enough knowledge about the nature of modern intelligence-gathering to allow an informed debate.”

Needless to say, much ink has been spilled–both in traditional outlets and social media alike–on commentary and reactions to the editorials.  Here is a sample of some of the commentary on the calls for clemency for Snowden:

On Twitter, Anne-Marie Slaughter, the former director of policy planning at the State Department, said she agreed with the New York Times editorial board that Edward Snowden should be considered a whistle-blower:

However, in an interview with The Daily Beast, former director of the NSA and the CIA Gen. Michael Hayden called the idea of clemency “outrageous.”

[Hayden] predicted any efforts to grant Snowden clemency would be met with significant resistance from U.S. intelligence officials. He pointed to the campaign to grant Jonathan Pollard, an Israeli spy who stole secrets for the Jewish state in the early 1980s when he worked as an analyst for the U.S. Navy. “There is a lot of push to give clemency for Jonathan Pollard who did far less damage than Snowden and the U.S. intelligence community has been adamant against clemency for Pollard,” Hayden said. He added that giving clemency to Snowden would send the message to future leakers: “If you are going to do this, make sure you steal enough secrets to bargain for clemency.”

Josh Barro of the Business Insider also argued on Twitter that granting clemency would create a bad precedent that would encourage future leaks:

https://twitter.com/jbarro/statuses/418583852571824129

https://twitter.com/jbarro/statuses/418584109015773184

But over at the Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf made a case that the Snowden leak is an exceptional case that would set no special precedent going forward:

The concepts of pardon and clemency are part our system precisely because there are instances when applying rules we’ve generally decided upon would be unjust and counterproductive. They are meant to be used judiciously, on an ad hoc basis, in what are clearly exceptional circumstances. Snowden’s leak meets those tests. Urging clemency for Snowden is not a radical case against our existing system of rules—it is an acknowledgment that, like all rules, ours are imperfect.

Also today, several members of Congress weighed in on the calls for clemency.  For example, Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) in an interview on MSNBC said “Should Edward Snowden face the music for breaking the law? . . . I think yes, but I think with leniency. We would not be having this very important national debate now had it not been for Snowden.”  Regarding Snowden’s actions. Holt said “That’s what whistleblowing is — it’s exposing waste, fraud [and] abuse . . and this would certainly be called abuse.”  Here is the full interview with Rep. Holt with more on what leniency could look like:

Compare these comments to Rep. Peter King on Fox News, who rejected the idea of clemency for Snowden saying the editorial boards “go out of their way to be apologists for terrorists and go after those in law enforcement and military who are trying to win this war.”

Kate Nocera at Buzzfeed has a helpful article on other reactions from Congress on the editorials.

Finally, in what was at some points a heated exchange on CNN this afternoon, Glenn Greenwald and Ruth Marcus (the latter of whom had an important piece in the Washington Post on New Years Eve critical of Snowden) debated the calls for clemency and the alleged double standard within the Obama Administration for punishing violations of law.

Editorial Note: This post is intended to be an illustrative, rather than exhaustive, recap of reactions to today’s editorials.  If you think I’ve missed an important perspective, please reach out to me @thomasdearnest with the  overlooked source; I’m happy to update the post accordingly. 

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About the Author(s)

Thomas Earnest

Former Managing Editor of Just Security (2013-14) Follow him on Twitter (@thomasdearnest).