In a move that should be worrying for all whistleblowers, the New York Times editorial board has essentially called for NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden to be extradited from Russia, saying that he had no rightful claim to asylum.
Asylum is for people who are afraid to return to their own country because they fear persecution, unlawful imprisonment or even death because of their race, their ethnicity, their religion, their membership in particular social or political groups, or their political beliefs.
Mr. Snowden undoubtedly fears returning home because he would be arrested and prosecuted. But those fears do not qualify him for asylum.
Oddly, the New York Times editorial board is ignoring its own words. Perhaps they should read what they wrote just two years ago about Bradley Manning, the last leaker of such significance to end up incarcerated, awaiting charges under the Espionage Act.
Pfc. Bradley Manning…has not even been tried let alone convicted. Yet the military has been treating him abusively, in a way that conjures creepy memories of how the Bush administration used to treat terror suspects. Inexplicably, it appears to have President Obama’s support to do so.
Private Manning is in solitary confinement at the Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Va. For one hour a day, he is allowed to walk around a room in shackles. He is forced to remove all his clothes every night. And every morning he is required to stand outside his cell, naked, until he passes inspection and is given his clothes back.
After comparing his treatment to the torture committed by the CIA against enemy combatants, the Times editorial board concluded:
Many military and government officials remain furious at the huge dump of classified materials to WikiLeaks. But if this treatment is someone’s way of expressing that emotion, it would be useful to revisit the presumption of innocence and the Constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment.
Over 250 of the nation’s top law professors said the treatment violated the eighth Amendment and amounted to torture. The UN special rapporteur on torture called the treatment of Manning “cruel and inhumane.” So why, exactly, does the Times editorial board expect any different for Edward Snowden? They do not say.
It’s important to point out that the New York Times editorial board is independent of New York Times journalists, many of whom may be ashamed that their paper implicitly told future sources of secret information that they will not protect them under government pressure. Notably, just last week, after Jeffrey Toobin said on CNN that Edward Snowden committed a crime worthy of jail, New York Times reporter James Risen shot back: “We wouldn’t be having this discussion if it wasn’t for him. That’s the thing I don’t understand about the climate in Washington these days, is that people want to have debates on television and elsewhere, but then you want to throw the people who start the debates in jail.”
The same goes for Washington Post journalists, many of whom are doing admirable reporting on the NSA. They surely have been embarrassed by some of their paper's columnists thoughts on journalism, or their editorial board basically begging Snowden and other sources to stop giving them newsworthy secrets.
But regardless of how their journalists feel, the editorial boards of these two august journalism institutions are discouraging vital sources of information from coming forward with such self-defeating statements.
Finally, the New York Times ended its Snowden statement yesterday by saying this:
And does he really feel safer in a country where Mr. Putin, an increasingly authoritarian leader, has jailed and persecuted his critics?
It should go without saying that Putin’s treatment of whistleblowers and journalists in his own country is deplorable, but that does not delegitimize Snowden’s asylum claim in any way. Right now, he is walking around a free man, able to contribute to the ongoing debate in the US if he so wishes. That almost certainly “feels safer” than being locked in a cage, held incommunicado, possibly surrounded by violent criminals, and facing life in prison, as he would be if he came home.