National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, who has been in a Moscow airport for weeks now, is seeking temporary asylum in Russia so he can guarantee his safety before traveling to a country in Latin America that has offered him asylum.
What he plans to do next became known after a meeting with representatives of human rights groups he invited to meet with him in the Sheremetyevo airport. Those who attended the meeting, according to the Associated Press, were: : Vyacheslav Nikonov, the Russian MP, Sergei Nikitin, head of Amnesty International Russia, Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch, Vladimir Lukin, Russia’s presidential human rights ombudsman, and attorney Genri Reznik.
[*Snowden's full statement to human rights organizations.]
Lokshina was mobbed by press after the meeting. She reported that Snowden plans to temporarily remain in Russia until he can travel to Latin America. He would like international organizations to petition the United States and the European Union to not interfere with his travel.
He addressed a condition Russian President Vladmir Putin has sought to impose—that Snowden stop harming Russia’s “American partners” if he wants asylum. Snowden stated that “no actions” he has taken or planned to take are “meant to harm” the US. “I want the US to succeed.”
Snowden “cannot appeal to international organizations because they require that you come to them.” He is “recognized as an asylum seeker by the UN High Commission on Refugees,” however, the United States does not recognize this designation.
The invitation email he sent out to human rights groups was shared by Human Rights Watch. It is as follows:
I have been extremely fortunate to enjoy and accept many offers of support and asylum from brave countries around the world. These nations have my gratitude, and I hope to travel to each of them to extend my personal thanks to their people and leaders. By refusing to compromise their principles in the face of intimidation, they have earned the respect of the world.
Unfortunately, in recent weeks we have witnessed an unlawful campaign by officials in the U.S. Government to deny my right to seek and enjoy this asylum under Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The scale of threatening behavior is without precedent: never before in history have states conspired to force to the ground a sovereign President’s plane to effect a search for a political refugee. This dangerous escalation represents a threat not just to the dignity of Latin America or my own personal security, but to the basic right shared by every living person to live free from persecution.
I invite the Human Rights organizations and other respected individuals addressed to join me on 12 July at 5:00PM at Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow for a brief statement and discussion regarding the next steps forward in my situation. Your cooperation and support will be greatly appreciated in this matter.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has called attention to this campaign by the US government to deny his right to seek asylum.
In “two significant ways,” according to the ACLU, the US has “interfered with his right to seek asylum: (1) the US revoked Snowden’s passport and (2) efforts to extradite him have not been “consistent with international law.”
Not being able to use his passport makes it “extremely difficult for him to travel or seek asylum, especially in countries that require asylees to be present in their territory at the time of the request.” The US has also engaged in efforts to prevent Snowden “from receiving fair and impartial consideration of his application for asylum in many of the countries to which he reportedly applied.” (For example, the incident involving Bolivian President Evo Morales’ plane.)
As previously highlighted at Firedoglake, the US has preemptively contacted countries where it believes Snowden will seek asylum, a clear subversion of the process.
While asylum always depends upon political considerations by countries, every country considering his asylum already knows that by granting him asylum they would be doing something infuriating to the US. Therefore, calling countries that might give him asylum is not being done to make sure the US position is explicitly understood but also to deter countries from seriously considering his application.
Despite condemnation by human rights groups and even leaders of countries that might give asylum, the US government persists in making threats to countries that undermine the process.
The New York Times granted anonymity to a cowardly senior government official at the State Department who should have the guts to go on the record with statements like this. That official said, “There is not a country in the hemisphere whose government does not understand our position at this point…would put relations in a very bad place for a long time to come.” And, “If someone thinks things would go away, it won’t be the case.”
What is implicit in that statement is that any country that helps Snowden will face retaliation, the kind of backroom dealing, arm-twisting or blackmail that Pfc. Bradley Manning exposed by providing a cache of US State Embassy cables to WikiLeaks.
Imagine if China was doing this to countries of which a dissident Uighur had applied for asylum. The US State Department would publicly express concern that he or she was not being treated “in accordance with international human rights obligations and commitments.”
A report by McClatchy, one of the few reports out there to give serious attention to Snowden’s legal situation, quoted Widney Brown, the senior director for international law and policy for Amnesty International. Brown condemned the US government for “heading off the asylum process even before countries get a chance to independently assess Snowden’s case.” She called it a “dangerous precedent for a process that’s designed to offer safe passage for people escaping persecution in their home countries.”
“It isn’t on the merits of the claim, but on the politics,” Brown said of the Snowden case, according to McClatchy. “That’s why we’re seeing countries saying, ‘Don’t bother us.’”
There will be poetic justice for the US if Snowden ends up in Venezuela. Luis Posada Carriles, the 85-year-old suspected and known violent terrorist, continues to reside in Miami and has not been extradited to Venezuela, as the country requested.
Carriles is the mastermind behind the bombing of a Cuban airliner. He also is suspected to have been involved in ”the 1997 bombings of two Havana hotels that killed an Italian tourist.” Because he was a CIA asset, he has never been put on trial for committing this act of terrorism.
He entered the US in 2005 and sought political asylum. He was put on trial in El Paso, Texas, in 2011 for lying to immigration authorities about how he got into the country and his participation in terrorist attacks. In April of that year, he was acquitted.
Venezuela had pushed for his extradition, but a US immigration judge ruled he could not “be sent to either country, for fear he could be tortured.”
That fact aside, as the ACLU rightfully points out, the acts of the US government are only increasing the case Snowden has for asylum. So, too, are his disclosures, which continue to spark discussion in countries all over the world regardless of whether the US government or press want to have those discussions about the massive surveillance operations of the US in their own country.
Finally, the standard in establishment media seems to be that countries like Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela are willing to grant asylum because they are “three left-leaning governments that make defying Washington a hallmark of their foreign policies.” What if these countries are willing to accept him because they actually are willing to, in some shape or form, abide by international law?
After all, there were no rendition flights by the CIA that flew over the airspace of South American countries after the September 11th attacks. They just might have a culture in their societies that values human rights and pushes their leaders to value human rights much more than citizens in America.