One would think United States officials would be interested in having former National Security Agency contractor returned home, but every time someone from the US makes statements, such as the ones made in a hearing before the House intelligence committee yesterday, it becomes more likely that a country will grant him permanent asylum.
Snowden already has been granted temporary asylum by Russia. He may or may not request an extension of this temporary asylum. He may choose to try and get to another country; perhaps, a country in Latin America. But it would seem that he is in a place where it is impossible for the US to snatch him and bring him back to the US for a trial.
Yesterday, Rep. Michele Bachmann took the opportunity to use her time during the hearing, in which NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander, Director for National Intelligence James Clapper, Deputy NSA Director John Inglis and Deputy Attorney General James Cole were present, to put Snowden on trial for treason, a crime which the Justice Department has not charged him with committing:
BACHMANN: Is it — would it be accurate to say that Mr. Snowden was in an analogy acting as a research librarian who unlawfully took the research books home for the night? Is that kind of what he did?
ALEXANDER: And longer.
BACHMANN: And longer. Did Mr. Snowden violate his constitutional oath by revealing to the detriment of United States national security interests classified information?
ALEXANDER: He did.
BACHMANN: Were Mr. Snowden’s actions illegal?
ALEXANDER: They were.
BACHMANN: Were Mr. Snowden’s actions unconstitutional?
ALEXANDER: They were.
BACHMANN: Did Mr. Snowden put at risk America’s national security interests?
ALEXANDER: They did.
BACHMANN: Did Mr. Snowden’s illegal, unconstitutional revelations help the terrorists who seek to kill Americans?
ALEXANDER: I believe they will.
BACHMANN: It was recently…
ALEXANDER: I would say they have, and they will.
Alexander essentially agreed that what Snowden did was “illegal” and “unconstitutional” and had and would help “terrorists who seek to kill Americans.”
These are the kinds of statements that make it near impossible to receive a fair trial in the United States. They bolster Snowden’s case for permanent asylum.
The congresswoman had Clapper and Inglis answer similar questions:
BACHMANN: And so let me ask your this. Was the leaker in question, Ed Snowden — was he a traitor?
CLAPPER: You’re asking me?
BACHMANN: And would that be the opinion also of General Alexander? Is that your opinion?
BACHMANN: Mr. Inglis?
INGLIS: Yes, ma’am.
When it came time for Cole to answer, he was aware that he had a responsibility to not give his opinion, since he is a Justice Department official:
BACHMANN: And Mr. Cole.
COLE: He’s certainly been charged — not with treason but he’s been charged with certainly leaking and compromising the integrity of our intelligence system.
BACHMANN: In your opinion, Mr. Cole, would he be considered a traitor to the United States?
COLE: This is a matter that’s…
BACHMANN: Just your personal opinion. Just your personal opinion.
COLE: Unfortunately, as a Justice Department official, where there’s a case involved, it’s difficult for me to do that under the rules of professional responsibility.
It should also be unprofessional for intelligence community leaders to offer their opinions on whether Snowden is a “traitor.” The Justice Department should have an interest in discouraging these men of the security state from being so honest about how they view Snowden.
Telling was Alexander’s interjection as Bachmann finished her line of questioning:
ALEXANDER: Could I just make sure — I want to make sure that I answered all the Snowden things because I answered them really quick. If I could just ask the deputy attorney general to just make sure that I hit those all right because you asked some constitutional questions, and I’m not a lawyer. So I just want to make sure that I got that correct, please.
Alexander actually was not concerned that he had just made statements that might be considered prejudicial to the accused. He corrected a statement Alexander had made on foreigners not having constitutional rights because foreigners in the US do have “certain constitutional rights.”
As Snowden argued in his asylum applications back in June:
As a result of my political opinions, and my desire to exercise my freedom of speech, through which I’ve shown that the government of the United States is intercepting the majority of communications in the world, the government of the United States has publicly announced a criminal investigation against me. Also, prominent members of Congress and others in the media have accused me of being a traitor and have called for me to be jailed or executed as a result of having communicated this information to the public.
He also noted that he was charged under the 1917 Espionage Act, as if he were a spy, and could face sentence where he was in prison for the rest of his life. And he invoked the case of Pvt. Chelsea Manning, who was subjected to conditions of solitary confinement before her trial.
Certainly, Snowden could expect to be imprisoned during the entire pretrial process and to be isolated from the general population in the prison because of what he knows. The government would not want him to be able to talk to other prisoners and share any more national security secrets.
His trial would also feature secret testimony and even secret witnesses, likely depriving him of certain rights to due process.
Snowden had a case for protection from the United States back in June, but, now, as Congress prepares to debate reform and intelligence community leaders call him a “traitor” without hesitation—and these opinions run completely counter to what Americans think of Snowden, it is clear that he would not only be prosecuted if he returned to the US but also treated unjustly.