The release of Oliver Stone’s new movie “Snowden” has occasioned much caterwauling about a presidential pardon for young Edward. Snowden is the 33-year-old, ex-CIA contractor who spilled great gobs of National Security Agency secrets to the Washington Post and the London Guardian in 2013.
Snowden is facing charges of espionage and theft of government property, but he may never be tried. He is currently living in Russia, exiled in stateless limbo after the State Department revoked his passport.
The American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and right-thinking people everywhere have called on President Obama to pardon Snowden before Inauguration Day, 2017.
Speaking by video link from his de facto Moscow prison, Snowden argued his case to a Guardian interviewer: “This isn’t about me, it’s about us,” he said. “Yes, there are laws on the books that say one thing, but perhaps this is why the pardon power exists — for the exceptions.”
That’s not really why the pardon power exists — it’s to correct judicial malfeasance, among other things — but never mind that. Why does Snowden get to pick which laws apply to him and which don’t? If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.
Aside from Snowden, whose motives are quite clear, who has piled into this particular clown car? Director Oliver Stone, of course, although I wonder if he isn’t simply trying to gin up publicity for what even the Guardian says is a ghastly movie. (“It’s made with such limpness that a swift read of [Snowden’s] Wikipedia page will prove far more exciting.”)
Stone is one kooky guy. His political infatuations are the stuff of legend, the most recent object of his clammy embrace being the late Venezuelan jefe Hugo Chavez. Stone filmed not one but two Valentines to the discredited Chavez. Of the second movie, “My Friend Hugo,’’ Jeffrey Tayler of Foreign Policy wrote:” “Stone’s celluloid valedictory to Chávez is beyond redemption, a work of cinematic malpractice that marks him as a ‘useful idiot.’”
Snowden seems heartened by former Attorney General Eric Holder’s recent assertion that the ex-analyst performed “a public service” by heightening awareness of mass surveillance. (Holder unhelpfully added that Snowden “harmed American interests,” put secret agents at risk, and compromised “our ability to keep the American people safe.”)
Holder is a dubious character witness where presidential pardons are concerned. His name is inextricably linked with Marc Rich, a commodities trader and tax cheat pardoned on Bill Clinton’s last day in office. Holder, then the deputy attorney general, “brokered one of the most unjustifiable pardons that an American president has ever granted,” George Lardner, Jr. wrote in the New York Times.
Of course part of me feels sorry for Snowden. There he was, gamboling freely around Hawaii with his gorgeous girlfriend Lindsey Mills (she of the ethereal blog), lading his thumb drive with secret documents. Now he is a stateless “guest” in Vladimir Putin’s Roach Motel, where citizens have been disappeared for transgressions twenty times less serious than espionage.
If I were Snowden, I wouldn’t be playing the pardon card. I would be playing the full admission of guilt card just to get into a minimum security American prison. Because right now, his three options don’t look good: 1. Obama almost certainly won’t pardon him. 2. President Trump would be happy to let his pal Putin toss Snowden around between his paws, forever. 3. Leakers enjoy no special status in Hillary Clinton’s universe, to put it gently.
Come home, Edward. Club Fed awaits.Alex Beam’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @imalexbeamyrnot.