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Is Edward Snowden a Hero? A Debate with Journalist Chris Hedges & Law Scholar Geoffrey Stone

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CHRIS   HEDGES : I have a very--

NERMEEN   SHAIKH : Chris Hedges, could you--

CHRIS   HEDGES : I just don't buy this argument that, you know, this hurts national security. I covered al-Qaeda for The New York Times, and, believe me, they know they're being monitored. The whole idea that somehow it comes as a great surprise to jihadist groups that their emails, websites and phone calls are being tracked is absurd. This is--we're talking about the wholesale collection of information on virtually most of the American public, and the consequences of that are truly terrifying. At that point, we are in essence snuffing out the capacity of any kind of investigation into the inner workings of power. And to throw out this notion that it harmed--this harmed national security, there's no evidence for that, in the same way that there is no evidence that the information that Bradley Manning leaked in any way harmed national security. It didn't. What the security and surveillance state is doing is playing on fear and using that fear to accrue to themselves tremendous forms of power that in a civil society, in a democracy, they should never have. And that's the battle that's underway right now, and, frankly, we're losing.

AMY   GOODMAN : I wanted to ask you, Professor Stone, to reflect on Martin Luther King's letter from Birmingham jail written April 16, 1963, when he said, "One who breaks an unjust law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law."

GEOFFREY   STONE : Well, obviously, King--

AMY   GOODMAN : Could you respond to that?

GEOFFREY   STONE : Sure. Obviously, King is right. The question is whether it's an unjust law. So, people who violate a law because they think it is unjust don't necessarily fit within the letter from the Birmingham jail. King was talking about protesting racial segregation, and that's a little bit different in terms of the moral status of it. Now, maybe it's true. I mean, maybe Chris Hedges is right, and maybe that--that Snowden is a hero, and maybe this is all a fraud on the part of the government, this information serves no useful purpose, and it's fundamentally important to the United States that it's been revealed. Maybe that's true. And if it turns out to be true, then I'll be the first to say Snowden was a hero. But at the moment, I have absolutely no reason to believe that. And to say that some people act on legitimate conscience and therefore violate unjust laws is not to say that everyone who violates a law is Martin Luther King in the Birmingham jail.

AMY   GOODMAN : I want to put that question to Chris, but I wanted to ask you, Geoffrey Stone, if you were Edward Snowden's attorney, what arguments would you put forward for him right now?

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GEOFFREY   STONE : Legally, I don't think he has--honestly, I don't think he has any legal arguments that would be a defense to the charge that he violated the law about government contractors not disclosing classified information to persons who are not authorized to receive it. I don't think he has a defense. Some people commit a crime, and they committed the crime. And I don't know that there's any defense sometimes.

AMY   GOODMAN : Interestingly, Dan Ellsberg faced treason trial, but ultimately, the--he ended up being exonerated because of the illegal wiretapping that was done of him.

GEOFFREY   STONE : Well, he wasn't exonerated. In his case, the judge dropped the charges against him because the Nixon administration searched his psychiatrist's office in violation of the Constitution, and the judge concluded that that was prosecutorial misconduct, and therefore dismissed the prosecution. If the government does something similar in Snowden's case and the court finds that it's a violation of his constitutional rights in the course of the investigation and dismisses the charges, that would be something, as his lawyer, I'd certainly want to know. But on the merits of the charge as they presently--as it presently stands, I think it's a sentencing question, not a criminality question.

AMY   GOODMAN : Chris Hedges, if you could respond to the King quote and the significance of what Snowden did?

CHRIS   HEDGES : Well, without figures like Snowden, without figures like Manning, without figures like Julian Assange, essentially, the blinds are drawn. We have no window into what's being done in our name, including the crimes that are being done in our name. Again, I--you know, having worked as an investigative reporter, the lifeblood of my work were figures like these, who had the moral courage to stand up and name the crimes that they witnessed. And these people are always, at the moment that they stand up--and even King, of course, was persecuted and reviled and denounced, hounded by J. Edgar Hoover, who attempted, through blackmail, to get him to commit suicide before accepting the Nobel Prize. Let's not forget that all of these figures, like Snowden, come under this character assassination, which, frankly, I think Professor Stone is engaging in. And that's not uncommon. That's what comes with the territory when you carry out an act of conscience. It's a very lonely and frightening--and it makes these figures, like Snowden, deeply courageous, because, I mean, the whole debate--traitor or whistleblower--for me, you know, hearing this on the press is watching the press commit collective suicide, because without those figures, there is no press.

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AMY   GOODMAN : I wanted to end with Professor Stone. You were an early adviser to President Obama. You gave him his first job at University of Chicago Law School. You were the dean of the University of Chicago Law School. What would you advise him today?

GEOFFREY   STONE : I think there needs to be a really careful re-evaluation of the classification system. I--there's no question that we wildly overclassify, and that creates all sorts of problems, both for the press and for the ability of the government to keep secrets, because if you try to keep everything secret, you don't effectively keep very much secret. So I think that's critical. I think there is a serious question about how we make the trade-off between security and privacy, and I think that that's an issue that needs to be addressed carefully. Certainly, within the administration and within the government, to the extent there are genuinely secret policies that need to be kept secret, and I believe that perfectly possible, then I think that does not immunize them from serious debate by responsible people within the four corners of the administration, bringing in people who can have national security clearances to take the devil's advocate position and challenge these issues. So I think there's a lot that can and should be done, and I think that it's easy to get swept up in the notion of security being the be all and end all. This is a nation that's committed to individual privacy, to freedom of the press, to freedom of speech, and those values need to be respected. And I think government constantly has to be re-examining itself, because all the temptations are in the wrong direction.

NERMEEN   SHAIKH : Professor Geoffrey Stone, before we conclude, I'd like to ask you about an article you wrote in 2011 for The New York Times called "Our Untransparent President." You wrote, quote, "The record of the Obama administration on this fundamental issue of American democracy has surely fallen short of expectations. This is a lesson in 'trust us.' Those in power are always certain that they themselves will act reasonably, and they resist limits on their own discretion. The problem is, 'trust us' is no way to run a self-governing society," end-quote. What's your assessment of the comments that you made then relative to now and his--Obama's record on transparency and civil liberties?

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The American people willingly give up any and all ... by Doc McCoy on Friday, Jun 14, 2013 at 12:07:03 AM
Should any regular government employee or contrac... by Richard Clark on Friday, Jun 14, 2013 at 10:02:30 PM