Let's start here by conceding that today's New York Times editorial saying that President Obama should "find a way to end (Edward) Snowden's vilification and give him an incentive to return home" was pretty remarkable.
It shouldn't be, though.
Former National Security Agency employee and contractor Edward Snowden, currently living in exile in Russia under a temporary grant of amnesty, but facing charges of espionage and theft of government property here at home for his copying of thousands of pages of NSA files and for releasing them to US and foreign journalists, is a hero of democratic freedom. He has raised the bar for whistleblowers everywhere, putting his own life at risk to let Americans and citizens of the world know just how pervasively the NSA is spying on us all. The Times, as well as the rest of the news media in the US, should have joined in a campaign to have him nominated for a Nobel Prize. Instead the nation's leading newspaper, long an ardent supporter of the national security state, simply says he should be offered some kind of a "plea bargain" or presidential clemency, so that he doesn't have to face the prospect of "spending the rest of his life looking over his shoulder," or of facing a life sentence in prison.
I'm glad the Times is finally calling for at least some kind of justice or leniency for Snowden. Back on June 11, the paper's same editorial board was pontificating that Snowden should accept the price of civil disobedience, which the board wrote means "accepting the consequences of one's actions to make a larger point." The same editorial writers (none of whom has ever shown that kind of courage), stated that Snowden had "broken the agreement he made" to keep NSA documents secret," and that he would likely be charged with violating the Espionage Act, a hoary 1917 law that the Obama administration has already dusted off and started using to keep its activities secret, and they said he could face 10 year sentences for each count of document theft -- enough to keep him in jail for life.
That earlier editorial view wasn't quite as bad as some political hacks like House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Diane Feinstein, who have been ignorantly calling Snowden a traitor (a crime that carries the death penalty), or journalistic hacks like CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, who called Snowden a "grandiose narcissist who deserves to be in prison."
The Times is now admitting Snowden did the whole country and the world a favor by exposing the "crimes" of the NSA, but in its latest cautious editorial, the editors are still saying that Snowden "may have committed a crime" in copying and disclosing NSA files, and they are still okay with the idea that he might end up having to face some "substantially reduced punishment."
If I were advising Snowden, I would say don't trust your life to the thugs now running the US government. They might cut you a deal offering you some reduced charge and a short prison term, but first of all, you'd still be a convicted felon at the end of your shortened stay. And that's if you survived it. Prison in the US is a violent place, and the prison authorities have ways of turning a short stay into a death sentence if their bosses have it in for somebody on the inside.
The Times itself in this latest editorial made note at one point of President Obama's own lack of honesty. It reported that the president, last August, had argued at a news conference that instead of rushing off to Hong Kong and then Russia, Snowden could have gone public in the US with his information about NSA spying abuses, because "I signed an executive order well before Mr. Snowden leaked this information that provided whistle-blower protection to the intelligence community." Well yes, the president did sign such a law, but this supposedly brilliant former Constitutional Law scholar and licensed attorney failed to mention that as a private contractor, Snowden is not covered by that law.
Is this a guy you would want to entrust your life to, based upon his word, or the word of the president's lackey prosecutors in the US Department of Justice?
As the British newspaper the Guardian, which also ran an editorial today defending Snowden , noted, "For all his background in constitutional law and human rights, Mr Obama has shown little patience for whistleblowers: his administration has used the Espionage Act against leakers of classified information far more than any of his predecessors. It is difficult to imagine Mr Obama giving Mr Snowden the pardon he deserves." Note too that the Guardian, unlike the Times, is calling for the president to pardon Snowden, which would mean any crime had been forgiven. The Times is only calling for either clemency, which could potentially leave Snowden open to future punishment, or worse, a plea bargain, which would presumably require him to admit and even be punished on some lesser charge.
The Guardian, also unlike the Times, pointed out that the Espionage Act which Snowden is charged with violating is actually "a clumsy and crude law to use against government officials communicating with journalists on matters where there is a clear public interest -- if only because it does not allow a defendant to argue such a public interest in court." In simpler language, the law is rigged against genuine whistleblowers.
The really interesting thing about this latest New York Times editorial is what is it saying, between the lines, about government criminality. In enumerating some of the NSA's crimes, all exposed by Snowden, the editors mention breaking privacy laws "thousands of times," the lying to Congress by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper Jr. (a felony and insult that nobody in Congress is seeking to prosecute), NSA lying to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court responsible for supervising the agency, and "probably" violations of the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution.
What the editors should have said is that these and other crimes committed by the NSA, many on the basis of secret executive orders issued by the President, who as commander in chief in any event has final responsibility for the NSA, a military organization, are impeachable offenses.
That is, whether or not Edward Snowden may have committed the relatively minor crime of "theft of government property" (the espionage charge against him is ludicrous), the president is guilty multiple times over of what the Constitution calls "High Crimes and Misdemeanors." If we had a functioning Congress filled with elected officials who took their oaths of office seriously, President Obama would today be facing an Impeachment Panel.