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Russian President Vladimir Putin
The main question now on the fate of truth-teller Edward Snowden is whether Russian President Vladimir Putin will see any benefit in helping stop the United States from further embarrassing itself as it prances around the globe acting like a "pitiful, helpless giant." That image was coined by President Richard Nixon, who insisted that the giant of America would merit those adjectives if it did not prevail in South Vietnam.
It is no secret that Putin is chuckling as Attorney General Eric Holder and other empty-shirts-cum-corporate-law-office-silk-ties -- assisted ably by White House spokesperson Jay Carney -- proceed willy-nilly to transform the Snowden case from a red-faced diplomatic embarrassment for the United States into a huge geopolitical black eye before the rest of the world.
Holder assured the Russian Justice Minister that the U.S. "would not seek the death penalty for Mr. Snowden should he return to the United States." Holder also saw fit to reassure his Russian counterpart that, "Mr. Snowden will not be tortured. Torture is unlawful in the United States." Wow, that's a relief!
The United States is so refined in its views on human rights that it won't torture or execute a whistleblower. Of course, that only reminded everyone that the United States is one of the few advanced societies that still puts lots of people to death and was caught just last decade torturing detainees at CIA "black sites," not to mention the brutal treatment of other prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
And, there was the humiliating treatment afforded another American whistleblower, Private Bradley Manning, whose forced nudity and long periods in solitary confinement during eight months of confinement at the Marine base at Quantico, Virginia, just outside of Washington D.C. prompted international accusations of torture.
Holder's strange promise may have been designed to undercut Snowden's bid for asylum, but it also reminded the world of America's abysmal behavior on human rights. And, even if the United States promises not to torture someone, government lawyers have shown how they can play games with the definition of the term or just outright lie. Holder's reputation for veracity is just a thin notch above that of National Intelligence Director James Clapper, who admits he has chosen to testify under oath to the "least untruthful" things.
Perhaps no one has told Holder how shockingly out of step with other civilized nations the U.S. finds itself on the issue of capital punishment. Just calling attention to that is a diplomatic gaffe of some proportion. The global trend toward abolition of the death penalty is unmistakable and increasing. The United States even is the outlier on this issue when compared to "brutal" Russia. In Russia, there has been a moratorium on executions since 1996, although it is still technically lawful.
The European Union holds a strong and principled position against the death penalty, and the abolition of capital punishment is a pre-condition for entry into the Union. The U.S. enjoys the dubious distinction of joining a list with China, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia as the leaders in executing people.
Closing the Barn Door Too Late
Holder's high-profile push to get the Russians to hand over Snowden damages the United States in other ways, too, such as reminding the world how the U.S. government has violated the privacy rights of people everywhere, including in allied countries. There is a reasonable argument to be made that the smartest U.S. move would be to simply leave Snowden alone.
Depending on your perspective, Edward Snowden has already done his damage -- or, in my view, accomplished his patriotic duty of truth-telling -- demonstrating with documents how the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama have trashed the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Moreover, Snowden apparently had the foresight to handle his revelations in such way that, to the degree there are still more genies about to be let out of the bottle, it will be near impossible to stuff them back in. Indeed, he has said as much, in indicating how easily he can accede to Putin's condition that he does "no further harm" to the U.S. Snowden has even been specific in acknowledging that he cannot prevent journalist Glenn Greenwald and others from publishing more of the material he made available.
So why the hue and cry from Washington? While the Obama White House has utterly failed to honor Obama's earlier promises to run a transparent administration, there is one area in which it has been as transparent as Saran Wrap. And that is its fixation with pursuing whistleblowers "to the full extent of the law" ... and then some.
The administration has been transparently vindictive, revengeful and determined to exact retribution on "leakers" as a warning to others whose consciences might trouble them enough to reveal war crimes, as Bradley Manning did, or crass violations of our rights as citizens, as Edward Snowden did.
But the recent thrashing around -- demanding and cajoling Putin to turn over Snowden -- has further made the United States look petulant and inept. Meanwhile, Putin has demonstrated a much more deft touch in handling this delicate international incident.
After making it clear that "we do not extradite," Putin has had the good sense to put some distance between himself and the Snowden affair. As Secretary of State John Kerry bemoaned (from Saudi Arabia, of all places) about "standards of behavior between sovereign nations," and (of all things) "respect for the rule of law," Putin said the issue is simple:
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