Clinton: Snowden deserves legal defense

Edward Snowden has right to a legal defense if he returns to the United States, Hillary Clinton said this week.

In an interview with the Guardian published late Friday, the former secretary of state said suggested Snowden deserves no special treatment, but nor should he be denied his rights to due process.

"If he wishes to return knowing he would be held accountable and also able to present a defense, that is his decision to make," Clinton said.

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Claiming disenchantment with the scope of the government's surveillance programs, Snowden, then an National Security Agency (NSA) contractor with Booz Allen Hamilton, leaked a number of documents to the Guardian and the Washington Post in the first half of 2013. The leaks led to a series of reports exposing NSA programs that have swept up billions of communications from American citizens and others at home and abroad.

Snowden fled to Hong Kong, and later Russia, as the federal government charged him last summer with theft and espionage.

The saga has made Snowden a hero in the eyes of many civil libertarians, who contend the NSA programs encroach on constitutional rights. But his critics, including a long list of Capitol Hill lawmakers, say the scope of his leaks, combined with his ties to Russia and China, have compromised national security.

In June 2013, federal prosecutors charged Snowden with three counts: theft of government property and two espionage violations. Each carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

Clinton said Friday that, while some of the charges remain "sealed," Snowden "certainly has a right to launch both a legal defense and a public defense, which can of course affect the legal defense."

"Whether he chooses to return or not is up to him. He certainly can stay in Russia, apparently under [President Vladimir] Putin's protection, for the rest of his life if that's what he chooses," she said. "But if he is serious about engaging in the debate then he could take the opportunity to come back and have that debate. But that's his decision."