History is on Edward Snowden’s side: Now it’s time to give him a full pardon

Getty Images

It’s been seven years since Edward Snowden rocked the world, and in America the ground is shaking once again.

In a promising turn of events, headlines have seen an unprecedented outpouring of support for Snowden from high-ranking American officials. In a press conference Saturday, President Trump stated that he is “going to take a look at [Snowden’s case] very strongly.” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and two sitting members of Congress, Reps. Justin Amash (L-Mich.) and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), have also taken to Twitter to support the whistleblower. Equally encouraging is how swiftly all of this has drawn the ire of Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.); in my own experience, when you’ve angered someone with the surname Cheney, you’ve probably done something right.

It is an addictive tendency in politics to feel a sense of history about what it is one is fighting for. Everyone wants to believe that their heroes from ages past are smiling down on them while simultaneously rolling in their graves at the sight of whatever the opposition is doing. But the fact of the matter is that the vast network of scandal-ridden government agencies, clandestine secret courts, and diabolically unconstitutional statutes trying to destroy Snowden hails from a particularly dark, shameful chapter of America’s past.

Snowden stands accused of violating the Espionage Act of 1917, championed by then-President Woodrow Wilson. Passed just two months after America’s entrance into World War I, the law sought to silence criticism of the war effort and crush dissent within the ranks of the armed forces. In his State of the Union address just two years earlier, Wilson begged Congress to pass it, declaring, “Such creatures of passion, disloyalty, and anarchy must be crushed out… they are infinitely malignant, and the hand of our power should close over them at once.”

Now the law has withstood over a century of criticism and legal challenges from civil liberties advocates, and the misery it has inflicted on countless Americans has proven painfully obvious. In 1918, antiwar activist Charles Schenck was arrested for distributing flyers encouraging men to resist the draft. That same year, socialist Eugene V. Debs was sentenced to ten years in prison, deprived of his citizenship, and disenfranchised for life over nothing more than a speech he made criticizing the war. In January 1919, however, the Supreme Court dealt a devastating blow to freedom of speech by concluding that neither’s arrest constituted a violation of the First Amendment.

And these are far from the only people to have been victimized by the very law being used to terrorize Snowden today. A search for just a few of the more well-known cases will yield the stories of journalist Victor L. Berger, activists Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, former U.S. Army soldier Chelsea Manning, and former Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) employee Henry Kyle Frese.

Discussing recent events in an April 2020 interview with journalist and constitutional lawyer Glenn Greenwald, Snowden warned, “Now, the only thing we have left — our rights, our ideals, our values as people — that’s what they’re coming for now, that’s what they’re asking us to give up, that’s what they’re wanting to change. And remember that, from the perspective of a free society, a virus is a serious problem… but the destruction of our rights is fatal — that’s permanent.” With so much confusion and uncertainty about the future of liberty in America, there has hardly been a more fitting moment for our leaders to stand with freedom by denouncing the ever-expanding reach of the surveillance state.

As the curtains of tyranny close tighter, giving Edward Snowden the full pardon he deserves would provide this much-needed glimmer of hope for privacy in America.

Cliff Maloney is the president of Young Americans for Liberty (YAL).

Tags Chelsea Manning Donald Trump Espionage Act of 1917 Justin Amash Liz Cheney Pardon Rand Paul Thomas Massie

More Politics News

See All
See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video