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Edward Snowden and the case of the Pentagon Papers

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A not insignificant number of Americans believe Edward Snowden would have made a better case for righteousness had he stayed in the States and faced the legal repercussions of his actions. They think back to people like Martin Luther King Jr. and Daniel Ellsberg, the leaker of the Pentagon Papers.

Well, Ellsberg, at least, disagrees. 

“The country I stayed in was a different America,” Ellsberg wrote Sunday in an op-ed in the Washington Post, “a long time ago.”

Ellsberg also eluded arrest, though only for three days. When he surrendered in Boston, facing charges under the Espionage Act and having distributed his copies of the papers to the targets he had selected, he was released on his own recognizance the same day

Could you imagine that happening to Snowden? Ellsberg can’t. 

Later, when his charges were increased from three counts to 12, with a possible 115-year sentence, his bond was increased to $50,000. 

“But for the whole two years I was under indictment,” he wrote, “I was free to speak to the media and at rallies and public lectures. I was, after all, part of a movement against an ongoing war.”

It was almost as if Ellsberg were presumed innocent. And it’s almost as if Snowden is not.

“There is zero chance,” wrote Ellsberg, that Snowden “would be allowed out on bail if he returned now and close to no chance that, had he not left the country, he would have been granted bail.” Instead, Ellsberg believes he would be held incommunicado like Bradley Manning was for eight months.

Ellsberg also believes that what Snowden has to contribute to the restoration of the country’s transparency and honesty is more important than Snowden himself. 

“Snowden’s contribution to the noble cause of restoring the First, Fourth and Fifth amendments to the Constitution is in his documents. It depends in no way on his reputation or estimates of his character or motives — still less, on his presence in a courtroom arguing the current charges, or his living the rest of his life in prison. Nothing worthwhile would be served, in my opinion, by Snowden voluntarily surrendering to U.S. authorities given the current state of the law.”

An out-of-control surveillance regime is the biggest problem we have in this country, Ellsberg believes, and Snowden’s revelations have provided us with our greatest opportunity to rectify it. 

“Secrecy corrupts, just as power corrupts.”

H/T Washington Post | Photo by Thierry Ehrmann/Flickr