More than three years ago, former Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden blew the whistle on the U.S. intelligence community, releasing thousands of documents showing the government had been spying on and storing American telecommunications.
Since then, Snowden’s been in exile in Russia after being charged under the Espionage Act. As President Barack Obama’s second and final term comes to a close, how to handle a possible Snowden return stateside remains a hot-button issue in Washington and around the country. Some want Snowden, 33, charged to the fullest extent of the law, while others admit Snowden did commit a crime but shouldn’t spend the rest of his life behind bars.
On Wednesday, former Democratic presidential nominee and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders firmly entrenched himself with the camp in favor of a more lenient handling and sentencing of Snowden. Sanders joined a number of politicians, actors, musicians and other notable figures who penned passionate pleas for the U.S. to allow Snowden to return, in an article published by the Guardian. The senator went so far as to suggest clemency for Snowden and praised him for shedding light on the intelligence community’s controversial actions.
“While Mr. Snowden played an important role in educating the American people,” Sanders wrote, “there is no debate that he also violated an oath and committed a crime. In my view, the interests of justice would be best served if our government granted him some form of clemency or a plea agreement that would spare him a long prison sentence or permanent exile.”
The barrage of support is well-timed, considering director Oliver Stone’s biopic “Snowden” will be released Friday in the U.S.
The head of the American Civil Liberties Union also called for Obama to grant Snowden a full pardon. ACLU executive director Anthony D. Romero issued a statement Wednesday along with a list of more than 100, “former national security officials, legal scholars, and business leaders,” among others, who are supporting Snowden. The group includes renowned businessman George Soros, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and REM front man and musician Michael Stipe.
“Thanks to Edward Snowden’s act of conscience, we’ve made historic strides in our fight for surveillance reform and improved cybersecurity,” Romero wrote. “That’s why today, ahead of this week’s release of the Oliver Stone movie 'Snowden,' we’re unveiling a major effort calling on President Obama to pardon the NSA whistleblower."
Snowden, speaking Wednesday during a teleconference from Russia, continued to plead his case for a pardon, saying in part that bringing what he called “unconstitutional activities” to light should be forgiven, according to CBS News.
“I love my country,” Snowden said. “I love my family. I have dedicated my life to both of them.”