Prominent activists, lawmakers, artists, academics, and other leading voices in civil society, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), are joining the campaign to get a pardon for National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden.
"The information disclosed by Edward Snowden has allowed Congress and the American people to understand the degree to which the NSA has abused its authority and violated our constitutional rights," Sanders wrote for the Guardian on Wednesday. "Now we must learn from the troubling revelations Mr. Snowden brought to light. Our intelligence and law enforcement agencies must be given the tools they need to protect us, but that can be done in a way that does not sacrifice our rights."
Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, who co-founded the public interest journalism advocacy group Freedom of the Press Foundation, where Snowden is a board member, also wrote, "Ed Snowden should be freed of the legal burden hanging over him. They should remove the indictment, pardon him if that's the way to do it, so that he is no longer facing prison."
Snowden faces charges under the Espionage Act after he released classified NSA files to media outlets in 2013 exposing the U.S. government's global mass surveillance operations. He fled to Hong Kong, then Russia, where he has been living under political asylum for the past three years.
"The NSA and U.S. government have revealed no evidence that the information Ed Snowden released has caused any harm," Ellsberg continued. "Inconvenience, yes, embarrassment certainly, but what has truly been revealed is that the NSA itself was unquestionably committing international, domestic, and constitutional crimes."
Black Lives Matter activist and Center for Media Justice co-founder Malkia Cyril wrote in the Guardian that Snowden must be pardoned "because the ability of black communities to organize for our collective liberation depends, in part, on whistleblowers like him. Black movements for peace and freedom demand that out of the darkness of empire, truth-tellers emerge to sound the alarm."
"His revelations directly challenged the commonly held belief that media, phone and technology corporations must always give into state interests to target and harass the public," she continued. "His bravery was a catalyst for the modern movement to defend democracy from both state and corporate overreach."
In a separate op-ed, Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein wrote, "The American people have a right to privacy. My hope is that Obama uses his power to pardon Snowden now. The debate he began must be continued so we find a resolution that protects the freedom of press, association, religion and speech as well as the privacy of people in the United States and around the world."
Their words—as well as those of actress and Sanders supporter Susan Sarandon, renowned scholar and linguistics professor Noam Chomsky, civil rights activist Dr. Cornel West, Harvard Law School professor and former Democratic presidential candidate Lawrence Lessig, and technology lawyer Mishi Choudhary, among others—come as a coalition of human rights groups launch a last-ditch effort to convince President Barack Obama to pardon Snowden before he leaves office, as the chances for clemency will be much lower under a Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump administration.
The Pardon Snowden campaign, supported by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch (HRW), urges people around the world to write to Obama throughout his last four months in the White House.
"Thanks to Edward Snowden's act of conscience, we have made historic strides in our fight for surveillance reform and improved cybersecurity," said ACLU executive director Anthony D. Romero. "It is indisputable that our democracy is better off thanks to Snowden, and it's precisely for cases like his that the pardon power exists. President Obama should use this power for good instead of leaving an American whistleblower stranded in exile."