Monday, July 8, 2013

Can we?

I feel for Edward Snowden. I've been stuck in Sheremetyevo Airport too. I remember a sign (in English), on one door, that just about summed the place up: "NO TOILETS. NO REFRESHMENTS. NO INFORMATION. NO FLIGHTS."

What's truly shocking is how, although millions of people hail the man as a hero, the world's governments have closed ranks against him. Several governments in Europe could buy instant re-election right now just by offering him asylum - but none are. Russia said "you'd have to stop leaking". France and Portugal went so far as to deny landing rights to a plane carrying the president of Bolivia, on the basis that Snowden might have been on board. Even Ecuador and Venezuela have said "you'll have to get to our embassy first".

And the chances of that seem slim, since the Russians won't let him out of the airport.

So this is the New American Century, where no half-way civilised country dares stand up to the USA. In the old Soviet Union, at least a dissident could dream they had somewhere to run to. Now that little window of hope is closed. If you offend the USA - not with violence, or sedition, or treason (the indictment against Snowden lists none of these charges), but just with public embarrassment - there is nowhere. This can only be a measure of how much pressure the Americans are putting on - well, everyone.

Anyone remember Barack Obama's 2008 campaign? "Nothing can withstand the power of millions of voices calling for change", he said. "Yes we can to justice and equality. Yes we can to opportunity and prosperity." Above all else, he was the candidate who would stand up to entrenched interests in Washington and do what was right.

And this is as simple a test case as it can be. One of the few things that's unambiguously, easily and directly within his personal power - is to grant Snowden a full pardon. He doesn't need congressional ratification, he doesn't need the joint chiefs or the supreme court or even his own legal or intelligence advisors. He doesn't even need to implicate his own party, or anyone who might have ambitions to succeed him. The choice is his, and his alone.

So come on, Barack. Now's the time. You can continue to shield the establishment that has flouted your laws, or you can shield the man who tried to stop it - the man who tried to live up to your rhetoric. Is the US government going to be ruled by laws, or is it just an imperial tyranny?

That's quite a choice for your second-term legacy. Please get it right.


bahumbug said...

I don't think he can. The trouble is the signal it sends to other prospective whistleblowers, who might have something seriously damaging and legitimately confidential to reveal.

The best humanitarian thing he (and Putin) could do is perhaps to turn a blind eye to the logistics of getting him to one of the countries that's offered political asylum.

On the other hand I'm totally with you on the disgraceful behaviour of certain European countries. Stopping the Bolivian president was mindbogglingly stupid! I wonder if false information (that he would be on that flight) was planted somewhere secret that a spy might have accessed?

One more thought on the subject: it would've been a Good Idea for Snowden to be in a country that would offer asylum before going public (perhaps he thought China would from Hong Kong). But how could one do that? Can you apply for asylum before blowing a whistle, when you're not (yet) at any kind of risk at home? I expect the host country would at the very least want a preview of your material. So you disclose secrets not to the public but to someone else's intelligence services? Ouch! What then are your chances they'll then help you? More likely they'll at best blackmail you with their knowledge, or you might just 'disappear'.

BTW, if this comment ever appears it's a numbers game as I do battle with the evil eye test.

vet said...

Yep, I've been down that line of thought. There's certainly a risk, in the signal it would send to the rest of the "intelligence community".

But that's exactly the sort of entrenched interest that Obama-the-candidate promised to stand up to. The voices saying now "No, you can't do that..." - are of precisely the same kind as the ones that "Yes, we can!" was supposed to be the all-purpose, enabling rejoinder to.

And that's why I think this is a good time to throw that slogan back at him. His opponents have stopped him from doing most of what he wanted, but this is one thing where he can overrule them all. This time, perhaps the only such chance he'll get in his presidency - yes, he can.

I'm a bit hazy on the timing, but I assumed that Snowden released his first batch of material from Hong Kong, then went to the Chinese authorities and asked for help. I think that's what I'd have done, in his position. And possibly, although obviously this is 100% pure speculation, they demanded more from him as a price for that help, which is why he didn't end up staying there.

The evil eye test is getting eviller by the month, isn't it? I wonder if Google is trying to drive away casual bloggers such as me, in favour of its much more lucrative 'social networking' options?

bahumbug said...

Seems The Economist is thinking along similar lines: