On March 25, President Barack Obama announced the development of what he calls “a workable proposal” to address concerns of excessive surveillance raised by Edward Snowden and the National Security Agency (NSA) leaks.
Whistleblower or traitor, Snowden has indisputably made an impact on the world. But could he have done it differently?
Many within the intelligence community strongly believe so. While they take strongest issue with the leaking of highly classified information, concern over Snowden’s decision to leave for Russia resonates much more with the American public.
To some, Snowden’s flight from America has de-legitimized his cause. But, the truth is, it was crucial to preserving not only his freedom but also his cause.
Last year, former military intelligence analyst Bradley Manning was handed a 35-year sentence for exposing corruption and abuse in Iraq. Like Snowden, who acted with the sole intention of making the surveillance debate possible, Manning intended to inform the American public.
He testified, “I wanted the American public to know that not everyone in Iraq and Afghanistan are targets that needed to be neutralized, but rather people who were struggling to live in the pressure cooker environment of … asymmetric warfare.”
Manning’s leaks, described by columnist Chris Hedges as “the most important window into the inner workings of imperial power since the release of the Pentagon Papers,” produced hard evidence of more than 100,000 unreported civilian casualties, torture and rape conducted by allied Afghani army soldiers, and the blatant waste of hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars. Yet, they produced little or no debate, and no tangible results.
Bradley was promptly arrested and held by the U.S. Navy for nearly 1,000 days without trial under that the UN Special Rapporteur for Torture called, “cruel, inhuman, and degrading.”
Most of this time was spent in notoriously psychologically damaging solitary confinement, or in a wire mesh cage in which he said, “I thought I was going to die… an animal in a cage.”
Unable to speak to the press, Bradley never had a chance to explain or defend his actions, and news coverage of his trial was forcibly censored. The media focus was placed not on the war crimes he exposed, but on his own as a whistleblower. As Rolling Stone reporter, Matt Taibi stated, “the government couldn’t have scripted the headlines any better.”
Unlike Bradley Manning, whose story and cause died along with his freedom, Snowden continues to fight for his cause. He has received multiple awards from the international community and made several public appearances via video chat to speak out against unconstitutional domestic spying.
In a letter to the Washington Post, Daniel Ellsberg, the man behind the release of the Pentagon Papers in 1971, wrote, “The country I stayed in was a different America, a long time ago … I hope Snowden’s revelations will spark a movement to rescue our democracy, but he could not be part of that movement had he stayed here.”
Matt Pontecorvo is a sophomore majoring in political science.