Posts Tagged ‘max fisher’

June 2013

Snowden’s Russia problem: Why a libertarian activist made friends with authoritarian states

Washington Post

When Edward Snowden announced to the world that he would stay in Hong Kong despite the looming threat of a U.S. extradition request, he explained that he trusted its reputation for rule of law and free speech, the same values he wished to promote in leaking information about classified U.S. surveillance programs. “My intention is to ask the courts and the people of Hong Kong to decide my fate,” he said. “I have been given no reason to doubt your system.”

That didn’t really work out. On Sunday, Snowden fled to Russia and may ultimately be bound for Ecuador by way of Cuba. That Snowden would switch strategies from throwing himself at the mercy of Hong Kong’s court system to seeking shelter with some of the world’s more authoritarian governments is a sign of how serious his dilemma has become. It’s a story of idealism giving way to self-preservation, but also of a young man who wanted to challenge state abuses getting swept up in geopolitics much larger than himself – and ending up an ally of governments that embody everything he wanted to fight with his initial leaks.

The trouble seemed to start for Snowden when he realized that if he stayed in Hong Kong, he could indeed face extradition to the United States on espionage charges. Even if he did win the right to political asylum, his case might have taken years – during which time he could have faced prison time and would likely have lost access to the computer that was so important to him. “If you were to deprive him of his computer, that would be totally intolerable,” a lawyer he retained told the New York Times. That lawyer also told the Financial Times, “He is a kid. I don’t think he anticipated that this would be such a big matter.”

Snowden learned the hard way that asylum cases do not always rest on simple ethical questions as to whether or not the host government sympathizes with the asylum-seeker. More often, they are grueling, years-long trials in which the accused must typically demonstrate that his government is seeking him primarily for his political opinion rather than his violation of U.S. law. That’s not an impossible case to make – he might have argued that U.S.’s treatment of Bradley Manning, a previous leaker, could be seen as rising to the level of political persecution – but it’s not an easy one, given that Snowden broke U.S. law his own admission.

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