Snowden’s Post-Asylum Relevance

15 Aug


            Now that Snowden has been given temporary asylum in Russia for a year, attention in the drama has shifted in two directions, although overshadowed at the present by the horrific happenings in Egypt and Syria. The Snowden issues remain important, and it is too soon to turn aside as if the only question was whether the U.S. Government would in the end, through guile and muscle, gain control of Snowden. Among the issues that should continue to occupy us are as follows:


            –interpreting the negative impact on U.S.-Russia relations;

            –the claim that if Edward Snowden is a sincere whistle-blower he will now, despite asylum, voluntarily return to the United States to tell his story in open court so as to answer charges that he is guilty of criminal espionage and conversion of government property.


            As before, to grasp this post-asylum phase of the Snowden drama a few aspects of the background need to be appreciated:

            –it continues to bias the public to describe Snowden as ‘a leaker,’ which is the usual way he is identified in the mainstream media, including such authoritative newspapers as the New York Times and Washington Post; on the right, he is simply called ‘a traitor,’ and for the liberal elite the jury is out on whether to conclude that Snowden is ‘a whistle-blower’ deserving some belated sympathy á la Ellsberg or ‘a traitor’ for his supposed gifts to the enemies of the United States that undermine ‘security,’ and deserve harsh punishment. As always, language matters, and its careful analysis is revealing as to where to locate ‘the vital center’ of American and international opinion;

              Snowden’s own statement of his rationale for acting ‘unlawfully’ seems credible and idealistic, and given the wrongful nature of what was revealed and its bearing on the constitutional rights of Americans and the norms of international law, should have been sufficient to induce a humane government to drop all charges, and even acknowledge Snowden’s service as a dutiful citizen, inviting his return to the United States. Here are Snowden’s words befitting someone who deserves exoneration not criminal confinement: “America is a fundamentally good country; we have good people with good values who want to do the right thing, but the structure of power that exist are working to their own ends to extend their capability at the expense of the freedom of all publics.”  

            –Russia (and China) never had an obligation: legal, moral, and political, to transfer Snowden in response to the extradition request of the United States Government. Even if there had been an extradition treaty, ‘political crimes’ are not subject to extradition for good reasons. In a plural international order, it is highly desirable to provide foreign sanctuary to those who act peacefully in opposition to an established national political order. The United States itself has engaged repeatedly in such practice, shielding even political fugitives who have engaged in terrorist acts, provided only that the target government was viewed as hostile by Washington at the time of the alleged crimes, e.g. Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela;

            –the rationale for refusing to extradite Snowden is particularly strong given the nature of his disclosures, the substance of which have evoked strong denunciations from a range of foreign governments, including such friends of the U.S. as Brazil and the United Kingdom; although espionage has long been routine in international relations, the deliberate and comprehensive spying on foreign citizens and confidential governmental undertakings is treated as unacceptable when exposed, and would be viewed as such if Russia (or any country) was detected as having established such a comparably broad surveillance program in the United States; there is an admitted schizophrenia present, making their spies criminals, ours heroes, and vice versa; such are the games played by states, whether friends or enemies;

            –the United States angered a number of countries by its tactics designed to gain custody over Snowden, especially in Latin America. Its hegemonic style was most crudely displayed when it succeeded in persuadingseveral European governments to deny airspace to the presidential plane carrying the Bolivian president , Evo Morales. It is almost certain that the United States would treat such behavior as an act of war if the situation were reversed; more privately, it evidently cajoled and threatened foreign leaders via diplomatic hard ball to withhold asylum from Snowden. Such an effort, in effect, attempted to subvert sovereign discretion in relation to asylum as a respected human rights practice entirely appropriate in the context of Snowden’s plight, which included, it should be remembered, the voiding of his U.S. passport;

            –Obama has finally admitted at a press conference of August 11th that negative reactions even in Washington to what was widely perceived as surveillance far in excess of what could be reasonably justified by invoking post 9/11 security, was prompting the government to take steps to protect privacy and roll back the program.  Whether these planned reforms will amount to more than gestures to quiet the present public uproar remains to be seen. Obama did acknowledge, what everyone knew in any event, that it was the Snowden disclosures that prompted such official action at this time, but even with this show of recognition, the president still called on Snowden to return to the United States to tell his story to a criminal court if he seeks vindication. In his words, if Snowden thought he had done the right thing, “then, like every American citizen, he can come here, appear before the court with a lawyer and make his case.” Really!


            In the aftermath of the Bradley Manning saga, the treatment of Guantanamo detainees, the acquittal of Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin case, and the denial of ‘compassionate release’ to Lynne Stewart a brave and admired lawyer with a reputation for defending unpopular clients, who lies shackled in a Texas jail while dying of terminal cancer. It could only be a naïve fool who would risk their future on a scale of justice offered to Snowden by the American criminal law system in light of these judicial and governmental outrages. It seems rather perverse for Snowden’s father, Lou Snowden, to be reported as planning to visit his son in Moscow with the intention of urging his return to face charges, although only if the government provides appropriate reassurances. It should by now be obvious that such reassurances to Snowden would be meaningless even if made in good faith by the Attorney General. Normally, the judge and jury in any criminal trial involving alleged breaches of national security defers to the government’s view of the situation and would be unlikely to allow Snowden the option of introducing evidence as to his motivation, which is normally excluded, especially if classified material is at stake. In a trial of this sort the government only needs to show criminal intent, that is, the deliberate flouting by Snowden of relevant American law. Since this is uncontested, it would mean that Snowden would have to claim ‘necessity,’ a defense rarely entertained by American courts, and here would also require that Snowden be able to depict the surveillance system and why it was a threat to American democracy and the rights of American citizens, which could not be done without declassifying the very documents that Snowden is accused of wrongfully disclosing.



A Tale of Two Texts


            Without dwelling on their detailed character, it is worth noting two texts that illustrate the range of reaction to the Snowden controversy. The first is by Thomas Friedman, the NY Times columnist, with a flair for pithy supercilious commentary on the passing scene, and an arrogance rarely exceeded even in Washington. The second is by Antonio Patriota, the foreign minister of Brazil, a country that has rarely seldom its voice to question even the most questionable behavior of its hegemonic neighbor to the North.


            Friedman’s column, published on August 13, is entitled “Obama, Snowden and Putin,” and its theme is that Snowden and Putin have an opportunity to overcome their bad behavior by seizing the opportunity for a second chance. Snowden is supposed to come home, face trial, and show the country by so doing allow American courts to make the judgment as to whether to view him as ‘whistle-blower’ or ‘traitor.’


            As for Putin, even before angering the United States by giving asylum to Snowden, he gave up the ‘reset’ opportunity given by Obama for good relations with the United States. According to Friedman, Putin’s failure was not repression at home, but his failure to follow the American lead in foreign policy, whether on Syria, Iran, cyber security. And from this outlook, Putin is seen as staking his domestic political future in Russia through an alleged adoption of an anti-American set of policies. Friedman never pauses to wonder whether American policies in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world are worthy of support. He never asks whether Putin was right or wrong in defying Obama in the Snowden context. He never notes that Moscow was very forthcoming in cooperative law enforcement in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing last April, or that Putin expressed his hope that the Snowden incident would not harm relations between Russia and the United States. Friedman did not even pause to wonder about the provocative nature of American joint military exercise with Georgia a hostile presence on the border of the Russian heartland or the way in which NATO has been given a second life after the Cold War that includes the deployment of defensive missile systems threatening to Russia.


            What is most astonishing is that Friedman exempts Obama from any blame, presumably because he doesn’t need a second chance. It seems Friedman conveniently forgets the heavy handed abuse of Manning, the refusal to look into the substance of the war crimes disclosed by the WikiLeaks documents, and the belated admission that the surveillance network had overreached legitimate security requirements. It would seem that with Guantanamo still open, and engaged in the force-feeding of hunger-striking detainees, most of whom are deemed innocent by their captors, would be a gaping wound in the body politic that might call for presidential remedial intervention! And nowhere does Friedman note that Obama’s handling of the Snowden case needlessly damaged America’s relations in the Western Hemisphere. But do not hold your breath until Friedman makes such comments that would surely be unwelcome in the White House.


            In contrast, hampered in rhetoric by traditions of diplomatic courtesy, Foreign Minister Patriota, made the following statement on the Snowden disclosures at the UN Security Council on August 6th: “..the interception of telecommunications and acts of espionage, practices that are in defiance of the sovereignty and in detriment to the relations among nation. They constitute a violation of our citizen’ human rights and the right to privacy.” The minister then goes to say that several leading states in Latin America, including Brazil, intend to pursue their grievance in other venues of the UN, including the Security Council. He explains that this “is a serious issue, with a profound impact on the international order. Brazil has been coordinating with countries that share similar concerns to uphold an international order that is respectful of sovereignty of States and of human rights.” Also, Mr. Patriota welcomed the statement of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, who called attention to the Snowden disclosures as revealing forms of surveillance that violate Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.


            These two texts illuminate the inside/outside nature of international relations brought to the attention of scholars a decade ago in the work of R.B.J Walker. Inside of America, the problems are seen as relating to Snowden,and his culpability combined with a superpower’s frustrations resulting from an inability to swallow him whole. Outside America, especially in Latin America, the domain of gunboat diplomacy and the Monroe Doctrine, the focus is on the fundamental logic of reciprocity upon which peaceful and friendly relations among sovereign states depends. Nothing better shows the hegemonic nature of the United States presence in the world than its unyielding refusal to grasp, let alone accept, this logic of reciprocity even in dealing with friends and neighbors.





14 Responses to “Snowden’s Post-Asylum Relevance”

  1. Dayan Jayatilleka August 15, 2013 at 3:45 am #

    Has anyone pieced together what happened between the time President Obama said he wasn’t going after “a 29 year old hacker” and the time he decided to cancel a summit meeting with a fellow Permanent member of the UN Security Council (whose support he needs on important issues like Afghanistan)…over the same 29 year old hacker?

  2. Gene Schulman August 15, 2013 at 4:08 am #

    Snowden would be a fool to return to the US. Obama has already prejudiced the case against him by saying he doesn’t think Snowden is a patriot, and implying that he is a traitor in his recent NSA speech.

  3. Albert August 15, 2013 at 6:08 am #

    Thank you Dr. Falk for again accurately and daringly describing this serious issue about Edward Snowden and his heroic efforts on behalf of all of mankind. Your analyses of world affairs give me hope for the future. If I allowed myself to be guided by the msm, I would be constantly filled with fear, not so much for myself, but for posterity.
    I see the present world of international politics as the end-game of a chess game, where the side, that seemed the strongest, had one critical flaw in its defenses and is about to be check-mated. Now I wonder, if another stalemate can be achieved. I hope, that sanity will return, before all the pieces get wiped off the board, euphemistically speaking.

  4. imleif August 15, 2013 at 7:16 am #

    Unfortunately Putin is at this time getting very bad press regarding some anti-homo law, far from increasing his standing as a defender of personal freedom (which he has never been in the first place, with his KGB career).

    • Kata Fisher August 15, 2013 at 9:46 am #

      When leaders are mulled by religious…then all kind of civil rights violation take place: Churches/religiously obnoxious are trying to manage what they cannot, nor will serve. It was always like that.

  5. monalisa August 15, 2013 at 9:22 am #

    Dear Richard,
    your points of view are right.

    Pres. Obama lied in the past and will lie in the future. His words and promises cannot be trusted i.,e. empty words often coupled with prejudice. A fatal combination for a trained law person in my opinion.

    Take care of yourself


    • Kata Fisher August 15, 2013 at 9:43 am #

      Dear Mona Lisa,
      I do not, nor can believe that lies are coming directly from Barak Obama…the source of the lie has to be addressed; otherwise, we will have a miss in an aim/approach. It is not in his personality (not applicable to him) what is taking place—not of his personal doing.

      It is impossible for him to do that which he is made to do. One has to think on all things, systematically. I believe that I am seeing this in an accurate way. There are some inconsistencies, all together.

      • monalisa August 19, 2013 at 5:02 am #

        to Kata Fisher:

        there is nothing to “believe” concerning Pres. Barack Obama.
        There are facts, only facts – seen by global communities. Murder, death and destruction, police state and neverendig detention without proper trials in USA.

        And there is also nothing to discuss concerning these facts.
        Facts are facts nothing to “believe” – religion is religion everything to “believe”.

        Point. No discussion about.


      • Gene Schulman August 19, 2013 at 5:11 am #

        Thanks, monalisa.

        Just what needed to be said. End of discussion.

    • Kata Fisher August 19, 2013 at 8:32 am #

      Dear Mona Lisa,

      As I understood it was so that under Bush regime these programs of conflict were initiated. Was it possible for Barrack Obama to do away with them, as he took the office? What was his position under circumstances? What were his options on Gautama Bay and other illegal programs that were established under Bush regime? These are legitimate reflections.

      I did not follow international issues with great excitement, but I looked at those over the time, and I was guided by Spirit in my judgments.

      I am not religious concerning politics, nor was I ever moved by politics in its essence.

      However, there are some legitimate questions arising just by some facts that are applicable to Bush 8-year-rule, illegal wars. In addition to that—what kind of council was given to US president Barak on those programs that were implemented by Bush regime? From this approach, I would believe that Barak was made (or lied to) so that he took /allowed for an approach to continue—that which was not consistent to his personal pattern, or ways of his undertakings.

      It was made known that some in his administration (I believe it was under Mrs. Clinton’s responsibility) that were spying on diplomats, as these practices were present for previous instances/rule. I doubt that Barak personally asked anyone to do that. (But that was service toward him—or the people?). Neither, at best reason of a conscience.

      It can be many of things, and public knowledge is limited.
      There is a corporate guilt that followed Bush rule and its entire works: will of the people/specific administration. Power comes from the people—that which they choose (here in US). Barak is limited; he needs the will of the people to do away with that which was implemented by Bush regime. (I would know that much about this land).

      It would be a good time for diplomats to get involved and help this land, US in a cleanup. It is good to say, “Mop—swop necessary in your own land.” This is the best for the people in the land.(This much is know, by all).

      If I were to apply to Barak (individually) something that others implemented (corporately), I would violate my Faith. Not only my Faith, by also violate all Spiritual gifts that were activated in me, as well and imparted onto me by laying of the hands—that which allowed me to look deeper in different things, applying more sufficient judgment. It is rare to me to apply stubbiness.

      I do not consider being a robbery toward anyone when I am moved to apply my spiritual gifts/abilities in a civil setting. Still, there are certain circumstances that are limitation even to me.

      The Church order is when there is disagreement, and different quality of judgment on certain things, others are allowed to apply their own judgments. We say, “Judge it for yourself”—this was the tradition that was passed down in writings, and it was the Way of the Church-Charismatic.” Only valid Ecclesiastical authority can suppress private associations of Church-Charismatic. These who are under prophetic anointing may complain to the Pope—or can dismiss even the Pope, in reality. (Smile)

      I hope that you are blessed by inner-Peace.

      By Faith,

  6. monalisa August 20, 2013 at 2:08 am #


    Developments on the political scene are disturbing and alarming …. British regulations on the Guardian should alarm us all ……



  1. TRANSCEND MEDIA SERVICE » Snowden’s Post-Asylum Relevance - August 19, 2013

    […] Go to Original – […]

  2. Richard Falk: Snowden’s Post-Asylum Relevance - Guernica / A Magazine of Art & Politics - August 20, 2013

    […] By Richard Falk By arrangement with Richard Falk […]

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