Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen- Winston Churchill.
Several weeks ago an extraordinary and rare event happened, a major leak about US intelligence practices were revealed to the world by the Guardian, with information obtained by Edward Snowden. Snowden was an American former technical contractor and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) employee who worked for Booz Allen Hamilton, a contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA). What he would reveal would give a fascinating insight into the intricacies of the United States Intelligence community.
He is now facing condemnation and is accused of being a traitor. The Obama Administration is preparing to pursue legal charges against, which will include treason, which is punishable by death. This is if Snowden is not ‘neutralized’ by the CIA beforehand. Snowden says that he is prepared to die for his country (Guardian Q&A 17th June).
But is Snowden a traitor or a protector of civil freedoms enjoyed by most of humanity? From a legal standpoint, he does not seem to have a leg to stand on.
Article Three of the US Constitution, section 3 defines treason and its punishment as;
‘Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court. The Congress shall have Power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted’.
The US will likely argue that Snowden has aided the enemy by revealing key security issues and procedures. Mr Snowden can appeal on the grounds that the US is prosecuting him based on his political views and If the local courts agree, Hong Kong could refuse to hand him over to the US. This would prolong and complicate the process of the US charging him successfully for his treason.
What about about the other view, that Snowden is the protector of civil liberties? Well, the argument is strong. A right to privacy is explicitly stated under Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: ‘No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks’. Further to this, the U.S. Supreme Court has found that the Constitution implicitly grants a right to privacy against governmental intrusion and has been used as justification for decisions involving a wide range of civil liberties cases, including Pierce v. Society of Sisters.
Whatever the outcome of this process, and whatever your views (please do leave them in the comment section), the case of Edward Snowden v The United States will probably be a very lengthy one, all the while more secrets are revealed. As Snowden said in his Q&A with the Guardian today (17th June 2013). ‘ Truth is coming, and it cannot be stopped’. *Sharp intake of breath*.