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ACLU on possible Edward Snowden return: ‘Amnesty is not a dirty word’

Ben Wizner, an ACLU official and legal adviser to Edward Snowden, said Sunday that the National Security Agency (NSA) leaker should be pardoned in the same way as officials who lied to Congress or authorized torture, noting that “amnesty is not a dirty word.”

Wizner appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” to discuss Snowden’s prospects for returning to the United States after he unveiled the NSA’s massive domestic surveillance program this summer. The lawyer claimed it is impossible to assume he will get a fair trail should he return without a guarantee of immunity.

“The law under which Mr. Snowden is charged, the 1917 Espionage Act, a World War I era statute, doesn’t distinguish between leaks to the press and public interest — and I think that we can all agree that some of this information has been profoundly in the public interest — and someone who sells secrets to an enemy for personal profit,” Wizner noted.

“If the law allowed him to make a public interest defense,” he continued, “if the law allowed him to come here and say ‘Look at all the good this has done,’ if the law allowed him to say ‘The government hasn’t been able to prove any harm from these disclosures’ — sure, he would face trial in that kind of system. But for now, he doesn’t believe — and I don’t believe — that the cost of his act of conscience should be a lifetime behind bars.”

Wizner claimed that Snowden, with whom he is in contact “very regularly over encrypted channels,” hopes to come back to the United States. Gregory noted that to do so, he would likely need “some deal, some amnesty.”

“You know, amnesty is not a dirty word,” Wizner responded. “There are a lot of people in this town — including some who have been on your show — who have been given amnesty. We just don’t call it that. Lying to Congress is a crime. Torturing prisoners is a very serious crime. There are lots of times when people violate the law and society decides, for one reason or another, to look forward rather than backwards. I think that this is one of those cases. Mr. Snowden’s disclosures have been profoundly valuable.”

Numerous government officials — most recently Director of National Intelligence James Clapper — have lied to Congress without facing legal repercussions. Officials authorizing illegal “enhanced interrogation” techniques for certain terrorist suspects have never been charged. And Bush administration appointees accused of years-long warrantless spying on Americans have yet to face justice in a court of law.

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