Fri, Sep 16, 2016 - Page 7 News List

Snowden backers press Obama for pardon

Reuters, NEW YORK

Three rights groups on Wednesday launched a campaign to try to persuade US President Barack Obama to pardon former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden on theft and espionage charges before Obama leaves office in January next year.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said the time was right to rally support for a pardon for Snowden, who leaked documents about top-secret US surveillance programs to journalists in 2013, fled to Hong Kong and was granted asylum in Russia.

The ACLU provides legal representation for Snowden.

Speaking via video, Snowden told a news conference in New York that he was “comfortable with the decisions I made,” but whether he gets a presidential pardon is not up to him.

“I do not myself ask for a pardon and I never will,” Snowden said.

Snowden said he could not receive a fair trial in the US because a law he was charged under, the 1917 Espionage Act, does not let him explain to a jury his reasons for leaking.

“This World War I-era law does not distinguish between those who freely give critical information to journalists in the public interest or spies who sell it to a foreign power for their own [gain],” said Snowden, who lives in Moscow.

A pardon now might make sense for Obama, because he might be seeking to burnish his legacy and be able to act with less concern for politics, the groups said.

Obama will leave office at the end of his second, four-year term on Jan. 20.

“Presidents normally take some of the most difficult actions of their eight years in office in the final months,” ACLU executive director Anthony Romero said.

Snowden was charged by US federal prosecutors in 2013 with theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information and willful communication of classified communications intelligence to an unauthorized person.

The pardon campaign includes a Web site that people can use to write to the White House and the groups ran ads in the Washington Post and Politico newspapers, saying Snowden exposed unlawful programs and prompted reforms.

The campaign coincides with the release of a film, titled Snowden, directed by Oliver Stone.

It also comes at a time when US authorities are investigating whether hackers backed by Russian spy agencies have been interfering with the US presidential campaign by stealing and releasing documents and e-mails.

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