By Chris Welch
The US Justice Department says it will hold talks with Edward Snowden’s lawyers, but only under one condition: the NSA contractor-turned-whistleblower must return home and plead guilty to the charges against him. Snowden is currently living under asylum in Russia to avoid charges of espionage after he famously leaked thousands of documents outlining the alarming surveillance practices of the US government. Some lawmakers and civil liberties groups have called for the Obama administration to grant Snowden clemency for his actions, which put a spotlight on controversial data collection and mass snooping tactics of the NSA. President Obama himself recently said he doesn’t have a straight yes or no answer as it relates to clemency for Snowden. “This is an active case, where charges have been brought,” he said during a wide-ranging interview with The New Yorker.
But Attorney General Eric Holder has taken a much firmer stance; he says clemency is off the table, and it was never a plausible option to begin with. “We’ve always indicated that the notion of clemency isn’t something that we were willing to consider,” he said at the University of Virginia on Thursday. “Instead, were he coming back to the US to enter a plea, we would engage with his lawyers.” Holder also makes it clear that Snowden wouldn’t be given any special treatment. Despite the high profile nature of the case, those discussions would be the “same with any defendant who wanted to enter a plea of guilty,” he said.
For his part, Snowden says he isn’t coming back anytime soon — but he realizes it would be the preferred outcome for everyone involved. In an online Q&A yesterday, he said, “Returning to the US, I think, is the best resolution for the government, the public, and myself, but it’s unfortunately not possible in the face of current whistleblower protection laws, which through a failure in law did not cover national security contractors like myself.” Under current laws, Snowden claims there’s “no chance to have a fair trial, and no way I can come home and make my case to a jury.”