Reality check, Mr Daly: Crimea isn’t Edward Snowden’s responsibility

Dear Mr Daly,

I know it may be considered a rude to start a letter to a stranger without preamble but then, your own recent open letter to Edward Snowden dove right in, so I am hoping you will empathize with my lack of decorum.

After all, at such times when one has pressing questions, no words can be wasted on pleasantries.

So then, my questions: are you serious? And if you are: is this going to become the new fashion: that whenever Vladimir Putin does something the international community dislikes it will prompt calls for Edward Snowden to “come home and face the music”?

I hope not. Because – and this should be obvious – one has nothing to do with the other. It didn’t during the Sochi Olympics and it certainly doesn’t now, with the conflict over Crimea getting worse by the day.

You call for Edward Snowden “to announce that [he] would rather face an American prison than endorse Putin’s thuggery with [his] continued presence in Russia.”

Surely, you don’t mean that. I mean, you are essentially asking Mr Snowden to stamp his foot like a petulant child (or Russian president), walk out and slam the door. No good has ever come out of that kind of behaviour.

What is more, your implied suggestion that Edward Snowden’s mere presence in Russia endorses Putin’s thuggery doesn’t quite follow.

Neither does the notion that Edward Snowden is under obligation to speak out against Russia’s actions because anything else would mean abetting international piracy.

But well. Let us, for the sake of the argument, assume that Edward Snowden would choose to give up his asylum in Russia to, as you request, go home and “face the music”.

What would happen, do you think? And who would it serve? Most importantly, exactly what difference would it make to Putin’s decisions regarding Ukraine?

I think the answer to the third question is, simply and obviously: very little. If the international community cannot make a dent in Putin’s resolve to annex Crimea and after that possibly other areas as well, what makes you think Edward Snowden could?

Oh right, you seem to believe that Edward Snowden has “true moral authority among many right thinking people.” Disregarding the fact that “right thinking” is by no means an unambiguous concept, you may have a point here: what Edward Snowden has to say matters to a lot of people.

But here’s the thing: I don’t believe that any of these people actually need a show of moralizing recklessness on Edward Snowden’s part to understand that Russia’s “policy” over Crimea would be a dangerous thing to endorse. So then, what exactly would be the “impact if [Mr Snowden] announced that [he] could no longer countenance Russia’s behaviour and [was] returning home”?

I have a hard time imagining that if international sanctions cannot sway Mr Putin that Edward Snowden’s leaving Russia would suddenly change his mind.

“Oh dear,” Mr Putin would certainly not say to himself. “Sanctions threatened by the US and the EU don’t impress me at all but if Edward Snowden, that glorious defender of people’s civil liberties that I have given shelter because I like him so much says I shouldn’t be doing this then perhaps I should reconsider my position.”

Much though I respect Mr Snowden, I daresay his moral authority over Russia and its president is rather limited.

Instead, what Mr Putin would probably think, would be something along the lines of: “Fair enough, Snowden, I’ve always thought you were a little weird, now you’ve got another strange idea. Suit yourself. You can take or leave the asylum, I don’t really mind. Was fun while it lasted and allowed me to poke the US in the eye but do you know what? You’re not that useful to me anymore, have fun in prison.” Although perhaps not in so many words.

To assume that Edward Snowden’s leaving the country in protest would accomplish anything other than land him in a US prison is hubris on your part, Mr Daly.

A similar kind of hubris, in fact, to the one that lets the leaders of certain nations assume that their views are more valid than those of others and that they are endorsed with more rights and freedoms or a more refined sense of morality.

Don’t get me wrong: I do believe that the crisis in Ukraine and Russian intervention warrant international action. But that hasn’t got anything to do with Mr Snowden, his revelations about the NSA, or – in fact – his motives. I’ll come back to that in a minute.

First though, let me ask you why, as both the US and the EU seem to be avoiding decisive action (29 of 120 potential individuals are being sanctioned, excluding Putin and his inner circle, and they don’t even seem that bothered), you expect Edward Snowden to give up his freedom to make a symbolic statement that, once again, governments aren’t willing to make themselves?

Just because Mr Snowden accepted asylum in Russia after being stranded at Sheremetyevo airport when the US cancelled his passport does not mean that he is under any kind of obligation to comment on the international shenanigans of the country that is temporarily playing host to him.

You blame Edward Snowden for ignoring one wrong in seeking to right another, implying that his silence makes him complicit in Russia’s actions.

Yet what you seem to be forgetting is that Edward Snowden is in Russia precisely because of the wrongs committed by many of those nations who are now seeking to right Russian wrongs.

The EU and US may be right to intervene in the Ukraine crisis. But that doesn’t alter the fact that the EU and US were wrong to persecute Snowden or to refuse him asylum, themselves violating the sovereignty of Ecuador when intercepting its president’s plane.

You seem to suggest that because Mr Snowden has chosen to attempt to right one wrong, he is automatically responsible for writing all other wrongs as well.

Now, I am sure that many of Mr Snowden’s supporters would happily cast him as some kind of superhero and watch him save the world single-handedly, but I honestly think that’s asking a little too much.

Last time I looked, Mr Snowden was not sporting a red cape, a lycra catsuit or wearing his briefs over his leggings. Although, funnily enough, the big golden letter “S” on the front of the suit I am referring to would actually go well with Edward’s last name.

Sorry, if I have lost you: my inner geek ran away with reason for a minute there.

But then, it seem that your inner something or other ran away with your reason too because you completely lost me in those last couple of paragraphs of your open letter.

You write that if Mr Snowden was arrested, he could “then steady [himself] with the example of Sister Megan Rice, the 84-year-old nun who was arrested along with two other peace activists after they made their way into a U.S. nuclear weapons facility in 2012” and who when “asked at her sentencing last month if she had anything to say” responded that “[t]o remain in prison for the rest of my life would be the greatest gift” for her.

I am sorry but I fail to see how that is a steadying example. Less so, as you go on to say that Edward Snowden would most likely receive many more years in prison than Sister Megan. And still you maintain that he should come home. I am sorry, but that makes no sense whatsoever.

Also, no disrespect to Sister Megan but either she was being ironic when she asked for a life sentence at 84 or, in line with her religious beliefs, she believed that life in the hereafter was what really mattered. We also need to entertain a third possibility, I am afraid. Namely the one that she was, bluntly put, a bit of a nutcase. Whatever prompted her request, even you, Mr Daly, clearly realise that, realistically, “life” means a different thing for her than for a 30-year-old.

What is more, if Edward Snowden did “come home”, for him to “face the music” would mean that he would not be able to defend himself properly in front of a jury because most likely, most of the information he could use to do so would not be admitted in court.

Asking him to do this, simply to make a political statement that one, has nothing to do with the wrongs he has revealed and two, would serve no one except those naysayers who have been questioning his motives for the past nine months (and who would then probably recommence going on about his being arrogant enough to believe that his actions make any difference regarding Russia’s policy) is, frankly, nonsense.

Let’s be realistic here: Edward Snowden cannot single-handedly change the world. He never claimed he could or suggested that this is what he intended to do. What he did intend to do was give the rest of us a chance of discussing whether or not we needed and wanted mass surveillance.

He said: “Look, this is what’s happening, it’s unconstitutional. In my opinion, you should know this. Discuss.”

For that he was marooned in Russia by the very government to which you now claim he should return to face, yes, a show trial. To a regime which, in many ways I am sorry to say, makes an equal mockery of anything many people champion – and I am pretty sure that not even you would call them “wrong thinking” people. Can I just give you a couple of keywords here: drone strikes, the death penalty, Guantanamo?

You also take issue with Edward Snowden’s statement that he would do it all again, “regardless of what happens” to him. For some reason, to some people this seems to mean that he has automatically revoked his right to value his life or his freedom. It doesn’t. Just because he did what he did in full knowledge and irrespective of the risk he was taking, doesn’t mean he is no longer entitled to try and keep his freedom until it is forcibly taken from him.

The fact that a citizen of a democracy should have to risk his life and freedom to inform us of what we have a right to know is a sad thing. It doesn’t mean, he will (or should) now seek out life imprisonment simply to make a point. That would be daft.

Sorting out Russia is not Edward Snowden’s responsibility or something that Mr Snowden could hope to do. Edward Snowden’s silence regarding Ukraine says nothing about his personal opinion, it does not endorse Russian actions.

In fact, to conflate Edward Snowden’s situation and the situation in the Ukraine is ludicrous and short-sighted. The situation in the Ukraine and Mr Snowden’s situation are related in people’s minds for one reason only: Mr Snowden’s unfortunate and involuntary presence in a certain place at a certain time. If Edward Snowden wasn’t in Russia (where he didn’t choose to be) no one would ask his opinion on this. It is only because the situation affords an opportunity (if you are into that kind of thing) to once again indulge in a bit of Snowden-bashing, and that in the most illogical way possible, that this is even an issue.

You think that Edward Snowden should give himself up. You are entitled to that opinion of course. But I, for one, fundamentally disagree with you, because your opinion is based on a shaky premise. That is, on the idea that it would accomplish anything or serve anyone except Mr Snowden’s most self-righteous critics, if Mr Snowden accomplished a feat of such enormous stupidity. And that only for the period of time it took for him to vanish for months in solitary confinement.

In fact, this ill-concealed push to cast Mr Snowden’s motives in a questionable light once again deflects attention away from the actual problems – two entirely separate problems, I might add: one, the crisis in the Ukraine, Putin’s annexation of Crimea and what this may mean for international relations and, yes, peace long-term.

Two, NSA wrongdoing. What the NSA doing is wrong – we can arrive at that judgement independently of what we make of Mr Snowden’s person or his motives. Whether or not he did what he did with an ulterior motive that can somehow be gleaned between the lines of the subtext to his silence does nothing to change the fact that mass surveillance is probably unlawful and unconstitutional. The documents Mr Snowden has leaked speak for themselves. Therefore to suggest that Mr Snowden somehow needs to validate the content of his disclosures by making a moral statement out of a situation he hasn’t chosen makes no sense.

It also suggests that those “right-thinking people” you say Mr Snowden has so much influence over need him to tell them what to think.

Mr Snowden, I think, would disagree and, respectfully, so do I.

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