I didn’t know some of the legal facts Daniel Ellsberg relays in this piece:
As I know from my own case, even Snowden’s own testimony on the stand would be gagged by government objections and the (arguably unconstitutional) nature of his charges. That was my own experience in court, as the first American to be prosecuted under the Espionage Act – or any other statute – for giving information to the American people.
I had looked forward to offering a fuller account in my trial than I had given previously to any journalist – any Glenn Greenwald or Brian Williams of my time – as to the considerations that led me to copy and distribute thousands of pages of top-secret documents. I had saved many details until I could present them on the stand, under oath, just as a young John Kerry had delivered his strongest lines in sworn testimony.
But when I finally heard my lawyer ask the prearranged question in direct examination – Why did you copy the Pentagon Papers? – I was silenced before I could begin to answer. The government prosecutor objected – irrelevant – and the judge sustained. My lawyer, exasperated, said he “had never heard of a case where a defendant was not permitted to tell the jury why he did what he did.” The judge responded:well, you’re hearing one now.
And so it has been with every subsequent whistleblower under indictment, and so it would be if Edward Snowden was on trial in an American courtroom now.
Indeed, in recent years, the silencing effect of the Espionage Act has only become worse. The other NSA whistleblower prosecuted, Thomas Drake, was barred from uttering the words “whistleblowing” and “overclassification” in his trial. (Thankfully, the Justice Department’s case fell apart one day before it was to begin). In the recent case of the State Department contractor Stephen Kim, the presiding judge ruled the prosecution “need not show that the information he allegedly leaked could damage US national security or benefit a foreign power, even potentially.”
We saw this entire scenario play out last summer in the trial of Chelsea Manning. The military judge in that case did not let Manning or her lawyer argue her intent, the lack of damage to the US, overclassification of the cables or the benefits of the leaks … until she was already found guilty.
Without reform to the Espionage Act that lets a court hear a public interest defense – or a challenge to the appropriateness of government secrecy in each particular case – Snowden and future Snowdens can and will only be able to “make their case” from outside the United States.