Edward Snowden has laid out his case as to why Barack Obama should grant him a presidential pardon before leaving office, just as civil rights groups have launched a campaign seeking the same thing.
The former National Security Agency contractor – who revealed details on a massive U.S. government surveillance program – told the Guardian Monday that what he did was “morally” the right thing to do.
“There are laws on the books that say one thing, but that is perhaps why the pardon power exists – for the exceptions, for the things that may seem unlawful in letters on a page but when we look at them morally, when we look at them ethically, when we look at the results, it seems these were necessary things, these were vital things,” Snowden told the Guardian in a video interview from Moscow where he is currently living in exile.
In 2013, Snowden leaked tens of thousands of classified details on a warrantless surveillance program run by the NSA before fleeing to Hong Kong and eventually Russia. He currently faces charges in the U.S. that could land him in prison for up to 30 years.
On Monday the White House reiterated President Obama’s position that Snowden should face charges in the U.S. because his leaks “damaged the United States.”
Snowden would be “treated fairly and consistent with the law” if he returned to the U.S., said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.
Prominent civil rights groups the ACLU, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch are planning to launch an online campaign Wednesday seeking to convince President Obama to offer a presidential pardon, according to multiple media reports.
The campaign will gather signatures through an online petition at www.pardonsnowden.org, which has been registered but is currently password protected.
The campaign also coincides with the Friday release of the Oliver Stone film Snowden, which premiered last Saturday at the Toronto International Film Festival and stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Snowden.
Stone told a Saturday press conference at the TIFF he hopes Obama pardons Snowden.
“Mr. Obama could pardon him and we hope so,” the filmmaker told reporters. “We hope Mr. Obama has a stroke of lightning and he sees the way. (But) he’s been one of the most efficient managers of this surveillance world.”
However, those hoping for a pardon shouldn’t get their hopes up.
Statistics from the U.S. Justice Department show that while Obama offered 673 commutations since taking office — mostly for inmates serving long drug sentences crimes — he’s only granted 64 pardons so far.
— With files from the Canadian Press