Thirty-one authors have signed an open letter to President Obama, urging him to pardon Edward Snowden, the former U.S. government contractor charged with violating the Espionage Act for leaking National Security Agency documents to journalists.
Writers who signed the letter include Michael Chabon, Ursula K. LeGuin, Cheryl Strayed, Neil Gaiman, Teju Cole and Joyce Carol Oates.
“Throughout American history, the pardonable offense and the pardon privilege itself have functioned together as a uniquely direct system of check-and-balance between the individual citizen and the executive branch,” the letter reads. “Both can be understood as extreme actions undertaken to mitigate the harm caused by judicial and legislative insufficiency; by courts that would rule unfairly, and by laws — like the Espionage Act — whose vagaries and datedness would make their application too severe or too broad.”
The authors argue that Snowden’s actions were not treasonous, but instead patriotic.
“Having sworn an oath to support and defend the U.S. Constitution, Snowden proceeded to do just that,” the authors wrote, “by releasing the information he’d uncovered to reputable institutions of our free press, in accordance with Jefferson’s principle that ‘wherever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.’”
Snowden was charged with theft of government property and Espionage Act violations in June of 2013, weeks after he fled the United States to Hong Kong and leaked NSA documents to three journalists.
Days later, he flew to Russia, where he remains. The country has granted him asylum, which is set to expire on Aug. 1, although it could be extended for another three-year period.
Those who see Snowden as a hero have started a campaign urging Obama to pardon him. Supporters of the campaign include business figures George Soros, Steve Wozniak and Jack Dorsey, as well as celebrities such as Daniel Radcliffe, Rosie O’Donnell, Peter Gabriel and Martin Sheen.
In the open letter, the authors invoked Alexander Hamilton, who in the Federalist Papers described the presidential pardon privilege as a “benign prerogative.”
“By pardoning Snowden and permitting him to return free to the country he loves, your administration would be sending a message to the future,” the authors wrote, “that America remains committed to democratic accountability, and that tomorrow’s innovations will not be allowed to bend or bow the Constitution, but will, instead, be made to conform to it, and to reinforce the rights that it bestows.”