Veteran civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis is backtracking from comments he made in an interview with the Guardian when he said that Edward Snowden's leaking of information about the NSA surveillance program is an act of civil disobedience and conscience in keeping with the civil rights tradition.
"News reports about my interview with The Guardian are misleading, and they do not reflect my complete opinion," Lewis said in a statement
. "I do not agree with what Mr. Snowden did. He has damaged American international relations and compromised our national security. He leaked classified information and may have jeopardized human lives. That must be condemned."
Lewis was responding to an interview with the Guardian newspaper
, which gave the impression that he was praising Snowden's actions.
"In keeping with the philosophy and the discipline of non-violence, in keeping with the teaching of Henry David Thoreau and people like Gandhi and others, if you believe something is not right, something is unjust, and you are willing to defy customs, traditions, bad laws, then you have a conscience," the 73-year-old Georgia Democrat said in the interview. "You have a right to defy those laws and be willing to pay the price."
However, Lewis says that the article did not reflect his full view on Snowden.
"I never praised Mr. Snowden or said his actions rise to those of Mohandas Gandhi or other civil rights leaders. In fact, The Guardian itself agreed to retract the word 'praise' from its headline," the Georgia Democrat said.
"At the end of an interview about the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, I was asked what I thought about Mr. Snowden's actions," Lewis explained. "I said he has a right as an individual to act according to the dictates of his conscience, but he must be prepared to pay the price for taking that action.
"In the movement we were arrested, we went to jail, we were prepared to pay the price, even lose our lives if necessary. I cannot say and I did not say that what Mr. Snowden did is right. Others will be the judge of that," he added.
Lewis has been a harsh critic of the NSA surveillance programs and said in the Guardian interview that he questioned whether or not Snowden is a criminal.
"Some people say criminality or treason or whatever. He could say he was appealing to a higher law," Lewis said. "Many of us have some real, real, problems with how the government has been spying on people."
Lewis added associates of Martin Luther King, Jr. had their phones tapped during the civil rights movement as federal authorities tried to determine if they had communist ties.
"People spied on, and got information on Martin Luther King Jr., and tried to use it against him, on the movement, tried to plant people within different organizations that probably led to the destruction of some of those groups."
Snowden was granted temporary asylum in Russia for one year
, but has been charged with espionage by the U.S. government.
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