The best chance the United States has of prosecuting Edward Snowden for reportedly handing over American surveillance secrets is by charging him “as a common thief,” civil-rights lawyer Alan Dershowitz said on Saturday.
“If the government is smart, they will not charge him with anything that sounds political,” Dershowitz told former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee on Fox News. “He was working for a company. He did not own this material. He stole it, but he should be charged with theft.
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“That way, the Chinese government, the Hong Kong government, really won’t have any excuse for not extraditing him.”
But then, Dershowitz said, “the government has to think like lawyers,” in deciding where they would want Snowden to be extradited to in the United States.
“If they land him in San Francisco, he gets a jury in Silicon Valley, which is going to be very sympathetic,” he told Huckabee. But if he arrived at Washington Dulles International Airport, “he gets tried in Northern Virginia, where the CIA is located — and he’s cooked.”
In hiding in Hong Kong, Snowden reportedly has shown The South China Morning Post "unverified documents" describing an extensive U.S. campaign to obtain information from computers in Hong Kong and mainland China.
He also has promised "explosive" new revelations about Washington's surveillance targets.
U.S. officials have confirmed that Snowden, a former subcontractor for the National Security Agency, may have more secret material. He initially revealed the agency’s secret monitoring of Internet and telephone data of millions of Americans.
Snowden, in an interview with the British newspaper The Guardian, which published his initial disclosures, said:
"I'm neither traitor nor hero. I'm an American," Snowden said in an interview with the British newspaper The Guardian, which published his initial disclosures.
The civil disobedience defense might be effective, Dershowitz told Huckabee.
“It’s what civil disobedience has done from the beginning of time — religious civil disobedience, political civil disobedience — but the rule of civil disobedience is, ‘You do the crime, you pay the consequences,’” he said. “You admit that what you did was illegal, and you want to go to jail.”
Citing such famous civil disobedients as former South African President Nelson Mandela and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Dershowitz added, “This man may be able to claim that he’s a civil disobedient.
“Sometimes, they get lucky. They get a jury that says, ‘You know, maybe we shouldn’t put him in jail.’ But he certainly has committed a crime.”
But news organizations that published Snowden’s disclosures are just as culpable, Dershowitz said. These include The New York Times and The Washington Post.
“It is legally a crime to publish material that you know is classified, but [government officials] never go after legitimate newspapers for doing that. One of the problems is the law is so vague.”
And, as such, government prosecutors could easily decide which organizations to pursue.
“There should be one law for everybody, and we should change the law and make it clear whether the Times publishing classified material is a crime. If it is, they should be prosecuted,” Dershowitz said. “They would challenge it on constitutional grounds. They might or might not win, but we can’t allow the government to pick and choose.
“You don’t want the government to say: ‘The New York Times? That’s good. Wikileaks? We’re not so sure. If it’s a radical newspaper? Maybe not. Maybe if it’s a tea party newspaper, we’ll go after it.’
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“We don’t want to give the government any discretion as to which media to go after,” Dershowitz concluded. “The law has to be changed to make it absolutely clear what that red line is and when you cross it.”
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