December 28, 2020, New Delhi: It is perhaps one of 2020’s biggest judgments from the courts. Yet, it is among the year’s least known courtroom stories.
Ask people around you a simple question – ‘How do you thing was Edward Snowden’s 2020?’
You’ll probably hear things like – ‘He’s still stuck in Moscow, another year goes.’ Or you’ll hear, ‘He’s just had a baby, our man is settling down in Russia.’ You may also hear responses like, ‘Time’s running out for him; once Trump leave office, he’ll be dragged to the US and punished.’
It’s unlikely you’ll hear people mention a certain stunning court judgment that came on September 3 from San Francisco. It’s a court ruling that has escaped the masses by a couple of hundred light years.
That court ruling legally closed the case – once and for all – in favour of Snowden. And against America, the biggest empire of our times.
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On September 3, 2020, San Francisco’s 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the mass surveillance of the American public’s telephone records by the US National Security Agency (NSA) – as exposed by intelligence insider-turned-whistleblower Snowden – was actually an unlawful government programme.
The federal appeals court said the US intelligence community’s secretive telephone data collection system had violated US law and the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, which protects all Americans against unreasonable searches by their own government.
In simple words, the US government had acted illegally against its own people. It had acted against the Constitution.
For the first time ever, a major court in America was saying it most decisively. Mr Snowden, reduced to living the life of a fugitive, had won his case. The government had broken the law.
The problem is, this epic court ruling has hardly reached the masses. It’s a tragic irony that the case itself was about the masses. It was about how the US government was wiretapping the American masses.
Pandemic or no pandemic, there’s no valid reason why the global free press should not scream it out to the world that a top US court has held the government responsible for running a sophisticated surveillance programme illegally.
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But then it’s like putting the cart before the horse to innocently expect the global free press to scream out Snowden’s courtroom victory.
Where there’s an empire, there’s a press that works for the empire. So, people will only be told what suits the empire.
Snowden, now 37, is anchored in Moscow, under the tactical protection of an opportunistic Russia. It’s been seven years now. We keep hearing from him a lot. But only digitally. He’s stuck there in a golden cage. Far away from his homeland, which he had sought to protect from an anti-people government programme.
It is true that the Russian government – a very secretive Eastern empire – needs people like Snowden to be used as a bargaining chip against the West. It is also true that Snowden needs Moscow’s protective shield against the tentacles of a US government baying for his blood. Following what’s happening with Julian Assange?
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This Snowden-Russia ‘partnership’, however, doesn’t undo a simple yet powerful fact. That Snowden’s whistleblowing acts have successfully convinced the American judicial system that the US government indeed broke the law.
Snowden himself was pleasantly surprised with the judgment. He tweeted, “Seven years ago, as the news declared I was being charged as a criminal for speaking the truth, I never imagined that I would live to see our courts condemn the NSA’s activities as unlawful and in the same ruling credit me for exposing them. And yet that day has arrived.”
But four months on, the grim aftermath of the court judgment is that Snowden is still no way near being welcomed back to US shores.
For the US government, and for a huge lot of people in the US and around the world, he’s still a fugitive.
Still a traitor.
Still someone who stole state secrets.
Still someone who broke the law.
Still someone who works for Russia.
Still a national security threat.
Still someone who violated the US Espionage Act. An outdated act scripted way back in 1917. An act that shamelessly outlaws whistleblowing deeds against the US military and the US intelligence networks.
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The sad reality for Snowden is that the courtroom win was only a battle won. His and his well-wishers’ larger war against empire is being fought. And he’s cornered.
‘No one is above the law’ – empires will tell you that exists only in theory. In films, in novels, in lectures.
In reality, empire is above and beyond everything under the sun. Otherwise, Snowden would have been back in his homeland, happy, loved and celebrated.
(Credits for images: Laura Poitras / Praxis Films, Freedom of the Press Foundation, Wikimedia Commons)