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The ACLU Is About to Launch a Campaign Asking Obama to Pardon Edward Snowden

Civil liberties groups are hoping the release of Oliver Stone's 'Snowden' will spur widespread enthusiasm for a presidential pardon.
Image: VICE on HBO

On Wednesday, the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and other prominent human rights organizations will launch a formal campaign asking President Obama to pardon Edward Snowden for revealing the National Security Agency's mass surveillance programs.

The long-expected campaign will start just two days before Oliver Stone's Snowden hits theaters. The hope is that Stone's largely sympathetic portrayal of the whistleblower will further help Snowden's image nationwide.


"I think Oliver will do more for Snowden in two hours than his lawyers have been able to do in three years," Ben Wizner, Snowden's lawyer and director of the ACLU's Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, told me after a screening of the film at the Brooklyn Public Library.

"We are going to be doing both a mass signature campaign around the world and trying to get prominent individuals and organizations to join our call to President Obama to pardon Snowden before he leaves office," he said, adding that more information would be available after a press conference Wednesday.

Starting Wednesday, the groups will ask for signatures in support of Snowden at Much of the site is currently password protected, but the shell that is currently up confirms that both ACLU and Amnesty International will be involved. Facebook and Twitter accounts for the campaign have also been reserved, but none of the accounts have updated.

That civil liberties groups and Snowden's legal team would formally ask for a pardon as Obama is set to leave office is no surprise. Wizner told New York magazine earlier this summer that his legal team would "make a very strong case between [June] and the end of this administration that this is one of those rare cases for which the pardon power exists."

Image: Jason Koebler

At the Toronto Film Festival, Stone said he "hopes" Obama pardons Snowden, but was quick to note that, considering Obama expanded the mass surveillance programs Snowden uncovered, he doesn't expect it to happen.


In July 2015, the Obama administration finally responded to a petition from 2013 asking for a Snowden pardon; the White House wrote that Snowden "should come home to the United States, and be judged by a jury of his peers—not hide behind the cover of an authoritarian regime."

I'll have a full review of Snowden later this week, but I can say confidently that fears that the movie would be overly dramatic and perhaps would suck are unfounded. Seeing NSA agents use dramatized versions of PRISM, which could pull private data directly from the servers of Apple, Google, Facebook, and several other major tech companies, and X-Keyscore, a sort of hybrid search/spy engine for people, is far more visceral for most people than reading another Glenn Greenwald scoop or Snowden interview.

"We think the proper response to Edward Snowden shouldn't be what the punishment should be, it should be how to thank him."

Stone said Sunday that he didn't set out to make an specifically activist film, but noted that he wanted to stick as close to the truth as possible without turning the film into "a bore."

"I don't think all day about how to activate and bring about reform," he said. "Ed Snowden is there tweeting all the time and is thinking about reform. He spend a lot of time on this issue."

Snowden was charged in 2013 under the Espionage Act, a 1917 law that forbids the dissemination of classified information. That law makes no distinction between a whistleblower giving documents about illegal government activities to journalists and spies who give information to foreign governments. Wizner says that winning a case under that law would be exceedingly difficult, because it would prevent him from bringing evidence about the reforms Congress has made since Snowden first began leaking information.

"Unless the government is willing to consider charging him with something appropriate, there's not going to be a trial if we have anything to say about it. That doesn't mean there couldn't be some other kind of agreement," Wizner said. "We think the proper response to Edward Snowden shouldn't be what the punishment should be, it should be how to thank him. And until that's the case, he is living safely where he is."