Prominent Writers Urge Obama to Pardon Edward Snowden

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The following is a letter from more than 30 prominent writers who support a presidential pardon for Edward Snowden. It appeared as an advertisment in the November 22, 2016 edition of The New York Times.

Dear President Obama,

We the undersigned are American writers of nonfiction, fiction, poetry, drama, and of genres unclassifiable — such as this letter to our president.

We are writing you in request of a pardon for Edward Snowden.

As writers in this country, we daily exercise our right to free speech not as an end unto itself, but as a means of addressing the ideals by which that right is guaranteed—the ideals that our Founders regarded as derived from God, and that we ourselves tend to understand as the moral and ethical imperatives of our conscience.

The conflicts arising from this appeal to a higher authority are famous in philosophy and infamous in history: namely, the conflicts between individual and communal conceptions of truth, and between what is just and what is legal.

This, to our minds, accurately describes the binds in which Snowden found himself when he became privy to the vast, clandestine, and frequently illegal efforts of the United States government to spy on the lives of its own citizens.

Having sworn an oath to support and defend the U.S. Constitution, Snowden proceeded to do just that, 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.”

We the people are now well informed, and yet the man who has risked his freedom in the interests of our better self-governance languishes in Russian exile, faced with the prospect of returning home to a trial deprived of a public interest defense, and so, in all likelihood, a cell.

This, in our opinion, is exactly the type of circumstance for which the presidency has been invested with the pardon privilege.

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. 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.

This, at least, is the manner in which Hamilton understood the privilege, calling it, in Federalist Paper #74, the president’s “benign prerogative,” the “mercy” of a single, and singular, conscience examining itself unfettered.

Such Hamiltonian mercy seems at a premium in this digital age, in which everything we communicate, everything we do, can be stored and accessed in perpetuity — an age whose capacity for total memory and sheer invasive capabilities have proven unforgiving.

Technologies that would have been miracles to our forebears have become mundane fixtures of American life during the course of your administration, and yet they represent only the most nascent manifestations of a new frontier unimaginable in resource and dimension. In the global rush to stake a claim to this virtual territory, our common law will always lag behind our uncommon ingenuity, which makes it more incumbent upon the executive than ever to reset the pace, and so to set the standard.

By pardoning Snowden and permitting him to return free to the country he loves, your administration would be sending a message to the future — 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.


Nicholson Baker

Michael Chabon

Joshua Cohen

Teju Cole

Michael Cunningham

Geoff Dyer

Steve Erickson

Nick Flynn

Neil Gaiman

Rivka Galchen

Rachel Kushner

Ursula Le Guin

Ben Lerner

Rabbi Michael Lerner

Jonathan Lethem

Sam Lipsyte

Ben Marcus

Lydia Millet

Maggie Nelson

Joyce Carol Oates

Joseph O'Neill

Francine Prose

Norman Rush

Luc Sante

Christopher Sorrentino

Dana Spiotta

Cheryl Strayed

Lynne Tillman

Colm Tóibín

Ann Waldman

Ayelet Waldman

posted November 22, 2016 by Geoffrey King

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