US & Canada

Edward Snowden: ACLU and Amnesty seek presidential pardon

Edward Snowden
Image caption Snowden has been living in Russia since 2013

Two of the most prominent human rights organisations in the United States are about to launch a campaign for the presidential pardon of Edward Snowden.

The American Civil Liberties Union and Amnesty International are ready to launch the "Pardon Snowden" campaign.

They are urging President Barack Obama to act before he leaves office in January 2017.

The launch this week coincides with the release of an Oliver Stone biopic about the former NSA contractor.

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The campaign group has created a website,, though its content remains behind a password-protected login. The campaign has also registered social media accounts in preparation for the launch.

Mr Snowden, who is living in exile in Russia, is expected to speak by video link at the launch.

But on Monday the White House reiterated President Obama's position that Mr Snowden should face charges in the US because his leaks "damaged the United States".

Mr Snowden would be "treated fairly and consistent with the law" if he returned to the US, said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.

'No chance'

Amnesty International, one of the supporters of the new campaign, has repeatedly backed Mr Snowden since he released details of mass phone and internet surveillance by his former employer, the NSA.

They have said that no-one should be prosecuted for exposing human rights violations, which, they claimed, is what "indiscriminate mass surveillance of communications" amounts to.

The ACLU acts as Snowden's legal adviser, and has called him "a great American who deserves clemency for his patriotic acts".

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Media captionSnowden has continued his activism - revealing UK phone-hacking capabilities "named after Smurfs" last year

Analysis: Anthony Zurcher, senior North America reporter, Washington

The chances of Barack Obama pardoning Edward Snowden before he leaves office stand somewhere between zero and infinitesimal.

The head of an administration that aggressively prosecuted Chelsea Manning, that has shown little sympathy for government whistleblowers and leakers of all stripes, will not find last-stroke-of-midnight sympathy for a man who has caused endless headaches for the US intelligence community.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Barack Obama's White House has shown little sympathy for whistleblowers to date

Yes, past presidents have made headlines with surprising moves before they exited the Oval Office. Bill Clinton aided big-money donor Marc Rich.

George HW Bush pardoned former Defence Secretary Caspar Weinberger and others who were implicated in the Reagan-era Iran-Contra affair.

But Mr Obama owes Edward Snowden nothing - and the president would elicit a firestorm if he forgave a man that many Americans still view as a traitor and a spy who should only set foot on US soil again to stand trial.

Star power

Mr Snowden is the subject of a biographical film from acclaimed director Oliver Stone, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last week.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays the titular NSA contractor in Snowden, and the cast includes stars Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto and Shailene Woodley.

In a press conference, Gordon-Levitt - who met Snowden while preparing for the role - said he hoped the whistleblower might receive a presidential pardon.

"Mr Snowden would come back and face trial if he could get a fair trial," he said.

"Maybe the movie could help."

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Image caption Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Snowden in the upcoming biopic

Director Oliver Stone, meanwhile, spoke about the government's "illegal" activity.

"This is a secret underworld and no-one in the NSA has come forward," Stone told a press conference on Saturday.

"It's a detective story - it goes into something we don't know. The government lies about it all the time and what they are doing is illegal - and they keep doing it.

"This is a very upsetting story but at the same time it's a drama - it's a great combination."

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