Curtain Raiser

Beware Unsolicited Gifts, Colltalers

Somebody must deliver an urgent message to Edward Snowden, the ex-NSA contractor, whose asylum in Russia has just been extended: don’t fall into a trap. Those floating the idea of returning you to the U.S., ‘as a gift,’ don’t have your best interests at heart. Also, they’re crazy.
In fact, now is possibly the worst time to play pawn in the hands of the Trump-Putin regime. Given what’s happening, ‘president’ Steve Bannon may be hedging his bets with a Pentagon overture, in case things go south, and he needs a war of diversion to remain in power.
Snowden, who’s still considered a traitor by large segments of the armed forces, would fit nicely in this equation. Having him trialled and sentenced to prison – for revealing the staggering extent by which U.S. intelligence spies on ordinary citizens here and abroad – would not just avenge the enraged community, but also place this administration on the good side of those who ultimately control the U.S. war machine.
Snowden, who is also a former CIA employee, has so far displayed exemplary restrain and self-sacrifice. He did not voluntarily choose to be stranded in Russia, it’s always useful to mention, but was forced to seek asylum there in 2013, after the U.S. threatened to throw him in jail.
Whether his was a act of civil disobedience, as rights organizations consider it, or treason, as the Pentagon declared it, is a matter to be decided in the court of civil, not military, law. After all, his revelations ignited an important conversation about the right of individuals to be protected from prying eyes of shadowy intel agencies, operating mostly above the law. And they did not cause harm to agents in the field.
Passing confidential information to the press, however, was a violation of at least the terms and conditions of his employment, and as such, a matter that deserves to be taken to court. Even though he wisely chose a team of reputed journalists to vet and decide what part of the large trove of documents he copied should be published, and did not profit from his actions in any way, it’s still a serious legal issue.
Just so happens that the U.S. Judiciary has had one of the most meaningful weeks in recent times, perfectly exercising its constitutional role to serve as a checks and balances to acts

of the government. And handed the Trump administration its most resounding defeat so far.
Twice in less than a week, independent judges denied the president his intention to ban immigrants to the U.S. based on origin and religion.
Since Congress, with its Republican majority and complicit Democrats, has shown no autonomy and rubber stamped everything that came their way from the Executive branch, the majority of Americans were supported only by the U.S. court system, which demonstrated that it’s alive and well. It was a time to give due credit once again to the Founding Fathers, who over two centuries ago, foresaw just such a situation.
There’s no saying how long the legal apparatus will be able to withstand the pressure that the administration has mounted, to intimidate it and make it a mere tool of its agenda. The president, as now it’s usual, even penned a ‘see you in court’ tweet (as if judges work anywhere else).
But the other good news of the week was the irruption of protest rallies all over the country, showing that citizens are more than ever engaged on defending America’s democracy against a president who’s shown only contempt to it. In less than a month (it’s still hard to believe it) of the new administration, more Americans may have taken to the streets than the entire 2016 presidential campaign, and possibly even longer.
Speaking of Twitter, Snowden also responded to the speculation that his name may have been discussed in the inner circles of Washington and the Kremlin, as a possible bargaining exchange. And has expressed an unexpected, if somewhat old-fashioned, guilelessness about it.
‘Finally: irrefutable evidence that I never cooperated with Russian intel. No country trades away spies, as the rest would fear they’re next,’ he wrote. It’s a view that wouldn’t be out of place during the Cold War, circa 1951. Now, it only shows a misguidedly blind faith on the system.
He’s not just assuming that, oranges being oranges, countries still count on spies to abide by honor and patriotism rules. But also completely ignores how different animals U.S. and Russian are these days, who are the protagonists of this drama and what they’re trying to accomplish here.
Neither Trump nor Putin are the least interested in providing Snowden with any resemblance of justice, or even a fair trail process. For all we know, the military is eager to get him to make his case an example, as it had done with Chelsea Manning before, and even more now that she’s been pardoned by President Obama. Who, yes, could’ve done the same for Snowden, but see now what he’d have gotten himself into?
Also, we mentioned the stellar performance of the Judiciary in staring down the administration, but it did so in great part out of popular pressure against a series of unfair and totally disastrous decisions, that only sowed chaos and confusion and yes, made the U.S. appear weak.
The circumstances that make Snowden an extraordinary figure in the recent history of the U.S. civil rights movement have again receded to the background, and the historical significance of his actions are not yet incorporated into the larger context of the movement’s struggles. Thus, the impact of his revelations are still too raw to be properly processed and given the importance that would ultimately exonerate him.
Give it time, and they will, and he will too. He deserves the nation’s undivided attention, and an eventual trial should be able to include ample debate about the very role of intel agencies to effectively protect us, without taking away our civil rights. We’re now too busy to be distracted by yet, another venue of dissatisfaction, us being a short-span nation of coach potatoes as we are. Not an easy suggestion, we admit.
But someone should, we insist, tell him that he needs to wait a bit longer. We’re very sorry, but by rushing to ‘offer’ himself as part of whatever ‘clash of civilizations’ Bannon may have on his mind, in order to perpetuate his position, Snowden may disarm a crucial weapon in his arsenal, even there, in Russia: the possible public uproar against his deportation, which may appear despotic, and a Putin backlash.
A final, and sad, note about the stranding of over 600 pilot whales in New Zealand, this week, one the biggest ever. Despite hundreds of volunteers, who rushed to Farewell Spit beach to try to save and guide them back to deep water, only a fraction has managed to survive.
Marine scientists are yet to determine the cause to such heartbreaking phenomenon, which has increased exponentially since the 1950s. But one possible theory, which best explains it, is that whales become disoriented with the worldwide network of powerful undersea sonars, that used to track the movement of submarines after WWII for the military. They’re no longer used for that purpose but are still active.
It’s another man-made disruption of natural life, in this case, one that has caused irreparable damage to a complex and still unknown creature that shares this planet with us. Who knows for how much longer, as incidents like these don’t bode well to any optimistic view of the future.
In any event, please message Snowden, and to end on an upbeat note, kiss your darlings tomorrow and be happy: it’s Valentine’s Day. WC


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