LA Times editorial board calls for prosecution of journalistic sources

The LAT's editorial page calls for Snowden to return to the US to be put on trial because we live in a "society of laws," but this commitment to the rule of law only reaches to a single source, and not the many "unnamed sources" who reveal secrets that have been tacitly cleared by the US government.

I see this argument often and it's hard to overstate how foul it is. To begin with, if someone really believes that, they should be demanding the imprisonment of every person who ever leaks information deemed "classified," since it's an argument that demands the prosecution of anyone who breaks the law, or at least "consequences" for them. That would mean dragging virtually all of Washington, which leaks constantly and daily, into a criminal court – to say nothing of their other crimes such as torture. But of course such high-minded media lectures about the "rule of law" are applied only to those who are averse to Washington's halls of power, not to those who run them.

More important, Snowden was "prepared to accept the consequences." When he decided to blow the whistle, he knew that there was a very high risk that he'd end up in a U.S. prison for decades – we though that'd be the most likely outcome – and yet he did it anyway. And even now, he has given up his family, his home, his career, and his ability to travel freely – hardly someone free of "consequences."

But that doesn't mean he has to meekly crawl to American authorities with his wrists extended and politely ask to be put in cage for 30 years, almost certainly in some inhumane level of penal oppression typically reserved for Muslims and those accused of national security crimes. The idea that anyone who breaks an unjust law has a moral obligation to submit to an unjust penal state and accept lengthy imprisonment is noxious and authoritarian.

Without making any comparisons but instead just to illustrate the principle involved: anyone decent regards Nelson Mandela as a heroic moral actor, but he didn't submissively turn himself into the South African government in order to be imprisoned. Instead, he avoided criminal prosecution for as long as he could by evading arrest and remaining a fugitive (and was captured only when the CIA, which regarded him as a "terrorist," helped its apartheid allies find and apprehend him).

Third, anyone who has even casually watched the post-9/11 American judicial system knows what an absurdity it is to claim that Snowden would receive a fair trial. He's barred under the Espionage Act even from arguing that his leaks were justified; he wouldn't be permitted to utter a word about that. The American judiciary has been almost uniformly subservient to the U.S. Government in national security prosecutions. And the series of laws that have been enacted in the name of terrorism almost guarantee conviction in such cases.

LA Times Editors Advocate Prosecution of Sources: the Media Lessons from Snowden Reporting [Glenn Greenwald/The Intercept]

(Image: Breads's Gibbet Iron, public domain)