Mr. Kerry: Why Snowden can’t “Make his Case” in “Our System of Justice”

By Juan Cole

Secretary of State John Kerry said that Edward Snowden should “return home and come back here and stand in our system of justice and make his case.” Kerry seems to have a high opinion of the Department of Justice and the US courts when it comes to national security issues. I can’t imagine for the life of me why. Kerry is either amazingly ignorant or being disingenuous when he suggests that Snowden would be allowed to “make his case” if he returned to the US. No one outside the penal justice system would ever see him again, the moment he set foot here, assuming he was not given a prior deal. He could maybe try to explain himself to the prison guards, assuming they didn’t stick him in solitary. Here are some reasons Mr. Snowden would be unwise to trust himself to that system, given the charges against him:

1. The United Nations Special Rapporteur found that the US was guilty of cruel and inhuman treatment of Chelsea (Bradley) Manning, who was responsible for the Wikileaks and revelations of US killing of unarmed journalists in Iraq. Manning was kept in solitary confinement and isolated 23 hours a day for months on end, was kept naked and chained to a bed, and was subjected to sleep deprivation techniques, all three well known forms of torture, on the trumped up pretext that he was suicidal (his psychiatrist disagreed).

2. The Espionage Act under which Snowden would likely be tried is a fascist law from the time when President Woodrow Wilson (like Obama a scholar of the constitution) was trying to take the US into the war, and was used to repeal the First Amendment right of Americans to protest this action. It was used to arbitrarily imprison thousands and is full of unconstitutional provisions. In recent decades the act was used against whistleblowers only three times, but Barack Obama loves it to death. It is an embarrassment that it is still on the books and it reflects extremely badly on Obama and on Eric Holder that they have revived it as a tool against whistleblowing (which is most often a public service).

3. John Kiriakou, who revealed CIA torture under Bush-Cheney, was prevented by the Espionage Act from addressing the jury to explain the intentions behind his actions and therefore forced into a plea bargain. None of the CIA officers who perpetrated the torture or their superiors, who ordered it, have been punished, but Kiriakou is in prison and his family is in danger of losing the house because of the lack of income. The US public deserved to know about the torture rather than having Obama bury it the way he has buried so many other things wrong with the system.

4. National security officials such as Snowden are not covered by protections for whistleblowers in the Federal government, as Thomas Drake discovered. Drake helped bring to public attention the National Security Agency abuses that Snowden eventually made more transparent. But he was forced to plea bargain to a charge of misusing government computers. He lost his career and his retirement, for trying to let us know that when faced with a choice between a surveillance system that was indiscriminate and one that was targeted, the US government went indiscriminate. Indiscriminate is unconstitutional.


5. Not only did the US torture Manning, US officials have on many occasions practiced arbitrary arrest and imprisonment and torture. Most often these policies have been enacted abroad, as at Abu Ghraib, Bagram, Guantanamo, and black sites in countries such as Poland. But arbitrary arrest, trigger-happy killings, and extended solitary confinement are all practiced domestically as well, on America’s vast gulag of 2.4 million prisoners, 4/5s of them black or brown. A fourth of all the prisoners in jail in the entire world of 7 billion people are in the United States. At any one time 80,000 US prisoners are in 23-hour-a-day solitary confinement. Abu Ghraib wasn’t a low-level military excess. It was simply the transposition to Iraq of the ideals of an incarcerating society, dedicated to disciplining and interrogating those who fall into the system’s hands. You don’t get these outcomes– a fourth of the world’s prisoners and a small city worth people in solitary confinement– by accident. These abuses are systemic, and worsened by the privatization of prisons. John Kerry’s notion that there is a fair trial to be had for Snowden in this cruelly flawed system is bizarre.


Kerry is a bright and informed man and knows all this. I vote for disingenuous. He is just trying to deflect Snowden’s obvious popularity with the public and is trying desperately to keep the NSA warrantless dragnet on us all in place. I remember when he compared the US military in Vietnam to the Mongol hordes. He should take off those big black expensive shiny shoes once in a while. He’d find feet of clay there now.

20 Responses

  1. Of course if Snowden did “man up”, came home, and somehow got to tell his side (with a duct taped mouth), that would only add to the charges against him since anything he would say will be labeled classified.

  2. I don’t think disingenuous describes Kerry. It’s way more sinister than that. He was told what to say by the Obama administration, and he’s just toeing the line. I also disagree that Snowden is popular. I think people are by and large indifferent, clueless or unsympathetic to him.

  3. All very true and well said. The strange bending in office of persons like Obama and Kerry to the will of the military appears to be due in part to poor structuring of the executive branch. The JCS and NSC have policy prejudices and have the ear of top officials. Instead there should be a College of Policy Advisors strucured to protect divergent opinion and drawn from an independent College of Policy Analysis (call them what you will) in which the unpopular opinion is protected and “group think” is rejected. The executive should be impeachable if it departs from their consensus (if any) and should be unable to change their makeup. Of course that will work only when the mass media are freed of economic tyranny by requiring their funding from limited individual contributions.

  4. Kewrry thinks Swowden should “man up” and return to USA for trial. I think Kerry should ““man up” and join the ICC for a possible trial.

  5. I watched the interview of Snowden, who seemed articulate and sincere. Then the cut to Kerry (the kept man) calling Snowden a coward and all I could think is “what an asshole,” and rebuked myself for ever voting for him and his slimebag womanizing VP candidate, Edwards. Of course the only other option was Bu$h and Dickhead Cheney, – and that’s my excuse!

    • Guess what!! You’re going to get the same choice in 2016 as you had in 2004. Choose the lesser of two evils who may very well be more evil than anyone else to date.

  6. ” I can’t imagine for the life of me why. Kerry is either amazingly ignorant or being disingenuous when he suggests that Snowden would be allowed to “make his case” if he returned to the US. ”

    How about what Kerry is saying is from the script concocted by the Obama administration? When authoritarians address the masses they are convinced they have the right to say whatever they want whether it is true or not. The point is to persuade the masses to follow.

    • Our local TV station held a poll to decide whether Snowden is a hero or a traitor. 42% percent bought into the BS from the Obama administration and the fawning corporate media. 58% in a “conservative” part of the state think otherwise.

    • We might also consider the privileged and aristocratic educational environment through which Kerry and others like him – Bill Kristol, the Bushes, etc. – passed through so that they could assume positions of power where they could consign countless people to death and destruction without any apparent troubling of conscience.

  7. Disingenuous? Perhaps that’s a gentle word for lying. Kerry is deliberately deceiving us about the nature of our criminal justice system. Most of our society is willingly deceived, so his job is easy.

  8. “I can’t imagine for the life of me why. Kerry is either amazingly ignorant or being disingenuous when he suggests that Snowden would be allowed to “make his case” if he returned to the US.”

    Professor, Mr. Kerry married into great wealth and has forgotten who he once was and what he once stood for. How much of his Winter Soldier testimony would he now offer up on the topic of Edward Snowden? I suggest that he wouldn’t not offer up a single word even though the crimes of the NSA match those of the Vietnam War he orated against.

  9. Elegantly stated, Juan. No amount of pretense on the part of either Kerry or Obama should re-assure us as to how our political society treats whistleblowers. In fact, this is where “outrageous conspiracy theories” begin, precisely where intelligent men move like zombies and say things they know are not true.

  10. With respect to the graph of “Incarcerated Americans.” Would be nice to see a comparison of public/private prisoner accommodation thru the sme period.

  11. As a fellow Vietnam veteran, I find John Kerry to be completely out of his depths as our secretary of state. But I stopped taking him seriously when as a senator he voted for George W. Bush’s resolution to war against Iraq which eerily reminded me in its hysterical propaganda campaign of the specious arguments LBJ made to ram through the Senate his Gulf of Tonkin resolution. Now you would have thought as a Vietnam veteran that Kerry had already learned or at least faintly remembered the painful lessons of the Vietnam War. He’s unfortunately the limousine liberal version of George W. Bush, namely, he doesn’t do “nuisance” when it comes to either our foreign policy or our wars. So when Kerry said that Snowden should “man up” and face the music here, he’s once again showing how he loves to grandstand with his faux machismo. Or as they say down in Texas, he’s all hat and no cattle. And of course, what does that really say about President Obama in his choice of an important cabinet position in his administration? Snowden has a true moral compass. Kerry also once had a true moral compass when he testified before Congress as a prominent leader of the Vietnam veterans against the war. He become famous in the media when he asked during his testimony, Would you want to be the last soldier to die in Vietnam. And now look what he has turned into? Rather sad and tragic.

  12. The large amounts of prisoners in the U.S. can be traced to several factors:

    (A)the so-called “War on Drugs” since the 1980s that has authorized stiff prison terms and even mandatory prison sentences for mere possession of relatively small amounts of proscribed substances;

    (B) the abolition of parole in the U.S. Bureau of Prisons;

    (C)the tendency to criminalize almost every facet of social nonconformity – jailing citizens for such offenses as non-payment of child support obligations, talking too loudly on the phone in public, jaywalking etc.

    Corrections is big business and is being privatized more and more. Once you inject a profit motive for incarceration, you have a lobby advocating to legislators for mandatory sentences and criminalizing almost every act imaginable deemed inimical to the “public interest”.

    • I agree that such language is troubling. I do not seek to eliminate distinctions between men and women. I do seek to eliminate sexist language that equates “manning up” with honesty and bravery which leaves only their opposites for the opposite sex. It is a problematic pattern followed by warmongers and their critics alike.

  13. “Where was the NSA? That’s the question former State Department whistleblower Peter Van Buren recently asked at his We Meant Well blog — and it couldn’t be a smarter one.” link to

    And, what was the point in the NSA scooping up all this information that did nothing to stop the Boston Bombers?

    Perhaps Glenn Greenwald is right in his book “No Place to Hide” that the NSA’s programs form a new Panopticon to keep the masses aware they are under surveillance and the freedom that comes with privacy is no long available.

Comments are closed.