President Barack Obama has never taken kindly to whistleblowers, and it seems he hasn't changed his stance even in the twilight of his administration.
Asked about the possibility of pardoning Edward Snowden, the American who leaked thousands of documents from the National Security Agency, Obama said it's not going to happen.
"I can't pardon somebody who hasn't gone before a court and presented themselves, so that's not something that I would comment on at this point," Obama told Germany's Der Spiegel newspaper.
As the window closes on the Obama administration, Snowden advocates -- including prominent writers and civil libertarians -- have tried to pressure the president to pardon the 33-year-old former NSA contractor, who fled to Russia to escape prosecution at the hands of U.S. authorities.
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People familiar with the law say Obama can pardon Snowden without him returning to the U.S.
“Obama's claim that he cannot pardon Edward Snowden is misleading and factually incorrect,” Evan Greer of the advocacy group Fight for the Future told U.S. News & World Report.
By presenting it as a legal issue, rather than a moral or human issue, Obama is trying to escape the ire of Snowden's supporters, Snowden attorney Jesselyn Radack said.
"Obama can certainly grant a pardon to Snowden but does not want to upset the millions of Americans who support a pardon for Snowden by outright denying it,” Radack told U.S. News. “By avoiding a decision, however, Obama is effectively denying a pardon.”
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Snowden himself made the case for a pardon in September during an interview with The Guardian. Exposing secret government surveillance -- including programs in which western governments spied on their own citizens -- was necessary, the former contractor said.
He pointed out that several governments, including the U.S., changed intelligence policies as a result of the leaks, and said no one was hurt by the disclosures.
“If not for these disclosures, if not for these revelations, we would be worse off,” Snowden argued.
Although he campaigned on pledges of transparency and a new approach to governing, Obama's been accused of waging a "war on whistleblowers," and his administration has vigorously prosecuted government employees who leak to the press.
Ben Wizner, an ACLU attorney who has worked on Snowden's efforts to return home, told U.S. News that without genuine whistleblowers, Americans are kept in the dark about what their government is doing.
“I think most Americans recognize we’re going to need more whistleblowers in the next few years," Wizner said, "and one way to get fewer is to impose 35-year sentences on people who give information to the press."