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2013-07-29

Holder Tells Russia Snowden Won’t Face Torture or Death, But Does U.S. Record Undermine Its Pledge?

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The Obama administration has assured Russia that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden will not be executed or tortured if he is sent back to the United States. In a letter to his Russian counterpart, Attorney General Eric Holder said Snowden does not face the death penalty and would not even if charged with additional crimes. Holder said his assurances eliminate the grounds for Snowden’s asylum bid in Russia and said the United States is prepared to issue him a passport valid for returning to the United States. "It’s sad that the U.S. has to [promise] it won’t torture people or kill, but in fact it’s meaningless," says Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights and a lawyer for WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange. "It’s not necessarily enforceable by Snowden, but even more importantly, think about how the U.S. defines torture. The U.S. doesn’t really think that anything it did under the Bush era was torture, with the exception possibly of waterboarding. So that means Snowden can be subjected to every enhanced interrogation techniques — lights on all the time, loud noise, cold temperatures, hot temperatures, strapped into a chair. Second, it doesn’t say anything in the letter we won’t put him into some underground cell and keep him there the rest of his life."

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now from the trial of Bradley Manning to National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, who remains in the transit zone of Moscow’s International Airport. On Wednesday, the House narrowly rejected a proposal to block the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of data on all phone calls placed in the United States. The vote came after NSA director, General Keith Alexander, personally lobbied House members, reportedly calling their cellphones and opening with a joke that, yes, he already had their number. Many of those who voted to continue the data collection received twice as much campaign financing from the defense and intelligence industry as those who voted against it. An analysis by the nonprofit group Maplight shows defense cash was a better predictor of a member’s vote on the amendment than party affiliation.

On Friday, Edward Snowden’s father, Lon Snowden, told The Today Show he disagrees that the NSA programs his son exposed are crucial for national security.

LON SNOWDEN: No, I absolutely do not agree—I absolutely do not agree with that. Certainly, we have a need for a strong intelligence community and a strong conventional defense. But many of those same people who will go back and suggest that we must fund these obscenely expensive programs that drive massive profits for companies like Booz Allen Hamilton and the Chernoff Group, for which Michael Hayden is a principal, it’s all about the money. ... If you look at the concerted effort by both—many of these congressmen, the Peter Kings of the world, the Mike Rogers, the Michele Bachmanns, the Dutch Ruppersbergers, to demonize my son, to focus the issue on my son, and not to talk about the fact that they had a responsibility to ensure that these programs were constitutional.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald announced Sunday he would soon publish new details to confirm former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s claim that low-level analysts can listen to the phone calls of any American, or even read President Obama’s emails.

GLENN GREENWALD: The story I’ve been working on for the last month, that we’re publishing this week, very clearly sets forth what these programs are that NSA analysts—low-level ones, not just the ones who work for the NSA, but private contractors like Mr. Snowden—are able to do. The NSA has trillions of telephone calls and emails in their databases that they’ve collected over the last several years. And what these programs are are very simple screens, like the ones that supermarket clerks or shipping and receiving clerks use, where all an analyst has to do is enter an email address or an IP address, and it does two things: It searches that database and lets them listen to the calls or read the emails of everything that the NSA has stored or look at the browsing histories or Google search terms that you’ve entered, and it also alerts them to any further activity that people connected to that email address or that IP address do in the future. And it’s all done with no need to go to a court, with no need to even get supervisor approval from on the part of the analyst. There are legal constraints for how you can spy on Americans. You can’t target them without going to the FISA court. But these systems allow analysts to listen to whatever emails they want, whatever telephone calls, browsing history, Microsoft Word documents. It’s an incredibly powerful and invasive tool, exactly of the type that Mr. Snowden described. And NSA officials are going to be testifying before the Senate on Wednesday, and I defy them to deny that these programs work exactly as I just said.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald speaking Sunday on ABC’s This Week. Now, Greenwald is expected to testify, not in person, not coming into the United States, but by video link from Brazil Wednesday at a separate congressional hearing alongside other critics of NSA spying. Later on the same show, Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia disputed Greenwald’s report. He is vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS: I was back out at NSA just last week, spent a couple hours out there with high-level and low-level NSA officials. And what I have been assured of is that there is no capability in—at NSA for anyone without a court order to listen to any telephone conversation or to monitor any email. In fact, we don’t monitor emails. That’s what kind of assures me that what the reporting is is not correct, because no emails are monitored now. They used to be, but that stopped two or three years ago. So I feel confident that there may have been some abuse, but if it was, it was pure accidental.

AMY GOODMAN: All of this comes as Attorney General Eric Holder sent a letter to the Russian minister of justice last week insisting the United States would not seek the death penalty against Edward Snowden and would issue him what it called a "limited validity passport good for direct return to the United States." The letter also offered reassurances that the U.S. would not torture Edward Snowden.

Well, for more, we remain with Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights and a lawyer for Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, which is involved with helping Edward Snowden get from Hong Kong to Russia.

Michael, this letter that was sent by Attorney General Eric Holder to his Russian counterpart that says we will not torture or kill Edward Snowden?

MICHAEL RATNER: You know, it’s not worth anything, Amy, and it’s laughable. It’s sad that the U.S. has to write such a letter, that it won’t torture people or kill them. But in fact it’s meaningless. First, it’s not necessarily enforceable by Ed Snowden. But even more importantly, think about how the U.S. defines torture. The U.S. doesn’t really think that anything it did under the Bush era was torture, with the exception possibly of waterboarding. So that means Ed Snowden can be subjected to every enhanced interrogation techniques—you know, lights on all the time, loud noise, cold temperatures, hot temperatures, strapped into a chair. All of the, quote, "enhanced interrogation techniques" are allowed under U.S. view of torture. That’s one. Secondly, prolonged, arbitrary detention? It doesn’t say anything in the letter we won’t put him into some underground cell and keep him there the rest of his life. And then it says he doesn’t have any right to asylum. And that’s just wrong. Whistleblowers are entitled to apply for asylum, and it can’t be interfered with by the United States. This letter is meaningless. It’s a PR ploy. People shouldn’t even look at it.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me just quote more from Attorney General Eric Holder’s letter that he sent to the Russian justice minister. He said, "Mr. Snowden will not be tortured. Torture is unlawful in the United States." Holder went on to say, "If he returns to the United States, Mr. Snowden would be brought before a civilian court convened under Article of the United States Constitution and supervised by a United States District Judge." Holder also added, quote, "We believe that these assurances eliminate these asserted grounds for Mr. Snowden’s claim that he should be treated as a refugee or granted asylum, temporary or otherwise." Michael Ratner?

MICHAEL RATNER: Yeah, it’s what I said. I mean, torture is illegal in the words of the United States’ statute, but what they—United States has redefined torture so that it no longer complies with international law, and includes enhanced interrogation techniques. Secondly, the reason for asylum is, one, how he will be treated here and not get a fair trial, which I’ve just indicated. But it’s also because he’s a whistleblower, and he’s one who has revealed publicly important information about human rights violations by the United States. He’s entitled to refugee status because of that. Holder doesn’t even address that.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, the issue that—the breaking news last week that he would be issued temporary asylum in Russia, what happened? Why is he still in the airport?

MICHAEL RATNER: I don’t know the answer to that, Amy. All I know is—on that issue, I just—I know what I read, that, so far, that something with the paperwork has been fouled up or something like that. And as far as we know, he’s still in the airport.

AMY GOODMAN: Can he get a fair trial if he returns to the United States?

MICHAEL RATNER: Absolutely not. Ask yourself if Bradley Manning is getting a fair trial, and think about what would happen to Ed Snowden. Ed Snowden has a lot of support. Bradley Manning has a lot of support, as well. But they’re still not getting fair trials in the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: And the U.S. putting pressure on other countries? We saw they brought down the Bolivian flight, forced the president, his plane down in Austria by not—by pressing countries not to allow the Bolivian president to fly through the airspace of France and Spain, fearing that Edward Snowden was on board that plane, which he wasn’t.

MICHAEL RATNER: You know, first it’s the bully in the schoolyard, the big imperial country deciding whatever it wants, when it wants, and using the big stick when it wants. But it’s also illegal. Obviously it was illegal to force a presidential plane with immunity and the president to go down, to land. And secondly, it’s illegal to interfere with someone’s right to get asylum. That’s 100 percent. If Snowden had been on that plane, they couldn’t interfere with his right to apply for asylum.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to leave it there. Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, lawyer for Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.

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