Is Snowden a Hero or Traitor? Democrats Debate Whether NSA Whistleblower Should Face Jail Term

October 14, 2015


Zaid Jilani

staff writer at Alternet.

Les Payne

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and former editor at Newsday.

Jill Stein

2016 presidential candidate for the Green Party. She was the Green Party’s 2012 presidential nominee.

Democratic candidates sparred on Tuesday about what should happen to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. "He stole very important information that has unfortunately fallen into a lot of the wrong hands," said Hillary Clinton. "So I don’t think he should be brought home without facing the music." Lincoln Chafee praised Snowden’s actions: "What Snowden did showed that the American government was acting illegally per the Fourth Amendment. So I would bring him home."


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

AMY GOODMAN: The candidates were also asked if they viewed NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden as a hero or a traitor. This excerpt begins with former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee.

LINCOLN CHAFEE: I would bring him home. The courts have ruled that what he did was—what he did was say the American—

ANDERSON COOPER: Bring him home, no jail time?

LINCOLN CHAFEE: —the American government was acting illegally. That’s what the federal courts have said: What Snowden did showed that the American government was acting illegally per the Fourth Amendment.

ANDERSON COOPER: Secretary Clinton—

LINCOLN CHAFEE: So I would bring him home, yes.

ANDERSON COOPER: —hero or traitor?

HILLARY CLINTON: He broke the laws of the United States. He could have been a whistleblower. He could have gotten all of the protections of being a whistleblower. He could have raised all the issues that he has raised. And I think there would have been a positive response to that.

ANDERSON COOPER: Should he do jail time?

HILLARY CLINTON: In addition—in addition, he stole very important information that has unfortunately fallen into a lot of the wrong hands. So—

ANDERSON COOPER: Governor O’Malley?

HILLARY CLINTON: —I don’t think he should be brought home without facing the music.

ANDERSON COOPER: Governor O’Malley, Snowden?

MARTIN O’MALLEY: Anderson, Snowden put a lot of Americans’ lives at risk. Snowden broke the law. Whistleblowers do not run to Russia and try to get protection from Putin. If he really believes that, he should be back here.

ANDERSON COOPER: Senator Sanders, Edward Snowden?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: I think Snowden played a very important role in educating the American people to the degree in which our civil liberties and our constitutional rights are being undermined.

ANDERSON COOPER: Is he a hero?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: He did—he did break the law, and I think there should be a penalty to that. But I think what he did in educating us should be taken into consideration.

AMY GOODMAN: That last voice, of course, Bernie Sanders. Zaid Jilani, your response?

ZAID JILANI: Well, you know, again, I think it points—it points to a real fissure between sort of the Sanders sort of libertarian, left-type ideology and Hillary Clinton. You know, Hillary Clinton is a very strong believer in the authority of the government. I mean, that’s part of the reason why she supports these wars, part of the reason why she defends her vote for the PATRIOT Act, and part of the reason why she generally supported very strong policing and prisons, and she is a lifelong supporter of the death penalty. On the other hand, you have Sanders, who not only is a little bit libertarian on these civil liberties issues, but he’s also a little bit libertarian on guns. And I think that’s a real fissure that you’ll see among a lot of particularly young people, who have more libertarian views on this than sort of older Democrats, who are sort of more of the staunch supporters of more authoritarian and more sort of strict government policies. So I think that—you know, that there is a real fissure there, and I’d love to see the two of them debate this out into further issues, including the war on drugs, in further debates.

AMY GOODMAN: Les Payne, you’re a journalist. How do you feel about Edward Snowden?

LES PAYNE: About Snowden? Well, I think he broke the law, and, you know, I think he should—he should be tried.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think he served his country?

LES PAYNE: I think he did, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Jill Stein?

LES PAYNE: And I think the information served the American people. But when you take risks, I think you have to take responsibility for those risks.

DR. JILL STEIN: And I think he has paid more than his due. He performed an incredible service. While he broke a law, technically, he also served a much higher constitutional law which was being broken. I think he should be welcomed home as a hero. And I think Chelsea—Chelsea Manning, as well, you know, ought to be recognized as the hero that she is, and I would say the same for Julian Assange. We owe them all a great debt of gratitude.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I want to turn to the issue of climate change, which also came up during Tuesday evening’s debate. This begins with Senator Bernie Sanders.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Well, I will tell you this. I believe, and Pope Francis made a point, this is a moral issue. The scientists are telling us that we need to move extremely boldly. I am proud that, along with Senator Barbara Boxer, a few years ago, we introduced the first piece of climate change legislation which called for a tax on carbon. And let me also tell you that nothing is going to happen unless we are prepared to deal with campaign finance reform, because the fossil fuel industry is funding the Republican Party, which denies the reality of climate change, and certainly is not prepared to go forward aggressively. This is a moral issue. We have got to be extremely aggressive in working with China, India, Russia.

ANDERSON COOPER: Thank you, Senator.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: The planet—the future of the planet is at stake.

ANDERSON COOPER: Secretary Clinton, I want you to be able to respond, then I’m going to go to Dana.

HILLARY CLINTON: Well, that—that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. When we met in Copenhagen in 2009—and, literally, President Obama and I were hunting for the Chinese, going throughout this huge convention center, because we knew we had to get them to agree to something, because there will be no effective efforts against climate change unless China and India join with the rest of the world. They told us they had left for the airport. We found out they were having a secret meeting. We marched up, we broke in, we said, "We’ve been looking all over for you. Let’s sit down and talk about what we need to do." And we did come up with the first international agreement that China has signed. Thanks to President Obama’s leadership, it’s now gone much further.


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