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Norman Solomon: Clinton’s Debate Comments on Snowden “Give Hypocrisy a Bad Name”

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At Tuesday’s Democratic presidential debate, candidates offered differing views on what should happen to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden for exposing illegal mass surveillance. “He stole very important information that has unfortunately fallen into a lot of the wrong hands,” said front-runner Hillary Clinton. “So I don’t think he should be brought home without facing the music.” The four other candidates expressed appreciation for Snowden’s leaks and said his exposure of wrongdoing should be taken into account. We get reaction from Norman Solomon, longtime activist and executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.

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

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, I also want to ask about another whistleblower. During the first Democratic debate on Tuesday, candidates were 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.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was Bernie Sanders, one of the Democratic presidential candidates, speaking Tuesday night at the first Democratic debate, presidential candidate debate. Norman Solomon, could you respond to what each of the candidates said about Edward Snowden?

NORMAN SOLOMON: Well, it was one of the few bright spots for Lincoln Chafee in the debate in terms of making some coherent sense.

Martin O’Malley is somebody who used to be a governor of Maryland, where the NSA huge complexes, where, near BWI Airport, a lot of bandit corporations are making billions in dollars in profits off of exploitation of fear from 9/11, sucking dry the trough of taxpayer money to the NSA. And under O’Malley, as under other governors and the Legislature in Maryland, the NSA is basically running the state. So, his preposterous claims in the debate are pretty much par for the course for high Maryland officials.

Hillary Clinton gave hypocrisy a bad name. What she had to say had no intersection with reality. We have talked about how in the case of Jeffrey Sterling, but in many other instances such as the NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, another brave whistleblower, going through channels actually marked them for persecution and prosecution. And the idea that Hillary Clinton was floating, that somehow there are channels for whistleblowers to go through in the so-called national security arena as whistleblowers, that is ridiculous. And either she was being mendacious or ignorant, or some combination.

I think Bernie Sanders handled it the best in terms of scoping out and describing the terrain. And for the most part, I think Edward Snowden would probably agree with what he said. Snowden is willing to say, “Well, I broke some laws, which are greatly superseded by the necessity to act on one’s conscience and to defend the Constitution.” And Snowden said he’s willing to maybe, with a fair trial, do a little bit of jail time, but not what the government is trying to do, which is to give him the Chelsea Manning treatment and put him in prison and throw away the key and make him basically incommunicado. So I think Sanders handled that pretty well.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to end with Holly Sterling on your husband, Jeffrey Sterling. What’s giving you the strength today? You’ve never spoken out in public. You’re holding a news conference at the National Press Club.

HOLLY STERLING: The strength is just the foundation of Jeffrey and I. You know, we’ve basically endured this our entire relationship. And I have to be our voice, since he hasn’t—he doesn’t have the opportunity to have the voice. But the strength also comes from the support of wonderful people like Norman Solomon, our friends, our family. There are people that truly care about Jeffrey and want to see that justice is done in this case. And so, I’m not going to stop, actually, until I get an answer from the president. Jeffrey is owed that.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us, Holly Sterling, wife of Jeffrey Sterling, imprisoned CIA whistleblower; and Norman Solomon, executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, co-founder of RootsAction.org and coordinator of ExposeFacts.org.

When we come back, we’re going to Tel Aviv, to Haifa and to Jerusalem. Is a Third Intifada underway? Stay with us.

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