On “Democracy Now!” on Wednesday morning, Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges debated University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey Stone — the man who hired Barack Obama to teach constitutional law at that school and later served as the president’s informal adviser — on the question of whether NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden is a hero or a traitor.

Stone argued that Snowden’s actions were simply criminal and that he deserves punishment for making “the decision, on his own, without any authorization and any approval by the American people to reveal classified information about which he had absolutely no expertise in terms of the danger to the nation, the value of the information to national security. … That was a completely irresponsible and dangerous thing to do.”

Hedges responded: “What we’re really having a debate about is whether we’re going to have a free press left or not. If there are no Snowdens, if there are no Mannings, if there are no Assanges, there will be no free press. … Let’s not forget that Snowden gave this to The Guardian. This was filtered through a press organization. In a classic sort of way, whistle-blowers provide public information about unconstitutional, criminal activity by their government to the public. So the notion that he’s just some individual standing up and releasing stuff over the Internet is false.”

“But more importantly,” Hedges continued, “what he has exposed essentially shows that anybody who reaches out to the press to expose fraud, crimes, unconstitutional activity, which this clearly appears to be, can be traced and shut down. And that’s what’s so frightening. So we are at a situation now — and I speak as a former investigative reporter for The New York Times — by which any investigation into the inner workings of government has become impossible. That’s the real debate.”

To the question of whether Snowden should be regarded primarily as a criminal, Hedges urged a perspective that prized moral clarity independent of state-sanctioned definitions of right and wrong as opposed to strictly technical readings of the law.

“Was [what he did] a criminal [act]? Yes,” Hedges confirmed. “I suppose in a technical sense it was criminal. But set against the larger crime that is being committed by the state — when you have a system by which criminals are in power, criminals on Wall Street who are able to carry out massive fraud with no kinds of serious repercussions or investigation, criminals who torture in our black sites, criminals who carry out targeted assassinations, criminals who lie to the American public to prosecute pre-emptive war which under international law is illegal — if you’re a strict legalist, which apparently professor Stone is, what you’re in essence doing is protecting criminal activity. I would argue that in large sections of our government it’s the criminals who are in power.”

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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