On Fairness


I’ve heard several people justifying Edward Snowden’s absence from America by saying he can’t get a fair trial. Lately they’ve been pointing to the trial and sentencing of Bradley Manning as an example of this.

Here’s the thing about this. Snowden is guilty as hell. He’s admitted what he did. He’s gone on TV to brag about it. He has, clearly, done the crime. Therefore his trial will basically be…well, not much. He’ll go to court, he’ll have a defense attorney that will claim what Snowden did was justified, and then Snowden will be found guilty and likely sentenced to a few years in prison.

All of this is perfectly, completely, 100% fair. You might not like it, but that doesn’t make it unfair.

That’s an important thing to remember. Bradley Manning had a fair trial in the sense that he was allowed to put forth a defense, had a lawyer, and went through the legal process. He, too, admitted to what he did, so the verdict was largely certain from the outset. In fact, it’s only because of prosecutoral overreach that he was acquitted on one of the charges he faced.

He had a fair trial, but it wasn’t one that provided the “not guilty on all charges” verdict that his supporters wanted. It’s the same with Snowden. He will likely get a very, scrupulously fair trial. The government won’t dare give him anything else. But, frankly, he’s going to be found guilty because he actually did what he was charged with doing. He did, in fact, break the law. Whether you agree with his motives or not is irrelevant.

Now it’s important to note that, while he broke the law, he shouldn’t be charged with treason, and likely won’t be. He’ll be charged with leaking classified information, which is what he did. He will probably face many, many years in prison, and very likely will be pardoned somewhere down the line, as Manning will also likely be.

Anyhow, I’m digressing a bit. But it is important to remember that a fair trial isn’t the one that reaches the verdict you like. It can be very fair indeed, and the outcome can still be different from what you want. If Snowden comes to trial and is found guilty, remember that it’s because he actually did what he is accused of doing.

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