The list of people who want Edward Snowden to face trial in a U.S. court is long. Mr. Snowden should be on that list.
Mr. Snowden considers himself a whistle-blower who exposed government abuses by the National Security Agency. He has made his case through newspaper leaks and Internet videos. A willingness to face justice — and punishment, if need be — would enhance his moral authority and might engender at least some respect among his critics.
Accepting consequences even when — or especially when — they are unjust is a courageous tradition embraced throughout history. Unjust punishments undermine the laws and regimes that impose them. In America, civil rights leaders including the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. followed that course. Mr. Snowden might not be martyr material, but he claims to have acted out of principle and conscience. A trial and its high stakes would let him prove the point, if he can.
A trial also would force the Obama administration to defend ubiquitous and long-standing spying on Americans’ phone and Internet use.
For his part, Mr. Snowden has been vague about how the spying programs endanger privacy and freedom. A trial, we hope, would help Americans decide. Instead, there has been a catch-me-if-you-can farce as Mr. Snowden jetted from Hong Kong to Russia to…Ecuador? Iceland?
President Barack Obama, meanwhile, initiated his own farce. He met last week with the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, as if that panel possessed and wielded the authority to root out and prevent illegally intrusive government prying. In fact, for too much of its existence the panel has had no members. President Obama did not nominate a complete contingent of members until late 2011, and its chairman was not confirmed by the Senate until last month. The panel never has reviewed the spying programs Mr. Snowden exposed. It hardly is a substitute for effective judicial and congressional oversight.
Daniel Ellsberg, who copied and leaked 7,000 pages of Vietnam-related material that became known as The Pentagon Papers, has praised Mr. Snowden’s courage in breaking the law to expose what Mr. Ellsberg contends are unconstitutional spying programs. It is notable that Mr. Ellsberg did not attempt to leave the country to avoid trial. In fact, he was indicted and has said he expected to spend the rest of his life in prison. Instead, the government’s case was thrown out after Nixon administration “plumbers” — who later played a part in the Watergate break-in — used illegal wiretaps and break-ins in an attempt to smear Mr. Ellsberg.
Mr. Ellsberg was vindicated by the material he released and the government’s attempt to prosecute him. He was prepared to risk losing his own freedom. It is a moral high ground that can’t be occupied by someone in Hong Kong, Ecuador, Russia, Iceland or wherever.
Jac Wilder VerSteeg
for The Post Editorial Board