Snowden: ‘I would return to US if fair trial guaranteed’

Former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. © Mark Blinch
Contractor-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden told the New Hampshire Liberty Forum on Saturday he would return to America if the government guaranteed him a fair trial and allowed the jury to distinguish between “right and wrong.” 

More than 400 people gathered in a conference room at the Radisson Center in New Hampshire on Saturday to hear former NSA contractor speak via Skype from Russia.

Snowden announced he would return to the United States if a fair trial were conducted.

“I’ve told the government I would return if they would guarantee a fair trial where I can make a public interest defense of why this was done and allow a jury to decide,” Snowden was quoted by ABC as saying. The organizers of the event did not allow the media to video record his remarks.

The New Hampshire Liberty Forum in Manchester is an annual convention-style conference, mostly attended by liberals, many of whom regard Snowden as a hero. 

The 45-minute conversation via video link started with the audience holding up masks bearing Snowden’s portrait, causing the whistleblower to smile and wave.

The US government, he said, sharply criticizes him for his exile in Russia, but at the same time isn’t allowing him to return. Snowden also said seeking asylum and staying in Russia was not his choice. Fleeing prosecution in the US, he planned to go to Iceland or Latin America, but the State Department canceled his passport.

He said he initially considered himself as being under trial for leaking top-secret government files.

“But I said I wouldn't allow myself to be held up as a deterrent to other people who are trying to do the right thing. And that was fundamentally contrary to what the government was trying to do,” he said, according to the New Hampshire Union Leader newspaper.

Explaining his rationale behind the decision to leak highly classified intelligence documents, Snowden said he didn’t agree with some of his former co-workers’ argument that constitutional rights, including the Fourth Amendment, were no longer relevant in the wake of 9/11.

With its gigantic wiretapping and surveillance capabilities, as well as data collection practices, the United States sets a controversial example to the rest of the world, Snowden warned.

“We don't want Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, or France or Germany or Brazil, or any other country in the world, to hold us up as an example for why we are narrowing the boundaries of liberty rather than expanding them.”

He also said that concealing private information from the prying eyes of government is justified and dates back to the founding fathers of the US. Benjamin Franklin created his own encryption systems, he said, “because he recognized that when great power has intensely detailed private information about the political activities of groups that are acting in manners that they would find inconvenient or burdensome.”

Asked, why he doesn’t criticize Russia – accused by the West of “crackdowns” on the internet and media – Snowden replied he was trying to fix his country before trying to solve the problems of the rest of the world.

“We've got to get our own house in order first,” he said.