Snowden will not face fair trial if extradited to US – Amnesty International

Amnesty International is urging against the extradition of Edward Snowden to the US. The organization’s official statements says nobody should be accused of revealing information on human rights violations. Michael Bochenek, Director of Law and Policy in Amnesty International, spoke to the Voice of Russia about whether Mr Snowden will be safe in Ecuador and the probability that the whistleblower will face an unfair trial in the US.

Ecuador has reportedly granted a travel pass to US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden allowing him to seek political asylum in that Latin American country. Do you think this country is safe enough for Snowden to settle down? Will it be able to somehow protect him?

The larger point here is that anybody, Snowden or anybody else has the right to seek asylum in any country that he or she chooses. So, if he feels that he would be prosecuted upon return to the US, he is more than entitled by the international law to present his case to any country in the world and any country in the world should hear that case, should give him a full hearing, should consider all of the evidence and decide whether it would be consistent with the standards contained in the international treaties to grant him asylum.

So, reportedly of course Ecuador has granted him this travel pass that would allow him if the transit countries will accept it, to travel to Ecuador in order to seek asylum and that is certainly within their discretion to do. Any country is also more than welcome under international law to facilitate the movement of people in order to seek asylum. And the US for its part has canceled reportedly Edward Snowden’s US passport, which in our view is an interference with the right of freedom of movement and also with the impediment to the right to seek asylum.

You’ve just said that Mr. Snowden feels he would probably be prosecuted in the US. At the same time Amnesty International officially is against the extradition of Edward Snowden. Are there any other reasons to believe that he would actually be prosecuted in the States?

He needs to be able to present his claim, I mean what is certainly in favor granting asylum and establishing the likelihood of prosecution as well as count against the extradition are several things.

Number one, senior political leaders including the Secretary of State have in effect condemned him without trial. I mean they are calling him a traitor, they’ve launched a massive media campaign against him already without hearing the full extent of the story and certainly not having a case presented in court with the full benefit of the checks and balances that the judicial system has.

Second of all, we certainly have in previous cases including cases where people were charged with espionage related activities and here I am thinking for example of Bradley Manning, history of ill-treatment in detention.

Third, it is not remarkable that the US after its actions following 9/11 in 2011 in effect condoning and adopting practices that are torture or cruel and human-integrating treatment is now finding that argument used against it. I mean to a certain extent now the check-ins have come home to rust as they say in the US. A nation net adopted tortures practices following 2001 is now having the argument used against it that if returned to the US, a person who was accused of some very serious act may himself be subjected to torture or other ill-treatments.

If we talk about Edward Snowden’s activities, why do you think his actions are significant if you do think like that?

What he has done is he revealed information that shouldn’t have been secret in the first place, an information that is tremendous in terms of the public impact and the public interest. He has revealed evidence that the US has engaged in wholesale surveillance of its own population and he has revealed information about US efforts to in effect hacking the servers of the most commonly used social media grouping in the world, Google, Facebook and so on.

These are extraordinary measures on the part of the US and furthermore it’s been extraordinary the length to which the US has gone to keep that information secret, even the existence of those programs secret, and just as one example Amnesty International and a number of other human rights groups sued the US through the Federal Court in order to compel disclosure of the at least broad framework of some of these programs and we were told a year ago by the Supreme Court that we couldn’t prevail in our lawsuit because we couldn’t show that we are actually subject, or anybody was actually subject to surveillance.

This is just an indication of how the US has gone and how difficult it has been to secure any measure of information about what is going on. So, for him to reveal this information and to reveal it with the motivation of saying that he wants the American people to know it’s been done in their name is a great service both to the US and to the rest of the world.

It is sad he has to seek asylum. Why do you think it is important, why does this matter?

It matters that everybody be equated the rights to seek the protection of other states if they believe that they have well-grounded fear of prosecution based on race, religion, political opinion, membership in the social group, one of these grounds established by the international law.

And this is a key international protection. It is one of the pillars of international human rights law because it allows a measure of shared responsibility for the protection of people who are being prosecuted for what they believe or for who they are. So, it is critical that he be afforded this opportunity. We say this without prejudice at all to the whole process going forward. Whatever state he makes an application to for asylum should be considering the full evidence on its merits and should make a decision based on the merits. But it is critical that he be afforded this protection.

Let’s now get to another issue, which is making headlines these days. The 500th person was executed in Texas earlier this weekend. In more than 30 states the US has the death penalty but Texas carries out the most executions. Do you agree that there is sort of a sign of double standard policy with the US on the one hand promoting human rights protection globally and on the other executing its citizens at home?

The United States has always or has recently had a very skitsofranic sort of attitude when it comes to human rights. I mean certainly in terms of foreign policy and indeed in terms of domestic protections it is in many respects a model. Unfortunately, as we know from the foreign policy context from the legacy of Guantanamo, from the prosecution of the war on terror and so on, that record abroad is more than tarnished.

Domestically the death penalty is one of these issues that makes it standout in the opposite sense, in the sense of failing to appall to human rights. Within the US because of the federal structure, because each state sets its own criminal laws and sets penalties for crimes, that means that there is a lot of variation from state to state. I am from the US originally and my home state of Michigan was the first jurisdiction in what is now the US to abolish the death penalty well before it became a state. But Texas for example is the standout – the most execution as you mentioned, there is no state that even comes close to it and so that means that Texas in particular is no model for human rights and it means that the record of the US as a whole is deeply tarnished.

I remember attorney of the executed women Maurie Levin once said that death penalties are imposed as I remember three times more often on poor and people of color. Is there really a racial discrimination here as well in the US as far as these issues are concerned?

There is an evident racial discrimination. I mean first of all, the disparities began at the moment of arrest, so at every point in the justice system from initial contact with the police to the decisions to conduct further questioning, to arrest, to detention, to prosecution, to decision to seek the most serious penalties and of course the decision to seek and then impose the death penalty – all of the disparities escalate as one goes through this process and so if a defendant is black, Latino and certainly of course also poor, it makes it much more likely that the individual will be arrested, will be detained, will be prosecuted and prosecuted more severely than a white person would be, and finally that the death penalty would be imposed. It really is remarkable.

And I guess another factor also in places like Texas is that the race of the victim matters. So, in this case of course a black woman was accused of murdering a white victim and that makes it again far more likely that the black defendant will be sentenced and receive the death penalty.