Let’s start with the obvious. Edward Snowden doesn’t want to spend the rest of his life in Moscow or even Ecuador, Brazil or the other havens he has unsuccessfully pursued. He wants to come back to America—and we need him here. The Obama administration cringes at his every public appearance, and the intelligence community has quite a few questions that only he can answer.
Forget the posturing talk of treason and pardons, of transparency and liberty. Snowden knows that no matter how much he arguably served the public interest, he committed serious criminal offenses and will have to be punished. And the government knows that unless he is treated kindly, he’ll be the go-to commentator for world media so long as global surveillance is linked to national security and the international community remains disturbed by reports of American eavesdropping of foreign dignitaries.
So they need to make a deal. It’s the American way.
After all, plea bargaining dominates our criminal justice system. Prosecutors largely control the process; they decide whether to make an offer and the conditions of that offer. Risk-averse defendants all too often take these deals, fearful of the “trial tax,” the prospect of receiving a stiffer sentence after losing at trial. Many view this plea bargaining process as deeply flawed at best and coercive at worst.