[I was going to try something different this week, but it didn’t work out. The press is still speculating about Edward Snowden, his mental state, his options, what the Administration is doing to bring him back, and all the rest of it. Did you know that some TV reporter actually interviewed a profiler for opinions about what Snowden will do next? Why not ask a witch doctor, instead?

Oh, G, does that mean you don’t have a high opinion of profilers? Let me answer that with another question. Do you remember the DC Sniper? I do. Back in 2002 10 people were killed and 3 wounded in sniper attacks in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.[1] The profilers and the press told us that the sniper was a middle-aged white male in a white truck. But as events unfolded, it turned out that there were actually two snipers, both black, and they drove a beaten up 1990 Chevrolet Caprice. The Caprice definitely was not a truck.

So much for the “science” of profiling! In my opinion, it’s simply a reflection of media stereotypes dressed up as pseudoscience. As we all know, the man (or woman) you see on TV with a white coat or holding a test tube is not necessarily a scientist.]

And what else might we know about Mr. Snowden? Well, by all reports he’s still at the Moscow Airport, in the part where the Russians say they have no authority. Has anybody seen him there? I haven’t, and neither has the press; otherwise there would be pictures all over the place. In fact, a little bit ago an intrepid reporter toured the ‘neutral’ areas where Snowden might be, and didn’t find him. [2]So is he really there? I don’t know; all I’m saying is that he could have walked out of the back door of the airport some time ago, rented a motorcycle, and driven to Finland by now.[3]

Nevertheless, reporters tell us he’s still in Moscow, probably at the airport. And, because his passport has been revoked, he can’t leave. Of course, that’s not precisely true, either. Lots of people come here every year from Mexico, etc., and they do it without papers of any sort. They’re called illegal immigrants, and we certainly don’t catch all of them. So obviously it’s possible to do that kind of thing.

And then there’s the problem of asylum. I don’t know a lot about international law, but I can look things up, so I do have a few questions.[4] There’s an ancient notion that a person who is persecuted by his own government may seek protection from another sovereign authority.[5] This notion, some people say, has carried forward into the U.N. Charter. Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees that “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.”[6] So does that apply here?

Of course, there are qualifications. (There always are.) “This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.”[7]So, is Edward Snowden fleeing from persecution for a political act, or is he simply attempting to avoid prosecution for one or more crimes?

Well, the U.S. position is that he’s a criminal and should be sent back for trial. But, of course, we’re not the ones he’s asking to grant asylum. Do we get to set the law for other nations as well? Probably not. Asylum is an immigration issue, and in the past we’ve said that each sovereign must decide such questions for itself.[8] And I’m not surprised, by the way. Back during the Cold War, people who spied on the Soviet Union and fled here often would be welcomed with open arms. And people who spied on us and fled to them would get similar treatment over there.

So given that, our only real course of action is to persuade other countries to reject Snowden’s petitions for asylum. And apparently that was working pretty well, at least until recently. There were reports, for example, that many countries had rejected his petitions[9] and he was essentially isolated in the airport. But then things changed.

The President of Bolivia visited Moscow, last week, but on the way back was forced to deplane in Austria, reportedly because local officials thought he was harboring Snowden on board his Government aircraft. Snowden was not there. While the details of the incident are not clear, it did serve to “inflame diplomatic tensions” between the U.S. and Bolivia.[10]

Not long after that, Venezuela offered Snowden asylum, followed closely by Bolivia and Nicaragua.[11] The Venezuelan President’s observations were quite colorful. Asylum, he said, would be granted on humanitarian grounds. “He [Snowden] has told the truth, in the spirit of rebellion, about the U.S. spying on the whole world.” The U.S., he implied, was the “terrorist” and the “global delinquent.”[12]

So there we have it; another triumph for American knowhow and diplomacy. Who knows, perhaps if we just apply a little more pressure, threaten and shout a little more, we might turn all of South America into a safe haven for Edward Snowden. And it looks like there are more revelations to come, this time about NSA spying in Brazil.[13]


[1] See Wikipedia for a good account. Go to the Wikipedia website and search “Beltway sniper attacks,” or simply click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beltway_sniper_attacks

[2] See NBC News.Com, Phillips, Trapped in Transit: Orwellian Moscow airport hotel (6/28/2013) at http://www.nbcnews.com/id/52343604/ns/world_news-europe/t/trapped-transit-orwellian-moscow-airport-hotel/#.Udn26PlJ60o

[3] It’s 556 miles from Moscow to Helsinki, Finland, as the crow flies. To verify that, go to http://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/distances.html?n=101&sort=1

[4] I’m not giving legal advice to Mr. Snowden or anybody else.

[5] See Wikipedia at “Right of asylum,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right_of_asylum

[6] See Universal Declaration of Human Rights, at § 14(1). (Hereafter cited as UDHR at __.) You can get the full text of the Declaration directly from the UN, at http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/

[7] See UDHR at §14(2).

[8] See U.N. Charter, Chapter I, Article 2(7) at http://www.un.org/en/documents/charter/index.shtml (“Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter; but this principle shall not prejudice the application of enforcement measures under Chapter Vll”) See also the discussion in Encyclopedia of the New American Nation, at http://www.americanforeignrelations.com/A-D/Asylum-The-un-asylum-and-refugee-regime.html (“The government of the United States, both the Congress and the executive, had traditionally regarded immigration (under the broader heading of the admission of aliens) as a matter determinable solely by the United States itself—a claim of national prerogative amply demonstrated in the senatorial and wider public debate in 1945–1946 over the conditions for American adherence to the UN Charter and Statute of the International Court of Justice.”)

[9] See BBC, News Europe, Edward Snowden’s asylum options narrow (July 2, 2013) at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-23145887

[10] See Fox News, Bolivian president hits US, Europe over plane search flap (July 4, 2013)  at http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2013/07/04/bolivian-president-hits-us-europe-over-plane-search-flap/

[11] See BBC, News Europe, Bolivia, Venezuela and Nicaragua offer Snowden asylum (July 6, 2013) at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-23201774

[12] See Slate, Bloomer & Long, Venezuela Offers Edward Snowden Asylum, With Nicaragua, Bolivia Not Far Behind (July 5, 2013) at http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2013/07/05/venezuela_offers_edward_snowden_asylum_former_nsa_contractor_granted_refuge.html?wpisrc=newsletter_jcr:content

[13] See ABC News, Barchfield, Brazil Expresses Concern at Report of NSA Spying (July 7, 2013) at http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/brazil-worried-report-nsa-spying-19600413

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