A Textbook Refugee Case

Edward Snowden is asking nothing untoward from Germany. He only asks that Germany behave decently. If Snowden gives testimony in Germany, he asks only for a guarantee he will not be extradited to the United States. His request isn’t improper, it is just common sense. An informant can’t be handed over to someone else as a favor. That would be gross ingratitude and a betrayal as well. Safe conduct for Snowden and a letter of safe passage stating he won’t be handed over to another country: That would not only be proper, it would also be an act of recovery from the damage inflicted on Germany’s sovereignty and integrity by the espionage committed by the U.S.

The U.S. intelligence agency Snowden previously worked for has tapped and siphoned off information practically from God and the rest of the world: the Vatican, Angela Merkel, the European Union Commission and an incalculable number of individuals in Germany as well as globally. Snowden exposed this grand inquisition and had to flee from the grand inquisitor. He has not profited whatsoever from his whistle-blowing; he has only suffered because of it. The profit will be realized by the law of Western democracies if they learn from this global scandal and finally set limits on what their intelligence services are permitted to do.

The sort of espionage the National Security Agency indulged in — and continues to indulge in — might well be described as government criminality. Snowden’s acts may be punishable under U.S. law because it is those laws he broke. But the real criminality lies with the conditions and the machinations he denounces.

Germany Wants Answers

The German government faces a delicate situation. The current government, as well as the future government not yet formed — which will also operate as a coalition — will have to reach a consensus as to whether it should risk a moderate conflict with the United States. It’s not as it was with former Chancellor Schröder, when the decision was whether or not to participate in the Iraq War that eventually proved disastrous for America.

This is smaller, but nonetheless highly symbolic. It’s about the fate of a refugee being persecuted by the Americans as if he were the reincarnation of Osama bin Laden. Snowden is just one single refugee, but he’s the textbook definition of a refugee: A conscientious objector whose motives are as pure as one could hope for.

Germany should — Germany must — give Edward Snowden a residence permit. Germany should — Germany must — grant Edward Snowden safe passage. That’s all legally possible. Snowden needs immunity from deportation to the United States. Germany should promise him that and then keep its promise. Germany needs enlightenment about the extensive wire-tapping carried out by the United States. That enlightenment is possible only with Edward Snowden’s help. As Immanuel Kant said, enlightenment means escape from Germany’s self-inflicted immaturity.

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