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Edward Snowden. Wikimedia
Edward Snowden. Wiki­media

Edward Snowden is an “unprin­cipled traitor,” retired Col. Peter Mansoor main­tained in a debate last week. Across the stage, Rodd Monts argued the opposite: Snowden is a hero.

“Snowden chose to take a very coura­geous step to address what he saw as a grave con­sti­tu­tional matter, a mass sur­veil­lance on U.S. cit­izens,” said Monts, field director of the Michigan American Civil Lib­erties Union. “He took that step to expose a system that needed to be changed.”

Monts and Mansoor, who served as exec­utive director to Gen. David Petraeus during the Iraq War, pre­sented opposing views on Snowden in a debate held by the Alexander Hamilton Society Oct. 11. About 60 people attended the event in Phillips Audi­torium.

“It was a very inter­esting pairing, a member of the ACLU and a former colonel,” said sophomore Pearce Pomerleau, vice pres­ident of the Alexander Hamilton Society. “I thought both made very good points.”

Monts focused his opening state­ments on Snowden’s dis­closure of clas­sified doc­u­ments that revealed gov­ernment sur­veil­lance prac­tices. He said Snowden blew the whistle on a gov­ernment spying on its own cit­izens. Monts added that the alleged damage from Snowden’s actions remains unproven.

“Some people would say that Snowden’s actions endan­gered innocent people or that he has given infor­mation to foreign gov­ern­ments, but there is no evi­dence to prove that,” he said. “The gov­ernment hasn’t been able to point to a single instance in which his dis­clo­sures put anyone in harm’s way.”

Mansoor, however, said most of the 1.5 million doc­u­ments Snowden released had to do with other security pro­grams. He argued that the dis­closure is far from harmless.

“The vast majority of the doc­u­ments he stole have nothing to do with impacting indi­vidual private interests,” Mansoor said. “They, instead, pertain to mil­itary, defense, and intel­li­gence pro­grams of great interest to America’s adver­saries.”

Mansoor said Snowden isn’t a whistle­blower and isn’t pro­tected by the 2007 Whistle­blower Pro­tection Act, which excludes people, like Snowden, who work for the National Security Agency.

“Had Snowden limited his expo­sures of NSA snooping to the col­lection of metadata on U.S. cit­izens, he would be more deserving of our sym­pathy,” Mansoor said. “But by revealing the extent of U.S. eaves­dropping on foreign coun­tries and their cit­izens, he has done real damage to the country’s national security.”

“He doesn’t deserve our sym­pathy; he deserves a trial,” he said.

Monts, however, said Snowden didn’t see a better route for exposing what he thought was a problem.

“Edward Snowden didn’t feel that going to gov­ernment author­ities would result in any pro­ductive action, given the past treatment of these matters before the courts and in the leg­islative branch,” Monts said.

But Mansoor said Snowden could have made the dis­closure in com­pliance with the Intel­li­gence Whistle­blower Act of 1998.

“Had Edward Snowden gone through this route, it’s likely he would have gotten us here before the appro­priate branch in the U.S. gov­ernment,” he said. “Bal­ancing security with privacy should be a matter for our elected offi­cials, not for an unac­countable private con­tractor who has decided on his own what is legal and what is not.”

During a time of Q&A after the debate, the speakers found a few points of common ground. Monts said he rec­og­nized the government’s need to collect intel­li­gence, and Mansoor said he agreed with Monts that bringing forth issues con­cerning privacy has done good. He said he would have taken Monts’ position, if those were the only dis­clo­sures Snowden had made.

Afterward, junior Razi Lane said he thought Mansoor won the debate.

“The idea that an indi­vidual can come forward and decided com­pletely arbi­trarily what doc­u­ments he’s going to release and at what time he’s going to release them — I find that to be rather unset­tling,” he said. “I feel as though Col. Mansoor did a very good job indi­cating the national security of the United States, in respect to his position.”

Pomerleau agreed: “I per­sonally agree more with the colonel and his position, and I thought he came with more evi­dence in hand, but I also def­i­nitely sym­pa­thize with some of the points Mr. Monts was making.”

For now, Snowden is hiding in Russia. If he returns to the U.S., Monts said, he’ll face a trial and probably a life sen­tence, unless he’s par­doned.