The attorney general of Switzerland did a review of whether National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden would have to be extradited to the United States if he came to the country to testify as part of an inquiry into NSA surveillance. He concluded that Snowden would be safe from extradition, however, “upper-level government commitments” might still affect his safety.
The development has received little attention in the US media, especially when compared to coverage of previous significant developments in his case.
Last month, Snowden was granted temporary resident status in Russia for three years. Previously, he had been granted temporary asylum, as many might recall.
Swiss Attorney General Michael Lauber apparently produced the report on whether Snowden would have to be extradited because, if he were to testify in person, there would certainly be issues as US officials demanded Swiss leaders hand him over immediately. So, the country needed to know if they would be legally obligated to allow his extradition.
As explained by Jesselyn Radack, who is a lawyer representing Snowden, the review likely came to this conclusion because under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights if he “has a valid fear of political persecution based on his political opinions” then a country like Switzerland is not supposed to extradite him. And his “valid fear” would stem from being charged with Espionage Act offenses.
Swiss politicians involved in the inquiry may now try to figure out how to bring Snowden to Switzerland.
Currently, Snowden’s temporary resident status permits him to travel in Russia and Radack believes he would probably be able to travel outside the country. The question is how he would get to Switzerland.
“The question of getting to Switzerland would be a logistical one of which countries would open airspace to allow that to happen. But he would be free to travel,” Radack stated.
Whether he would be granted legal immunity from prosecution if he testified would be an issue as well. Radack said, “It’s always been a question of his safety and how a country that wanted him to testify would give proper assurances of his safety.”
Would the Swiss government help organize his transportation from Russia? If Snowden managed to actually get to Switzerland, would he be guaranteed temporary resident status or asylum in Switzerland?
In Germany, the Bundestag has had a similar active investigation into the NSA but has not taken testimony from Snowden. They have not tried to bring him to the country because Chancellor Angela Merkel refuses to grant him asylum and jeopardize relations with the US.
Lauber seemed to anticipate similar political issues if Snowden was brought to the country, as he cited “upper-level government commitments” could interfere with keeping him safe.
Snowden would want assurances that these “commitments” would not impact him if he came to the country.
Additionally, there have been few reactions from political leaders in the United States to this development, but a ForeignPolicy.com reporter did provide the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee a platform to spew vitriol and share his view that Snowden is a traitor and should be in jail, not Switzerland.
“Edward Snowden is a traitor and should be brought back to the United States to face trial,” Rep. Michael McCaul, the Republican head of the panel, told Foreign Policy. “We should not allow him to trade our intelligence community’s sources and methods for safe haven in other countries.”
“Mr. Snowden’s leaks have done immeasurable damage to our national security, causing billions of dollars of damage to us,” said McCaul (R-Texas). “I hope he decides to return to the United States of his own accord to defend his actions.
Asked about this claim of “billions of dollars of damage” to the US, Radack said she had never heard this before and was not exactly sure what McCaul meant.
It does not appear Foreign Policy bothered to confirm McCaul’s allegations related to damage either. They apparently were accepted at face value as probably true.
Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Venezuela have each previously indicated they would grant Snowden asylum. As the Washington Post reported, Bolivia President Evo Morales’ support for Snowden is what led US officials to “scramble” and try to nab him when they thought he was on board Morales’ plane.
The Bolivian leader’s plane was diverted and forced to land on July 2 of last year. It was searched in Vienna and officials were embarrassed when Snowden was not found. They also jeopardized their hope that he would do something stupid and leave Russia.
More than 20 different countries have received applications for asylum from Snowden, but many governments, perhaps under pressure from the US government, have claimed he has to be in the territory to be granted any sort of protection.
If Snowden does not wish to remain in Russia and would like an arrangement that is more permanent, Switzerland is shaping up to be one of his best options. He could provide testimony. Switzerland could prevent him from being transferred to the US for prosecution.