Daniel Ellsberg, the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers, said on Monday that he supports Edward Snowden's decision to flee the United States.
Ellsberg has sometimes been held up as an example of everything Snowden is not. Former Obama administration speechwriter Jon Favreau, for instance, called Ellsberg a "true whistleblower," unlike Snowden.
Yet Ellsberg has steadfastly sided with Snowden, saying that his detractors are wrong to contrast the two of them and calling Snowden's leaks the most important in American history.
In a Washington Post op-ed, Ellsberg responded to the people who have criticized Snowden for seeking asylum outside the U.S. instead of facing trial.
?Many people compare Edward Snowden to me unfavorably for leaving the country and seeking asylum, rather than facing trial as I did," he wrote. "I don't agree. The country I stayed in was a different America, a long time ago."
Ellsberg said that, after being arrested, he was freed on bail and allowed to continue speaking about his opposition to the Vietnam War. He said it was unlikely Snowden would be afforded the same opportunity:
I hope Snowden's revelations will spark a movement to rescue our democracy, but he could not be part of that movement had he stayed here. There is zero chance that he would be allowed out on bail if he returned now and close to no chance that, had he not left the country, he would have been granted bail. Instead, he would be in a prison cell like Bradley Manning, incommunicado.
He would almost certainly be confined in total isolation, even longer than the more than eight months Manning suffered during his three years of imprisonment before his trial began recently. The United Nations Special Rapporteur for Torture described Manning's conditions as "cruel, inhuman and degrading." (That realistic prospect, by itself, is grounds for most countries granting Snowden asylum, if they could withstand bullying and bribery from the United States.)
But Snowden's contribution to the noble cause of restoring the First, Fourth and Fifth amendments to the Constitution is in his documents. It depends in no way on his reputation or estimates of his character or motives -- still less, on his presence in a courtroom arguing the current charges, or his living the rest of his life in prison. Nothing worthwhile would be served, in my opinion, by Snowden voluntarily surrendering to U.S. authorities given the current state of the law.
Read the full op-ed here.