Oliver Stone's "Snowden" Presents Another Side to the Whistleblower, and is Well Received

Oliver Stone's biopic of Edward Snowden opened the past weekend and has done quite well, especially for a film that focuses on the abuses of the US government and was -- like most such movies -- difficult for a three-time Academy Award-winning director to even make in the United States. A solid majority of the reviews were favorable, and among viewers it was even more popular.

Interestingly, a number of critics saw the movie as "restrained," or not as forceful as it could have been, given the lies and crimes that Snowden exposed. But this seems reminiscent of those perceptual psychology experiments where the subjects are asked to count how many times basketball players pass the ball, and in the process completely miss that an intruder has walked onto to the court.

Consider this statement from Snowden in the movie, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt:

You're also being ordered to follow most world leaders and heads of industry ... because you're also tracking trade deals, sex scandals, diplomatic cables to give the US an advantage in negotiations at the G8, or leverage over Brazilian oil companies, or helping to oust some third world leader who isn't playing ball. Ultimately, the truth sinks in no matter what justifications you're selling yourself: this isn't about terrorism, terrorism is the excuse. This is about economic and social control, and the only thing you're protecting is the supremacy of your government.

This is a pretty in-your-face criticism of empire, the kind that we rarely hear in the major media -- even if the simple truth of it is well-known to tens of millions of Americans. The idea that foreign terrorism, which kills fewer Americans than lightning each year, could be used as an excuse for all kinds of abuses and interventions worldwide, is widely suppressed in the United States.

We also learn from Snowden that he was morally repulsed by the war crimes that our government commits under the false pretext of "national security." He explains to his coworkers, while working for Booz Allen Hamilton as a contractor for the NSA, that they could be criminally liable for killing civilians with drone strikes, and for other crimes:

Snowden: "You've heard of the Nuremberg Trials, Trev? They weren't that long ago."

Trevor: "Yeah. And we hung the Nazi big shots, didn't we? So?"

Snowden: "That was the first trial. The next one was guards, lawyers, policemen, judges. People who were just following orders. That's how we got the Nuremberg principles, which the UN made into international law ... in case ordinary jobs become criminal again."

This op-ed was originally published by The Hill on Septembet 20, 2016. Read the rest here.

Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C., and the president of Just Foreign Policy. He is also the author of the new book "Failed: What the 'Experts' Got Wrong About the Global Economy" (2015, Oxford University Press). You can subscribe to his columns here. Weisbrot also cowrote Oliver Stone's 2010 film "South of the Border."