I believe Edward Snowden is a patriot. Obviously, many disagree, including those at the helm of government. As always happens when those in government leave their posts, they start talking in ways which sound strange and different from when they were at their posts. Eric Holder, former Attorney General, provides a great example of this with his comments over Memorial Day weekend:

Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder says Edward Snowden performed a “public service” by triggering a debate over surveillance techniques, but still must pay a penalty for illegally leaking a trove of classified intelligence documents.

“We can certainly argue about the way in which Snowden did what he did, but I think that he actually performed a public service by raising the debate that we engaged in and by the changes that we made,” Holder told David Axelrod…

“Now I would say that doing what he did — and the way he did it — was inappropriate and illegal,” Holder added. …

“I think that he’s got to make a decision. He’s broken the law in my view. He needs to get lawyers, come on back, and decide, see what he wants to do: Go to trial, try to cut a deal. I think there has to be a consequence for what he has done.” …

“But,” Holder emphasized, “I think in deciding what an appropriate sentence should be, I think a judge could take into account the usefulness of having had that national debate.”

Glenn Greenwald is the only reporter I’ve seen consistently underscore the point which Snowden has made from Day One in response to this sort of proposal:

At a University of Chicago Institute of Politics event earlier this month, Snowden — appearing via videoconference from Russia — said he would return to the U.S. if he could receive a fair trial. ”

I’ve already said from the very first moment that if the government was willing to provide a fair trial, if I had access to public interest defenses and other things like that, I would want to come home and make my case to the jury,” Snowden told University of Chicago Law Prof. Geoffrey Stone. “But, as I think you’re quite familiar, the Espionage Act does not permit a public interest defense. You’re not allowed to speak the word ‘whistleblower’ at trial.”

Sure, Snowden could gather the best legal team and return to America to face trial. But it would be a trial where the cards are stacked against him, and where his lawyers would be arguing with both arms behind their back—unable to argue a public interest defense, and unable to present the case to a jury of peers, rather than a judge.

And had Snowden tried to perform his “public service” that led to “raising the debate” by acting as a whistleblower within the NSA and the government—rather than leaking it to Glenn Greenwald and the public—we know where he would be today.

In a cell next to Bradley Manning.