The New York Times and Britain's Guardian newspaper are calling for clemency for Edward Snowden, the former U.S. national security contractor who leaked a massive trove of details about clandestine American spying.
The 30-year-old Snowden is living in asylum in Russia as the United States seeks his return to face espionage charges and a lengthy prison term if he is convicted.
In an editorial Thursday, the Times said Snowden may have committed a crime, but said "he has done his country a great service" by giving Americans their first extensive information about the scope of the surveillance programs being conducted by the National Security Agency.
The Times said U.S. President Barack Obama should direct "his aides to begin finding a way to end Snowden's vilification."
The Guardian said Snowden's disclosure of the information was an "act of some moral courage," and Obama should allow him "to return to the U.S. with dignity."
A key NSA official investigating Snowden's leaks, Rick Ledgett, recently suggested that Snowden could be given amnesty if he handed over undisclosed documents he still has. But the White House and other key U.S. intelligence officials have remained adamant in their call for Snowden's prosecution.
The Times says Snowden "was clearly justified" in his belief the only way to expose the information was to leak it to the public, rather than to work internally to get the NSA to reduce the amount of information it is collecting. The Guardian said he set "a shining example about the value of whistleblowers and of free speech itself."
Snowden leaked much of his information last year to the Guardian and The Washington Post, which have published voluminous accounts of the U.S. spying, including its collection of records of millions of telephone calls, including the numbers called and the length and dates of the calls, although not the content. American spy chiefs say the United States needs the information to thwart new terrorist attacks against itself and other countries.