John Vibes–President Trump has recently used his power of pardon to absolve a number of high profile individuals from criminal charges because they may have been treated unfairly by the justice system. Last month, Trump posthumously pardoned the great African-American boxer Jack Johnson, who was falsely imprisoned for traveling with a white woman. While this was a nice symbolic gesture, it did not do much aside from creating a PR opportunity for the Trump administration.
Most recently Trump pardoned the controversial conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza, who was accused of and confessed to campaign finance violations. Trump has also suggested pardoning Martha Stewart, who was arrested years ago for insider trading but is not currently in jail, as well as Rod Blagojevich who was impeached and then charged for corruption and soliciting bribes.
Meanwhile, there are many people sitting behind bars or in exile because they fought for freedom and were punished as a result. If Trump really wanted to fight the deep state—as his followers insist—then he would use his legal power to pardon the following political prisoners:
Ross Ulbricht is currently serving a double life sentence for operating a website. Before Bitcoin became the newest tech and investment craze, it was seen as the currency of the black market which was used to buy and sell drugs on the infamous “dark web.” In fact, Ulbricht was one of the early adopters of Bitcoin and he created one of the first websites that popularized the cryptocurrency, called The Silk Road.
The Silk Road was an anonymous online marketplace that became a target for politicians and law enforcement because of the large volume of drugs that were being sold through the site. On the Silk Road, drug users and vendors were able to trade anonymously using Bitcoin, making it one of the first major commerce platforms to adopt the cryptocurrency.
Even though Ulbricht did nothing but create a website—just like the famous billionaires Mark Zuckerberg or Jeff Bezos—he was treated like El Chapo in court because his invention worked against the system, instead of for it.
One important point that was heavily overlooked by the media during the Ulbricht trial was the fact that the Silk Road actually made the world a safer place by undermining prohibition. Even though drugs are illegal, large numbers of people still use them on a regular basis and these people are often put into dangerous situations because of these prohibitions.
The Silk Road allowed people to purchase drugs from the comfort of their living room to avoid the risk of getting mugged in a dark alleyway. It also allowed them to read reviews of the products that their potential dealer was selling, saving them from tainted drugs and dirty batches that could put their lives at risk.
Ulbricht should have gotten the Nobel Prize for his visionary application of a new and revolutionary technology, but instead, he was arrested in October 2013 and has been sitting in federal prison ever since, awaiting a break in his case, or the end of the drug war.
Leonard Peltier is a Native American activist who has spent over 40 years in prison for a crime that he did not commit. Before his arrest, Peltier was a well-known activist who was fighting back against attempts made to take even more native land in the 1960s and 70s. Peltier was involved with AIM, the American Indian Movement, a group of radical Natives who had numerous armed standoffs with government agents to protect their land.
Peltier was blamed for the deaths of two FBI agents who got into a shootout with unknown members of AIM when they were chasing down a young man named Johnny Eagle for questioning about a local robbery. The evidence against Peltier was flimsy, and in the many years since he was convicted, witnesses have recanted their testimonies against him. The entire case against him has fallen apart, and it was revealed in later investigations that FBI ballistics experts at the time lied during the trial about evidence tying the bullets that killed the agents to Peltier’s gun.
The U.S. Parole Commission denied Peltier parole in 1993 based on their finding that he “participated in the premeditated and cold-blooded execution of those two officers.” But, the Parole Commission has since stated that it “recognizes that the prosecution has conceded the lack of any direct evidence that Peltier personally participated in the executions of the two FBI agents.”
Near the end of the Clinton administration in 2001, it was rumored that Bill Clinton was considering granting Peltier clemency. On just this rumor, roughly 500 FBI agents and their families protested outside of the White House to oppose freedom for Peltier despite the clear lack of evidence against him. The Clinton administration never granted Peltier clemency and made no additional public comments about the case. Peltier then applied for a presidential pardon in 2016 and was denied by Barack Obama on January 18, 2017.
Jeremy Hammond is a hacktivist who was sentenced to spend a decade in prison for hacking the private intelligence firm Stratfor and releasing the leaks through the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks.
According to WikiLeaks, the e-mails date between July 2004 and December 2011. They reveal the inner workings of a company that fronts as an intelligence publisher, but provides confidential intelligence services to large corporations, such as Bhopal’s Dow Chemical Co., Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and government agencies, including the US Department of Homeland Security, the US Marines and the US Defence Intelligence Agency. The emails show Stratfor’s web of informers, pay-off structure, payment laundering techniques and psychological methods.
The emails also expose the revolving door that operates in private intelligence companies in the United States. Government and diplomatic sources from around the world gave Stratfor advance knowledge of global politics and events in exchange for money.
Before going to prison, Hammond said in a statement, “Now that I have pleaded guilty, it is a relief to be able to say that I did work with Anonymous to hack Stratfor, among other websites. I did this because I believe people have a right to know what governments and corporations are doing behind closed doors. I did what I believe is right.”
Hammond is currently slated for release in February 2020.
Julian Assange is the founder of the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks, which became a source of international controversy in 2010 when the site published leaks provided by Chelsea Manning, which showed horrific crimes on the part of the United States government in the overseas wars. In the years since, Wikileaks has continued to publish hard-hitting evidence exposing state corruption, such as the Stratfor leak from Jeremey Hammond.
Assange has spent years in exile at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, as various governments have attempted to pin charges on him to have him extradited for trial and possible torture.
Despite the fact that Trump spoke favorably about WikiLeaks while he was on the campaign trail, his administration has been extremely hostile towards the organization.
While WikiLeaks may not appear to be a traditional journalism outlet, there is no question that the service they provide—publishing legitimate, accurate, and truthful information from sources—is exactly what journalism was meant to be.
Edward Snowden is an NSA whistleblower currently in exile in Russia because he proved many suspicions that so-called “conspiracy theorists” have had for decades. As Snowden got deeper and deeper into U.S. government’s network of intelligence agencies, thanks to his technical ability, he became increasingly disturbed by the things that these agencies were doing. Eventually, unable to take the guilt of being involved with such organizations, Snowden took classified files from the NSA and delivered them to multiple journalists.
Snowden’s revelations showed that the US government is, in fact, spying on every single American citizen, and some citizens and even leaders of other countries as well.
While the exposure of these programs did not force the government to stop spying, it has made the average person more cautious about their privacy and security, and has made some people stop and think twice before calling someone a “conspiracy theorist.”
Last year, more than 1 million people signed a petition demanding that former President Obama pardon Snowden, but the demands of the petition were never answered.
“As you well know, Snowden disclosed information to journalists revealing that the NSA had overstepped U.S. statutes, the Constitution, and international law by engaging in widespread, warrantless surveillance. In response, we’ve seen a global debate that has changed government policies and profoundly affected how people think about personal privacy,” wrote Anthony D. Romero, ACLU Executive Director; Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International; and HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth — after amassing 1,101,252 signatories from around the globe.