EXONERATE: to free from guilt or blame

exonerate

  • Governor Cuomo  is criticized for being overly-frugal in his end-of-year pardons for just three men in New York State.
  • Some call for Edward Snowden to receive clemency in U.S. for his “whistleblower” tactics
  • Roman Catholic leader is released from prison after having been convicted of covering up sexual abuse cases in his Diocese.
  • Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project lists “witness error” as leading cause for release of previously-convicted subjects.

It is clear that we are in an era where there are movements throughout the nation to take a closer look at our corrections industry.  It is long overdue.    Having lived most of my adult life in New York State, where the so-called Rockefeller Drug Laws have been in effect for decades now, I am aware of the pain inflicted upon young men and women for minimal violations of state laws.  As this nation becomes more and more tolerant of marijuana, for instance, the question arises as to the appropriateness of decade-long punishments for those who trafficked in marijuana, sometimes caught with just an ounce or more of the then-dreaded drug.   There is a call for release of those still serving these extended lengths of time behind bars.

The conflict is between the issue of the breaking of the laws (as they existed at the time) and the compassion called for in recognizing the lack of value in life-damaging imprisonment.   There is a case to be made on both sides of the question.   But the Rockefeller Drug Laws were an over-reaction, calling for harse treatment to send out the message to drug dealers in New York State that their enterprises would not be tolerated.  It was a form of “no tolerance,”  a concept which has bothered me for a long time.

In dealing with this sticky issue, it is required that we look at the laws that came into being at the time and ask if they were appropriate.  It may be that the imprisoned “victims” need to be released, having served more than an appropriate time in prison.

In the case of Edward Snowden, there are arguments being put forth which say that his exposure of inappropriate invasion of privacy by the United States government was a gift to our nation (and the world.)   The other side of the argument is that he violated oaths and contracts he agreed to which called for him to guard the secrecy required to operate an effective intelligence industry.    There are arguments on both sides which can be made which seem to be valid.

Snowden is cast by some as a traitor and by others as a hero.    The reality is that there are probably characteristics of both in his situation.   I’m less enamored by the hero ones, however.   As is stated in a very cogent commentary  I read this week, there are other aspects of his revelations about which nobody wants to talk.  They have to do with information he shared which was, indeed, vital to intelligence operations and which have undermined the ability of our nation (and other nations) to protect themselves from terrorism.  It has been hard for the authorities to talk about these issues without further damaging covert operations which are vital to our security.  It has been “‘sexier” for the media to focus upon personal violations of privacy, as in the case of  leaders of countries who, it turns out, have apparently willingly participated in information sharing (and covert operations) under agreements between and among nations.

But the fact remains that Snowden’s activities have exposed apparent violations of intelligence gathering.  (I am not impressed, however, with his energy to shape the way in which he became eligible to have access to that information. )  Joe Nocera, columnist for the Times, argues that Brazil’s interest in granting asylum for Snowden reveals thinking that should affect us in the U.S., and that he should be granted clemency and allowed to “come home.”   I’m not sure I agree, but the conversations continue.

This is all about the question as to whether it is appropriate to exonerate someone f or what appears to have been a crime.  As I read it, the term exonerate is related to the discovery that a crime was not committed by the person under imprisonment.  Exoneration involves the discovery of innocence and the apprehension (or need for apprehension) of the truly guilty person.   As Garner points out in Garner’s Modern American Usage, “…(the word exonerate) is sometimes misused for condone (=to overlook or disregard [an offense.] 

It feels to me that this confusion is at the core of the dialogue about Snowden’s violations.   Are we asked to forgive him for something he didn’t do…or is it about condoning what he did?

It seems to me that we have a long way to go before we come to a consensus in this country about Snowden.   That may not keep us from other reforms, however, that call for the “victim” to be exonerated.

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