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Pardon Snowden? Celebs and human rights groups say yes

NSA leaker Edward Snowden speaks at event as three major human rights organizations launch a campaign for a presidential pardon.

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Edward Snowden speaks via video link at a news conference for the launch of a campaign calling for President Obama to pardon him.

Spencer Platt, Getty Images

Anthony Romero knows Edward Snowden broke the law.

Still, the executive director of the ACLU said, "Edward Snowden should be thanked and not punished."

His remarks came as three major human rights groups launched the Pardon Snowden campaign Wednesday to advocate for the former NSA contractor who revealed widespread government surveillance programs. At a press conference in New York, broadcast on Facebook Live, Romero spoke alongside representatives from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, arguing for President Barack Obama to pardon Snowden's crimes.

The push comes two days before the release of a Hollywood film directed by Oliver Stone based on Snowden's life and his disclosure in 2013 of a top secret surveillance program to journalists at the Guardian and The Washington Post. On Tuesday, Snowden made his case to the Guardian about why he should be pardoned on moral grounds, saying he'd revealed the US government's abuse of power and no one got hurt.

On Wednesday, Snowden joined the launch of the Pardon Snowden campaign via teleconference from Russia, where he's living in self-imposed exile to avoid the charges he faces in the US for violating the Espionage Act and other laws.

"While I am grateful for the support given to my case, this really isn't about me," Snowden said. "It's about us. It's about our right to dissent."

Snowden's supporters also on Wednesday placed full-page ads in The Washington Post and Politico and started a petition, already signed by cultural heavyweights such as Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, author Joyce Carol Oates and actor Danny Glover.

The White House on Wednesday held firm, saying it has no plans to pardon Snowden.

"Mr. Snowden has been charged with serious crimes, and it's the policy of the administration that Mr. Snowden should return to the United States and face those charges," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said at a press briefing Monday. "There are mechanisms in our criminal justice system to ensure that he's treated fairly and consistent with the law."

ACLU director Romero said Snowden would have no opportunity to argue that he performed a public service if he were to face trial. Under the Espionage Act, such an argument would be useless.

"The only question that remains would be the length of his sentence," Romero said.