The European Parliament has urged its member states to embrace American fugitive Edward Snowden as a “whistle-blower and international human rights defender.”

The former National Security Agency contractor remains in Russia, and the Justice Department has ignored his public entreaties for a plea deal that would allow him to return to the United States and face charges.

Alternately hailed as a hero and traitor, Snowden has said he is willing to go to jail in order to return home. The United States should offer him a deal. As other countries move to protect him, the Justice Department looks vindictive in its refusal to negotiate, and Snowden’s status as a heroic figure grows the longer he remains on foreign soil, tweeting about privacy abuses.

Snowden fled to Hong Kong in 2013, before the United States charged him with theft and espionage for releasing millions of classified documents about government surveillance. Now living in Russia, he has amassed 1.6 million followers on Twitter, appeared live via video at conferences and posed for the cover of Wired magazine wrapped in an American flag.

In March, Snowden’s attorney said his client wants to come home if he can be assured of a fair trial. Although former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder hinted in July of a “resolution that everybody could ultimately be satisfied with,” none has been forthcoming, and a spokesman for the National Security Council said after the European Parliament vote that “our position has not changed” on the felony charges Snowden faces.

Snowden’s case does not merit a pardon, but a negotiated deal is in order.

Gen. David Petraeus gave classified information to his mistress and later lied to the FBI — a crime later reduced to a misdemeanor, mishandling classified information, in a plea deal. He didn’t go to jail, but Snowden is willing to, even though his crime, unlike that of Petraeus, did the public actual good.

Earlier this year, President Barack Obama signed the USA Freedom Act, the law that curtails the bulk data collection that Snowden exposed.

It’s time for Snowden to come home. Obama should make it happen and not leave the issue a political football for the next administration to kick around.

Editorial by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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