Law Versus Power




“[W]hen the history of our era is written not by the torturers and their apologists, but by those who never gave up on the promise of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—Wolfgang Kaleck will be one of the primary authors. Until then, we can be grateful that he has chosen to write this account of struggles well fought.” —Edward Snowden

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About the Book

Wolfgang Kaleck, best known as Edward Snowden’s lawyer, is a human rights activist extraordinaire. For more than two decades, he has travelled the world to fight alongside those suffering injustice at the hands of powerful players, people who, prior to the arrival of Kaleck and his colleagues, often enjoyed impunity.

Kaleck’s work has taken him to Buenos Aires, to stand with the mothers of youngsters “disappeared” under the Argentinian military dictatorship; to exiled Syrian communities, where he assembled the case against torture mandated by those high up in the Assad government; to Central America, where he collaborated with those pursuing the Guatemalan military for its massacres of indigenous people; to New York, to partner with the Center for Constitutional Rights in taking action against Donald Rumsfeld for the “enhanced interrogation techniques” he greenlighted after 9/11; and to Moscow, where he represents the whistle-blower Edward Snowden, “a likeable man whose talents go far beyond his technical skills.”

In recounting his involvement in such cases, Kaleck gives full voice to those he is representing, emphasizing the courage and persistence they bring to the global search for justice. The result is a book crammed with compelling and vivid stories, underscoring the notion that, while the world is often a terrible place, universal standards of human rights can prevail when people are willing to struggle for them.

226 pages • Paperback ISBN 978-1-682191-73-6 • E-book 978-1-682191-74-3

About the Author

wolfgang kaleck author photo

Photo © Ute Langkafel/Maifoto

Wolfgang Kaleck is the founder and General Secretary of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) in Berlin. Working with partners around the world, ECCHR takes legal proceedings against individuals, corporations, and state actors who have breached the law relating to human rights.

Read an Excerpt

Moscow, late January 2014

On January 26, I take an Aeroflot flight to Moscow Sheremetyevo from Berlin’s provincial Schönefeld airport, where echoes of the Realsozialist past can still be detected in the commands barked by airport personnel. A taxi brings me through the Moscow winter, high-rise apartment blocks, commuter towns, heavy traffic, neon signs, amusement parks, imposing buildings of all kinds. At a hotel downtown I join a small group of fellow lawyers headed by Ben Wizner from the American Civil Liberties Union. I’ve known Ben for a decade, we worked together on the case of Khaled al-Masri, a German who was kidnapped by the CIA and tortured in Afghanistan. Now we’ve come to Moscow to meet with Edward Snowden.

Ever since Edward Snowden’s revelations the previous summer, my colleague Carsten Gericke and I have been making arrangements in Berlin to prepare Snowden’s legal representation in Europe. We’ve had meetings to explore the possibility of an asylum request and to assist him in his appearances as an expert witness in front of state inquiries such as at the German Parliament and international bodies like the Council of Europe and the European Parliament. In autumn 2013 we assemble a small team of European lawyers and meet in Berlin, but until now nothing has been made public. I haven’t met Snowden before and I’m looking forward to our encounter.

We get a taxi to the arranged meeting place. Snowden looks just as slight and young as he seems in the photos. But instead of the nerd I’d expected to find, we meet a friendly, open person who begins by giving each of us a gift of a Matrjoschka. The conversation is straightforward and to the point. Snowden explains, question, issues requests and directives, but he also listens, understands and is open to suggestions. There is a long list of topics for discussion but we swiftly agree on common positions. I feel well primed for the tasks ahead.

While the discussion runs smoothly, the circumstances are deeply unsettling, themselves an intrinsic part of and an expression of the problem of surveillance: who is intercepting our conversation, who is tracking us, how secure are my office and my apartment back home? My mobile phone suddenly dies, specialists examine it later in Berlin but the data cannot be retrieved. A sense of threat hangs in the air.

Taking on this case is quite demanding but means a lot to me. We often rely on whistleblowers like Snowden and WikiLeaks when gathering evidence of human rights violations. The widespread surveillance of purported and actual enemies is something common to secret services all over the world. We often work on such cases because in many cases it is our colleagues—lawyers and human rights defenders—in the Global South who suffer under constant surveillance and the threat of prison and torture.

As a result of this case I am the subject of increased focus and face something of a balancing act: in my role as a lawyer I am bound to confidentiality and to represent the interests of my client. This means I sometimes have to hold my tongue, which is difficult for me as I follow the self-referential German discussion. Public perception of the case in Germany is marked by a vague sense of concern for German interests, including the tapping of Angela Merkel’s mobile phone by the NSA, instead of looking globally at the problem posed by surveillance and possible global remedies.

But I’m also enjoying the chance to work on behalf of this likeable person on such an important issue. While I think it’s a mistake to revere Snowden as a hero, he has certainly become a symbol, especially for young people, of the good that one person can do. He has set the thing in motion, now the task falls to us all: we need political action against mass surveillance and to improve the protection of whistleblowers. I fly to Moscow a few more times. As I get to know Snowden better I start to appreciate the breadth of his intellect; his talents go far beyond technical skills.

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