December 3, 2013 Last Updated 2:08 pm

Guardian grilling over NSA leaked documents provides its share of cringe inducing moments

The editor of the Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, faced a panel of MPs this afternoon (London time) in a question and answer session that produced its share of embarrassing and cringe inducing moments.

The issues discussed, obviously, involved the NSA leaks of Edward Snowden, and the Guardian’s publishing of stories regarding their revelations, as well as the decision by the Guardian to share the documents with The New York Times.

At one point Rusbridger was asked whether he loved his country, a question that drew murmurs from those in attendance.

“Do you love this country?” asked Committee chair, Keith Vaz.

Rusbridger-screenshot“We live in a democracy and most of the people working on this story are British people who have families in this country, who love this country. I’m slightly surprised to be asked the question but, yes, we are patriots and one of the things we are patriotic about is the nature of democracy, the nature of a free press and the fact that one can, in this country, discuss and report these things,” Rusbridger replied.

While there were times when the Guardian’s editor reminded the MPs that the United States, and certain European countries, have press protections that the UK does not (such as prior restraint) there were also times when one might have closed one’s eyes and felt they were listening to certain members of Congress.

For instance, Conservative MP Michael Ellis would barely let Rusbridger get in a word edgewise, as he implied that the Guardian had broken the law.

“Now 58,000 documents were sent or communicated by you – as editor-in-chief of the Guardian you caused them to be communicated, and they contained a wealth of information,” Ellis said. “It was effectively an IT-sharing platform between the United States and the United Kingdom intelligence services wasn’t it?”

“I’ll leave you to express those words,” Rusbridger said.

“So you decline to answer that. Very well,” replied Ellis who was mercifully cut off by the chair at one point.

Today was not a high point in the history of the Parliament, and those that fear for press freedoms in the UK were left with plenty of evidence that many MPs would gladly see journalists thrown in jail over the NSA leaks.

Lost in some of all this was the irony that the main accusation of many MPs was that the documents the Guardian possessed was shared with the NYT, and therefore was the disclosing of state secrets. Those NSA documents, after all, originated in the U.S. and were only be shared with a leading US newspaper. But conservative MPs seemed to imply that this was the offense that concerned them the most.

“I think you have committed a criminal offence in your response,” said Conservative MP Mark Reckless. “Do you think that it would not be in the public interest for the CPS [Crown Prosecution Service] to prosecute or should it be dealt with by the authorities in the normal way?”

“I think it depends on your view of a free press,” Rusbridger said. “In America, the attorney general has said within the last two weeks that, from what he had seen so far, he had no intention of prosecuting Glenn Greenwald. He’s gone further. He said that under his watch he will not prosecute any journalist doing their duty.”

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