By Deborah Charles and Laura MacInnis
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The former National Security Agency contractor who revealed the government's top-secret phone and Internet surveillance programs said in an online forum on Monday that he did not expect to get a fair trial in the United States.
In a question-and-answer session with readers on the website of Britain's Guardian newspaper, Snowden said his disappointment with President Barack Obama helped spur his decision to reveal the monitoring of Americans' phone and Internet data kept by big companies such as Google Inc and Facebook Inc.
Snowden, who had been working at an NSA facility as an employee of contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, traveled to Hong Kong before the surveillance programs became public and has vowed to stay there and fight any effort to bring him back to the United States.
"The U.S. government, just as they did with other whistleblowers, immediately and predictably destroyed any possibility of a fair trial at home, openly declaring me guilty of treason and that the disclosure of secret, criminal and even unconstitutional acts is an unforgivable crime. That's not justice," he told the online forum.
The revelations by Snowden have led to a criminal investigation, and U.S. officials promised last week to hold Snowden accountable for leaking details of the surveillance to the Guardian and the Washington Post.
The resulting controversy has ignited a renewed debate about the proper balance between privacy rights and national security, and Snowden has been called a traitor and a hero for his actions.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney was the latest to call Snowden a traitor, but Snowden called that a badge of honor.
"Being called a traitor by Dick Cheney is the highest honor you can give an American, and the more panicked talk we hear from people like him ... the better off we all are," Snowden said.
He said he took care not to reveal any U.S. operations against military targets.
"I pointed out where the NSA has hacked civilian infrastructure such as universities, hospitals and private businesses because it is dangerous," he said.
He said he decided to leak the details in part out of his disillusionment with Obama's failure to live up to some of his 2008 campaign promises.
"Obama's campaign promises and election gave me faith that he would lead us toward fixing the problems he outlined in his quest for votes. Many Americans felt similarly," he said.
"Unfortunately, shortly after assuming power, he closed the door on investigating systemic violations of law, deepened and expanded several abusive programs, and refused to spend the political capital to end the kind of human rights violations like we see in Guantanamo, where men still sit without charge," Snowden said.
Snowden's father, Lonnie, said in an interview on Fox News that he hoped his son would return to the United States to fight any potential criminal charges.
"I would like to see Ed come home and face this. I shared that with the government when I spoke with them. I love my son," he told Fox, adding "I hope, I pray" that he does not commit any acts that could be considered treason.
"I sense that you're under much stress (from) what I've read recently, and (ask) that you not succumb to that stress ... and make a bad decision," Lonnie Snowden said in an interview published on the channel's website.
He described his son as "a sensitive and caring person" and as "a deep thinker."
He denied press reports that Snowden was a high school dropout, saying that after a lengthy illness at the start of his sophomore year, his son enrolled in community college and eventually got a high school equivalency degree.
(Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)