Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has told Russian officials that the United States will not seek the death penalty for Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who released classified documents to reporters about U.S. surveillance and has been holed up in a Moscow airport.
In a bid to prevent Snowden from being granted asylum by Russia, Holder wrote a letter to the Russian justice minister, saying that while Snowden has been charged with theft and espionage he would not face the death penalty if returned to the United States.
“The charges he faces do not carry that possibility, and the United States would not seek the death penalty even if Mr. Snowden were charged with additional death penalty-eligible crimes,” Holder wrote to Justice Minister Alexander Vladimirovich Konovalov.
The letter was dated Tuesday and released by the Justice Department on Friday.
Holder also told Konovalov that Snowden would not be tortured if he returned to the United States and would be tried in a civilian rather than a military court, with the full protection of U.S. law.
“Torture is unlawful in the United States,” Holder wrote. “If he returns to the United States, Mr. Snowden would promptly be brought before a civilian court convened under Article III of the United States Constitution and supervised by a United States District Judge . . . Mr. Snowden would be appointed (or if so chose, could retain) counsel.”
The attorney general also said that Snowden was free to travel from Moscow, despite the revocation of his U.S. passport on June 22. Snowden is eligible for a “limited validity passport” good for direct return to the United States, Holder said.
“We believe that these assurances eliminate those asserted grounds for Mr. Snowden’s claim that he should be treated as a refugee or granted asylum, temporary or otherwise,” Holder wrote.
This piece originally appeared in The Washington Post
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