WASHINGTON – Striving to get Edward Snowden back to America, U.S., Attorney General Eric Holder has assured the Russian government the United States has no plans to seek the death penalty for the former National Security Agency systems analyst.
In a letter dated Tuesday, the attorney general said the criminal charges Snowden now faces in this country do not carry the death penalty and the United States will not seek his execution even if he is charged with additional serious crimes.
Holder’s letter followed news reports that Snowden, who leaked details of top secret U.S. surveillance programs, has filed papers seeking temporary asylum in Russia on grounds that if he were returned to the United States he would be tortured and would face the death penalty.
Snowden has been charged with three offenses in the United States, including espionage, and could face up to 30 years in prison if convicted.
The attorney general’s letter was sent to Alexander Vladimirovich Konovalov, the Russian minister of justice.
Holder’s letter is part of a campaign by the U.S. government to get Snowden back. When Snowden arrived at Moscow’s international airport a month ago, he was believed to be planning simply to transfer to a flight to Cuba and then to Venezuela to seek asylum. But the United States canceled his passport, stranding him. Besides applying for temporary asylum in Russia, he has said he’d like to visit the countries that offered him permanent asylum — Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua.
Some Russian politicians, including parliament speaker Sergei Naryshkin, have said Snowden should be granted asylum to protect him from the death penalty. If Snowden were to go to a country that opposes the death penalty, providing assurances that the United States won’t seek it could remove at least one obstacle to his return to America.
“I can report that the United States is prepared to provide to the Russian government the following assurances regarding the treatment Mr. Snowden would face upon return to the United States,” Holder wrote. “First, the United States would not seek the death penalty for Mr. Snowden should he return to the United States.” In addition, “Mr. Snowden will not be tortured. Torture is unlawful in the United States.”
Bruce Fein, a lawyer representing Edward Snowden’s father, criticized Holder.
“Today the attorney general stated — apparently thinking he was being conciliatory — that if Edward Snowden were returned to the United States we wouldn’t kill him or torture him. Those are concessions only in the mind of someone who’s very biased,” said Fein. He said an impartial prosecutor would have said that Snowden is entitled to a presumption of innocence and that he would guarantee Snowden a fair trial by ensuring it was held in a venue that wasn’t populated by NSA contractors.
The attorney general said that if Snowden returned to the United States he would promptly be brought before a civilian court and would receive “all the protections that United States law provides.”