U.S. Assures Russia Snowden Won’t Be Tortured Or Face The Death Penalty

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"U.S. Assures Russia Snowden Won’t Be Tortured Or Face The Death Penalty"

Edward Snowden (center) in Moscow's int'l airport (Credit: Human Rights Watch)

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder sent a letter to his Russian counterpart this week providing assurances that the United States would not seek the death penalty in trying former NSA contractor Edward Snowden on charges of stealing and leaking classified information. Holder also said that Snowden would not be tortured and would be afforded all the rights an American citizen has to a civilian trial.

“We…understand from press reports that Mr. Snowden has filed papers seeking temporary asylum in Russia on the grounds that if he were returned to the United States, he would be tortured and would face the death penalty,” Holder’s letter says. “These claims are entirely without merit.”

Holder tells Russian Justice Minister Alexander Vladimirovich Konovalov that the U.S. will not seek the death penalty for Snowden, even if charges filed against him make him eligible for such a sentence. The letter also notes that “torture is unlawful in the United States” and that Snowden will face trial in a civilian court with access to to a lawyer. “Any questioning of Mr. Snowden could be conducted only with his consent; his participation would be entirely voluntary and his legal counsel would be present should he wish it.”

Holder says that these assurances should “eliminate these asserted grounds for Mr. Snowden’s claim that he should be treated as a refugee or granted asylum, temporary or otherwise.”

Snowden is still residing in the transit area of Moscow’s international airport. Some media outlets reported this week that Russian authorities had granted the former NSA information technology contractor documents that would allow him to reside in Russia while he awaits final word on his request for temporary asylum in Russia. However, Snowden’s Russian lawyer said that he had yet to receive the documents but that they might come at “any time.”

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