Sari Horwitz and Michael Birnbaum
July 26, 2013
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has told a Russian official 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 who has been holed up at 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 although Snowden has been charged with theft and espionage, he will 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 returns to the United States and would be tried in a civilian rather than a military court, with the full protection of U.S. law. Snowden has suggested in news reports that he could be tortured or face the death penalty if returned home.
“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 release of Holder’s letter came on a day when Russian officials seemed both unenthusiastic to have Snowden on their soil and unwilling to extradite him to the United States.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia “never surrendered anyone and we will never do so in the future,” the Interfax news agency reported.