WASHINGTON -- Striving to get Edward Snowden back to America, U.S., Attorney General Eric Holder has assured the Russian government the U.S. 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 the United States do not carry the death penalty and the U.S. will not seek his execution even if he is charged with additional serious crimes. The 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 U.S., he would be tortured and would face the death penalty.
Snowden has been charged with three offences in the U.S., 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 U.S. cancelled his passport, stranding him. Besides applying for temporary asylum in Russia, he has said he would 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.
"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."
A spokesman for President Vladimir Putin said Russia has not budged from its refusal to extradite Snowden. Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agencies "Russia has never extradited anyone and never will." There is no U.S.-Russia extradition treaty.
Peskov also said Putin is not involved in reviewing Snowden's application or in discussions with the U.S. of his future with the U.S., though the Russian Security Service, the FSB, had been in touch with the FBI.
-- The Associated Press