WASHINGTON, July 26 (RIA Novosti) – The United States has assured Russia that it will not seek the death penalty for Edward Snowden or torture the fugitive former intelligence contractor, the US Justice Department said Friday amid Washington's ongoing efforts to secure Moscow’s assistance in returning him to the United States to face espionage charges.
US Attorney General Eric Holder told Russian Justice Minister Alexander Konovalov in a letter dated July 23 that prosecutors would not pursue the death penalty against Snowden in connection with espionage charges for leaking information about classified government surveillance programs, according to a copy of the letter the Justice Department provided to RIA Novosti.
“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 said in the letter, adding that Snowden’s grounds for seeking temporary asylum in Russia are “entirely without merit.”
Holder said Snowden “will not be tortured” if Snowden is returned to the United States from Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, where he has been reportedly living since arriving on a flight from Hong Kong on June 23.
“Torture is unlawful in the United States,” Holder said.
Snowden, who is wanted by the United States for leaking classified data about the US National Security Agency’s surveillance programs, formally requested temporary asylum in Russia on July 16.
Washington has repeatedly called on Moscow to reject Snowden’s request for asylum and send him back to the United States to stand trial on charges of espionage and theft.
Updated with quotes from Holder’s letter and background throughout.