No death penalty for Snowden if convicted, U.S. says
FILE - In this July 25, 2013 file photo, Attorney General Eric Holder speaks in Philadelphia. Holder tells Russia US won't seek death penalty for Edward Snowden. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
This publicity image released by NBC shows Lon Snowden, father of National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden on the "Today," show in New York on Friday, July 26, 2013. Snowden said there's been a concerted effort by some members of Congress to "demonize" his son. He says lawmakers should be more focused on whether the NSA's collection of the phone records of millions of Americans is constitutional. The House voted 217-205 Wednesday to spare the NSA surveillance program. (AP Photo/NBC, Peter Kramer)
Russian lawyer Anatoly Kucherena speaks to the media after visiting National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden at Sheremetyevo airport outside Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, July 24, 2013. Anatoly Kucherena advising National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden says his asylum status has not been resolved and that he is going to stay at the Moscow airport for now. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr)
In this image provided by Human Rights Watch, NSA leaker Edward Snowden, center, attends a news conference at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport with Sarah Harrison of WikiLeaks, left, Friday, July 12, 2013. Snowden wants to seek asylum in Russia, according to a Parliament member who was among about a dozen activists and officials to meet with him Friday in the Moscow airport where he's been marooned for weeks. Duma member Vyacheslav Nikonov told reporters of Snowden's intentions after the meeting behind closed doors in the transit zone of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport. (AP Photo/Human Rights Watch, Tanya Lokshina)
Striving to get Edward Snowden back to the United States, 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 faces do not carry the death penalty, and the U.S. 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 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. 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 U.S. 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 U.S., he would promptly be brought before a civilian court and would receive “all the protections that United States law provides.”