Former U.S. security contractor Edward Snowden would not face the death penalty or be tortured and would have all the protections of the U.S. civilian court system if he were sent home, the chief U.S. prosecutor wrote in a letter to his Russian counterpart this week.
In the letter dated Tuesday July 23 and released on Friday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder wrote that he sought to dispel claims about what would happen to Snowden if Russia handed him over to face charges of illegally disclosing government secrets about surveillance programs.
Snowden, 30, has been stuck at a Moscow airport for more than a month while he searches for a country that will grant him asylum and avoid the criminal charges.
Russia has refused to hand over Snowden, who leaked details of secret U.S. electronic surveillance programs to British and U.S. media, to the United States, and is considering a temporary asylum request.
"We believe that these assurances eliminate these asserted grounds for Mr. Snowden's claim that he should be treated as a refugee or granted asylum, temporary or otherwise," Holder wrote in the two-page letter to Russian Justice Minister Alexander Konovalov.
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Holder, the head of the U.S. Justice Department and an appointee of President Barack Obama, also promised that Snowden could have a lawyer with him for any questioning.
Citing media reports, Holder wrote 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. These claims are entirely without merit."
Snowden's supporters have worried he could face the same fate as Private First Class Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier accused of providing documents to WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy group. Upon his arrest, Manning was placed in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours a day with guards checking on him every few minutes.
"Torture is unlawful in the United States," Holder wrote, without explicit reference to Manning. "If he returns to the United States, Mr. Snowden would promptly be brought before a civilian court."