The U.S. Department of Justice is urging Russia not to grant asylum to Edward Snowden, pledging that the former National Security Agency contractor would not face the death penalty or torture for allegations he leaked government surveillance secrets.
In a July 23 letter to Russian officials, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. assured the Russian Minister of Justice that Snowden's claims that returning to the United States would result in torture and possible death "are entirely without merit."
"First, the United States would not seek the death penalty for Mr. Snowden should he return to the United States," Holder wrote. "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."
"Second, Mr. Snowden will not be tortured," Holder wrote. "Torture is unlawful in the United States. 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."
Holder further says Snowden "would be appointed (or, if he so chose, could retain) counsel," and says the United States would immediately issue a validity passport to Snowden "good for direct return to the United States."
"We believe 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.
Snowden remains in the transit zone of the Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow, according to press reports. His leaks to The Guardian newspaper revealed NSA programs targeting the collection of phone call data from millions of Americans and Internet communications.