Holder to Russia: Snowden won't be tortured or face death penalty

Olivier Knox
Yahoo! News
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)

Attorney General Eric Holder has assured Russia's justice minister that NSA leaker Edward Snowden, currently living at a Moscow airport, won't be tortured or face the death penalty if turned over to the U.S. Holder's pledge — aimed at persuading Russia to reject Snowden's application for asylum — came in a letter sent July 23 and released on Friday.

"The United States would not seek the death penalty for Mr. Snowden should he return to the United States," Holder wrote to Alexander Vladimirovich Konovalov. "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."

Snowden, who leaked details of the National Security Agency's collection of Americans' telephone records and large-scale spying on the Internet, has reportedly sought asylum in Russia on grounds that he could face the death penalty and be tortured if he returned to the U.S. Some lawmakers have accused him of treason, though he does not face that charge, which can carry capital punishment.

"Mr. Snowden will not be tortured. Torture is unlawful in the United States," Holder wrote. "Any questioning of Mr. Snowden could be conducted only with his consent: his participation would be entirely voluntary, and his legal counsel would be present should he wish it."