Attorney General Eric Holder told Russian authorities that Edward Snowden would not face the death penalty or torture if he were returned to the United States, in a bid to convince the Kremlin to return the man who leaked information about top-secret National Security Agency surveillance programs.
"First, the United States would not seek the death penalty for Mr. Snowden should he return to the United States. 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 wrote, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Snowden has been holed up in the Moscow airport for nearly a month after fleeing Hong Kong when the U.S. filed an extradition request with Chinese authorities.
A Russian immigration official said earlier this week that Snowden would soon be given a document allowing him to temporarily leave the international travel zone and travel into the country. Vladimir Volokh, head of the public council of the Russian Federal Migration Service, told the Ekho Moskvy radio station that Snowden would “only be allowed to stay in places designated by Russian law enforcement agencies."
If granted temporary asylum, Snowden is expected to ask for and obtain travel documents to head to one of three Latin American countries — Nicaragua, Bolivia and Venezuela — that have offered him permanent refuge.
But American authorities are making a last-ditch bid to Russian officials to have Snowden returned.
Earlier this month, White House press secretary Jay Carney insisted that Snowden would be offered the protections of the American legal system.
"It should be clear when we see discussions about — or suppositions or discussions about the idea that Mr. Snowden is somehow being persecuted. He is a United States citizen who has been charged with crimes, and under our system of law, he should be afforded every bit of due process here in the United States, and he should return here to face trial," Carney said.
In his letter, sent on Tuesday, Holder also said the United States would issue Snowden a passport good to return to the United States. The government has revoked Snowden's current travel documents, limiting his ability to travel.
"He is eligible for a limited validity passport good for direct return to the United States," Holder wrote. "The United States is willing to immediately issue such a passport to Mr. Snowden."