The US has promised Russia it won't seek the death penalty for whistle-blower Edward Snowden if he is sent home to face charges of leaking government secrets. Russia and the US are currently in talks over his future.
In a letter from Attorney General Eric Holder addressed to his Russian counterpart, he said "the charges he faces do not carry that possibility, and that the United States would not seek the death penalty even if Mr. Snowden were charged with additional, death penalty-eligible crimes."
Snowden, 30, is wanted by the US for leaking details of wide-reaching government spying programs, including the tracking of regular citizens' phone and internet data. He has been stuck in the transit area of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport for more than a month. The former intelligence contractor has asked Russia for asylum, but his fate remains uncertain.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia's FSB and its US counterpart, the FBI, were currently in talks over Snowden's future.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he has a "strong determination" not to let the Snowden affair harm relations between Washington and Moscow, "no matter how the situation develops." But he also said that Russia "did not hand over, does not hand over and will not hand over anybody."
Holder's letter, dated July 23 but released on Friday, also stressed that Snowden would not be tortured, a practice the attorney general called "illegal." He also reiterated the position that Snowden, who has had his passport revoked, "is eligible for a limited validity passport good for direct return to the United States."
The US believes "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's supporters fear he could receive the same treatment as Army private Bradley Manning, the US soldier accused of providing thousands of documents to the whistle-blower website WikiLeaks.
A UN special rapporteur found last year that Manning's treatment, which included 23 hours of daily solitary confinement with guards checking on him every few minutes, had amounted to cruel and inhumane treatment.
Although Snowden is waiting to hear whether he will be given asylum by Russia, a process that could take up to three months, he has already been granted the privilege by Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
dr/tm (AFP, AP, Reuters)