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Holder: Snowden would not face death penalty if sent home

The Guardian via Getty Images

Edward Snowden speaks during an interview with The Guardain in Hong Kong.

Self-proclaimed NSA leaker Edward Snowden would not face the death penalty if he were sent home, Attorney General Eric Holder said in a letter to his Russian counterpart this week.

Holder also said Snowden would not be tortured and would have all the protections of the U.S. civilian court if he were to come home from the Moscow airport where he has been hiding out.

The assurances were revealed in a letter dated July 23 and released on Friday, seeking 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, Holder said.

The letter was sent to Alexander Vladimirovich Konovalov, the Russian minister of justice.

"I can report that the United States is prepared to provide to the Russian government the following assurances regarding the treatment Mr. Snowden would face upon return to the United States," Holder wrote.

"First, the United States would not seek the death penalty for Mr. Snowden should he return to the United States." In addition, "Mr. Snowden will not be tortured. Torture is unlawful in the United States," the letter said. 

Snowden, 30, has been trapped in Moscow for more than a month while he looks for a country that will grant him asylum. 

Russia has refused to hand over Snowden, who leaked details of secret U.S. surveillance programs to American and British media, and is considering a temporary asylum request. 

Holder called media reports that Snowden has filed papers seeking temporary asylum in Russia on grounds that if he were returned to the U.S., he would be tortured or face the death penalty "entirely without merit." He also said Snowden would be "promptly" brought before a civilian court.

"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 nearly two-page letter.

Snowden's passport was revoked on June 22, but he remains a U.S. citizen and is eligible for a limited validity passport good for direct return to the U.S., the attorney general wrote.

Snowden's lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, told NBC News the letter didn't reveal anything new. 

"Snowden's current situation is due to the actions of the U.S. authorities, who annulled his passport," Kucherena said. "That is why he has ended up in the transit zone of the Sheremetyevo airport."

Kucherena also said he was disappointed by Russia's bureaucratic processes, which he said have caused his client to suffer. 

NBC's Albina Kovalyova contributed to this report. Reuters and The Associated Press also contributed.


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