In a letter sent Friday from Attorney General Eric Holder to his Russian counterpart, Alexander Vladimirovich Konovalov, the United States government offers certain assurances in its effort to have NSA leaker Edward Snowden return to face criminal trial. The government will not seek the death penalty. The government will not torture Snowden. And contrary to his claims, Snowden can travel with a U.S. passport — if he's traveling back to the United States.
The letter, obtained by the Huffington Post's Ryan Reilly, appears at the bottom of this article. The point of the letter is clear: The United States wants Snowden back, and any asylum claim Snowden might make is unwarranted.
Snowden filed such a request two weeks ago. It reads, in full, "I hereby request your considering the possibility of granting me temporary asylum in the Russian Federation." For Russia to grant such a request, there are a series of qualifications under its Law on Refugees that ostensibly must be met. Those include that he fears persecution due to "political convention." A lawyer reportedly working for Snowden stated to a Russian TV network that Snowden "faces persecution by the U.S. government and he fears for his life and safety, fears that he could be subjected to torture and capital punishment," according to the Associated Press.
Holder's letter focuses on those reported threats. "First," he writes, "the United States would not seek the death penalty for Mr. Snowden should he return to the United States." Not only do the filed charges not carry such a penalty, he continues, the government wouldn't seek such a penalty even if new charges were filed.
Second: "Torture is unlawful in the United States." Holder suggests that Snowden would be tried in civilian court by a jury of his peers — and the right to an appeal if convicted. The torture concern, it's important to note, almost certainly stems from the incarceration of Bradley Manning, now on trial for leaking to Wikileaks. In 2012, the UN found that Manning's treatment was cruel and inhuman.
Holder's most elegant bit of legal jiu jitsu relates to Snowden's stated concern that he can't travel in safety.
That is not accurate; he is able to travel. … He is eligible for a limited validity passport good for direct return to the United States. The United States is willing to immediately issue such a passport to Mr. Snowden.
This will probably not be a source of much comfort to Snowden.