WASHINGTON -- Attorney General Eric Holder has assured the Russian government that the United States has no plans to seek the death penalty for former National Security Agency systems analyst Edward Snowden.
In a letter dated Tuesday, the attorney general said the criminal charges Snowden now faces in this country do not carry the death penalty and the United States will not seek his execution even if he is charged with additional serious crimes.
Holder says his letter follows news reports that Snowden, who leaked details of two top-secret U.S. surveillance programs, is seeking temporary asylum in Russia on grounds that if he were returned to the United States he would be tortured and would face the death penalty.
Snowden has been charged with three offenses in the United States, including espionage, and could face up to 30 years in prison if convicted.
The attorney general's letter was sent to Alexander Vladimirovich Konovalov, the Russian minister of justice.
Holder's letter is part of a campaign by the U.S. government to get Snowden back. When Snowden arrived at Moscow's international airport a month ago, he was believed to be planning simply to transfer to a flight to Cuba and then to Venezuela to seek asylum. But the United States canceled his passport, stranding him.
Some Russian politicians, including parliament speaker Sergei Naryshkin, have said Snowden should be granted asylum to protect him from the death penalty.
If Snowden were to go to a country that opposes the death penalty, providing assurances that the United States won't seek the death penalty may remove at least one obstacle to his return to the United States.
"The United States would not seek the death penalty for Mr. Snowden should he return to the United States," Holder wrote.
A spokesman for President Vladimir Putin said Russia has not budged from its refusal to extradite Snowden.