US will not seek death penalty for Edward Snowden

Should he return to the U.S., Snowden would be eligible for a public trial by jury, according to a recent letter

The U.S. will not seek the death penalty for Edward Snowden, the former intelligence contractor responsible for leaking documents revealing classified government surveillance programs, according to a recent letter from attorney general Eric Holder.

The charges Snowden faces in the U.S. do not carry the death penalty, and the U.S. will not seek the death penalty even if Snowden were charged with additional death penalty-eligible crimes, Holder said in the letter, which was sent to Russian minister of justice Vladimirovich Konovalov and obtained by CBS News.

The letter was dated July 23. The U.S. attorney general's office declined to comment immediately.

Snowden is currently thought to be residing at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport. Last week he requested temporary asylum in Russia in an effort to avoid prosecution by the U.S. government, which has indicted Snowden on charges related to the leaks.

Should he return to the U.S., Snowden will not be tortured either, Holder said. He would be promptly brought before a civilian court convened under Article III of the U.S. Constitution and supervised by a U.S. district judge, according to the letter.

"Mr. Snowden would receive all the protections that U.S. law provides to persons charge with federal criminal offenses in Article III courts," Holder said.

Snowden would be appointed counsel and would have the right to a public jury trial, according to the letter, and he would have the right to testify if he wished to do so.

"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 said.Snowden has expressed an interest in relocating to Latin America, where Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua have offered him safe harbor, but those efforts are complicated because the U.S. revoked Snowden's passport.

But Snowden is eligible for a limited validity passport for direct return to the U.S., Holder said, adding that the U.S. is willing to immediately issue such a passport.

Earlier this week Snowden was granted a document allowing him to leave the Moscow airport.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is

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