DOJ to Russia: We Promise We Won’t Seek the Death Penalty if You Give Up Snowden

Posted: Jul 26, 2013 12:30 PM

Do you think Attorney General Eric Holder’s latest peace offering will change Moscow’s mind about giving up the mysterious and ever-elusive Edward Snowden? Unlikely:

Attorney General Eric Holder has told the Russian government that the U.S. will not seek the death penalty for former National Security Agency systems analyst Edward Snowden.

In a letter dated July 23, the attorney general said the criminal charges Snowden faces do not carry the death penalty and that the U.S. will not seek the death penalty even if Snowden were charged with additional death penalty-eligible crimes.

Holder says his letter follows news reports that Snowden, who leaked information on largely secret electronic surveillance programs, has filed papers 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.

The attorney general's letter was sent to Alexander Vladimirovich Konovalov, the Russian minister of justice.

Meanwhile, Putin is wholly “determined” not to let U.S./Russian relations deteriorate over the Snowden affair, or something:

Russian President Vladimir Putin is determined not to allow a spat over Edward Snowden to hurt ties with the United States, his spokesman said on Friday.

However, the spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Putin was not involved in talks over the fate of the 30-year-old former U.S. spy agency contractor, who is wanted by the United States on espionage charges and has been stuck at a Moscow airport for more than a month.

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

Peskov said Putin had expressed "strong determination" not to let ties with Washington suffer over the dispute, "no matter how the situation develops".

But he reiterated Moscow's stance that Russia "did not hand over, does not hand over and will not hand over anybody".

Three countries in Latin America have granted Snowden political asylum. But the problem is that he can’t reach any of them directly via Moscow:

Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela have said they could offer sanctuary to Snowden, who arrived on June 23 from Hong Kong, where he had fled to escape capture and trial in the United States on espionage charges.

None of the three Latin American countries can be reached by a direct commercial flight from Moscow, so Snowden has requested temporary asylum in Russia until he believes he can safely reach one of them.

The United States wants him extradited to face prosecution and has revoked his passport.

Unfortunately for him, Snowden is stuck in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport for the foreseeable future. Russia has not yet granted him temporary status -- and it remains to be seen if they will. What's more, the process can take up to three months before he finds out if he can stay. So if you ask me, that’s a pretty long time to spend in the corridors of an airport -- although I suspect he'd much rather stay where he is than be extradited to the United States and prosecuted.