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Snowden Wouldn't Face Death Penalty, Holder Tells Russia

"The United States would not seek the death penalty for Mr. Snowden should he return to the United States," Attorney General Eric Holder has told his Russian counterpart in a letter about the "NSA leaker" who remains in legal limbo at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport.

Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who has spilled secrets about NSA surveillance programs, has been at the airport's transit zone since June 23. He's seeking temporary asylum in Russia and then possibly permanent asylum in one of three countries that have offered to take him in: Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela.

The U.S. wants Russia to deport Snowden. American officials want him returned to the U.S. for prosecution. Holder's letter, which was released Friday, addresses some "press reports and prior conversations between our governments" about issues involving Snowden's status. The attorney general writes that:

-- Snowden "is able to travel. Despite the revocation of his passport on June 22, 2013, Mr. Snowden remains a U.S. citizen. 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."

-- Claims that Snowden "would be tortured and would face the death penalty" if he is sent to the U.S. "are entirely without merit."

-- On the death penalty, "the charges he faces do not carry that possibility."

-- "Mr. Snowden will not be tortured. Torture is unlawful in the United States."

-- "We believe 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."

(H/T to NPR's Carrie Johnson)

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