US assures no death penalty for Snowden
Updated: 2013-07-27 15:03
Snowden's supporters have worried he could face the same fate as Private First Class Bradley Manning, the US soldier on trial for providing documents to WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy group. On his arrest, Manning was placed in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours a day with guards checking on him every few minutes.
"Torture is unlawful in the United States," Holder wrote, without explicit reference to Manning. "If he returns to the United States, Mr Snowden would promptly be brought before a civilian court."
Snowden has been offered asylum by three Latin American countries but none of them is reachable directly on commercial flights from Moscow, where he flew in from Hong Kong on June 23. He has also had his passport revoked by the United States.
His hopes for leaving the Sheremetyevo airport transit zone, which Russia insists is formally not its territory, were dashed at the last minute on Wednesday, prompting a wave of speculation about possible political intervention or a hitch.
A Russian lawyer assisting Snowden in his asylum request, Anatoly Kucherena, who also sits on an advisory group to the Russian authorities, said his client feared he could face torture or the death penalty if returned to the United States.
Russia's federal migration service has up to three months to consider Snowden's temporary asylum request filed on July 16. An official was quoted on Friday as saying that could be extended to six months.
Snowden is a convenient propaganda tool for the Kremlin, which often accuses the United States of preaching abroad what it does not practice at home on human rights.
But Moscow has also held Snowden at arm's length as Putin wants US President Barack Obama to come to a bilateral summit in Moscow before a G20 meeting in St Petersburg in September.
The White House has left it vague on whether Obama will come to the face-to-face talks.
A US Senate panel voted unanimously on Thursday to seek trade or other sanctions against Russia or any other country that offers asylum to Snowden.
The US House of Representatives on Wednesday narrowly rejected a plan to limit the National Security Agency's ability to collect electronic information, including phone call records.
Snowden's father on Friday blasted US lawmakers for not reining in the electronic spy program made public by his son, accusing them of being "complicit or negligent."
Bruce Fein, an attornery for Snowden's father Lonnie, said he had not yet received a response from Holder to a letter he sent to the attorney general suggesting developing "parameters for a fair trial" for Edward Snowden. Fein said Lonnie Snowden had not had any direct communication with his son since April.