In a letter to Russia’s Minister of Justice, Attorney General Eric Holder said that Edward Snowden would not face the death penalty or be tortured if he returned to the United States.

From the Wall Street Journal:

Attorney General Eric Holder, in a letter to Russian counterpart Alexander Vladimirovich Konovalov, said Mr. Snowden’s grounds for seeking asylum in Russia “are entirely without merit.”

The letter goes on to provide written assurances, in the hope that Russia will then deny Mr. Snowden’s appeal for temporary asylum.

“First, the United States would not seek the death penalty for Mr. Snowden should he return to the United States. The charges he faces do not carry that possibility, and the United States would not seek the death penalty even if Mr. Snowden were charged with additional, death penalty-eligible crimes,” Mr. Holder wrote.

Holder also indicated that Snowden can travel back to the US to face charges, saying “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.”

The Attorney General also addressed the former NSA contractor’s claims that he would be tortured if he returned to the US.  Snowden’s request for temporary asylum in Russia has been reported by the press to be based in part on such claims.

From the Washington Post:

Holder also told Konovalov that Snowden would not be tortured if he returned to the United States and would be tried in a civilian rather than a military court, with the full protection of U.S. law.

“Torture is unlawful in the United States,” Holder wrote. “If he returns to the United States, Mr. Snowden would promptly be brought before a civilian court convened under Article III of the United States Constitution and supervised by a United States District Judge . . . Mr. Snowden would be appointed (or if so chose, could retain) counsel.”

Where the word “torture” is concerned, supporters of Snowden have often drawn comparisons to Army Private Bradley Manning, who is currently on trial for leaking hundreds of thousands of documents and other classified materials to Wikileaks.  Those sympathetic to him have long tried to argue that Manning’s treatment while held in confinement at Quantico Marine Base – where he was held in a small cell, prevented from interacting with other prisoners, and was often stripped down naked and his cell searched – was akin to “torture.”

Military personnel who supervised Manning’s confinement however testified in a pre-trial hearing in 2012 that such steps were necessary for Manning’s safety and that of other prisoners, because Manning had arrived to the base under suicide watch and continued to exhibit odd and concerning behavior, such as outbursts of screaming and babbling, licking the bars of his cell and “erratic dancing.”

A United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture who examined Manning’s treatment denounced it as “cruel, degrading and inhuman,” but stopped short of calling it “torture.”