The Slatest

Washington Thought It Necessary to Promise Moscow That It Won’t Torture or Kill Snowden

In this handout photo provided by The Guardian, Edward Snowden speaks during an interview in Hong Kong

Photo by The Guardian via Getty Images

I understand that Eric Holder, who made the promises in a letter sent to the Russian minister of justice this week, is trying to argue against Edward Snowden’s case for temporary asylum in Russia, but perhaps this wasn’t the best way to go about doing it:

“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.

“Second, Mr. Snowden will not be tortured. Torture is unlawful in the United States. If he returns to the United States, Mr. Snowden would be brought before a civilian court convened under Article of the United States Constitution and supervised by a United States District Judge. Mr. Snowden would receive all the protections that United States law provides to persons charged with federal criminal offenses in Article courts. In particular, Mr. Snowden would be appointed (or, if he so chose, could retain) counsel. Any questioning of Mr. Snowden could be conducted only with his consent: his participation would be entirely voluntary, and his legal counsel would be present should he wish it. Mr. Snowden would have the right to a public jury trial; he would have the right to testify if he wished to do so; and the United States would have to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to a unanimous jury. If convicted, Mr. Snowden would have the right to appeal to the United States Court of Appeals.”

Those assurances, Holder wrote to Justice Minister Aleksandr Konovalov in the letter given to the New York Times by the Justice Department, “eliminate” Snowden’s claim that he should be treated as a refugee or granted asylum by the Russian government, and clear the way for his return to the United States to face charges connected to his leak of classified information. It’s hard to imagine Putin and his allies aren’t smiling in Moscow right now at the idea of the White House having to write a letter promising to follow its own laws. (You can read the full thing here.)

Snowden, meanwhile, is believed to still be stuck in Moscow’s airport, despite reports earlier this week that he would soon be given the necessary paperwork to end his month-long layover in the Sheremetyevo Airport and head out into Russia proper. The exact reason for the delay remains unclear.

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