The 30-year-old former US spy agency contractor has been stuck in the transit area of a Moscow airport for more than a month despite Washington’s calls to hand him over.
Russia has refused to extradite Snowden, who leaked details of a secret US surveillance programme including phone and internet data, and is now considering his request for a temporary asylum.
In a letter dated Tuesday, Jul 23, and released on Friday, US Attorney General Eric Holder wrote that he sought to dispel claims about what would happen to Snowden if he is sent home. “Mr Snowden has filed papers seeking temporary asylum in Russia on the grounds that if he were returned to the United States, he would be tortured and would face the death penalty. These claims are entirely without merit.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia’s FSB and its US counterpart, the FBI, were in talks over Snowden, whose stay at the Moscow Sheremetyevo airport has further strained Moscow-Washington ties.
Russian president Vladimir Putin had expressed “strong determination”, he said, not to let relations suffer over the dispute “no matter how the situation develops”. Putin himself is not personally dealing with the problem, the spokesman said. But he reiterated Moscow’s stance that Russia “did not hand over, does not hand over and will not hand over anybody”.
A US law enforcement official following the case confirmed the FBI has been in discussions with the FSB about Snowden for some time, but added he was not aware of any recent breakthroughs or imminent developments.
A Russian security expert said the talks may be about how to secure a promise from Snowden to stop leaking if he were granted sanctuary in Russia.
“The United States maybe understands that they are not going to get Snowden, so my theory is that they are trying to save face and stop Snowden from publishing new exposés,” Andrei Soldatov said, adding that he was sceptical this could be done.
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.”