Since his arrival in the Moscow airport about a month ago, the United States has been trying to get Russia to turn Edward Snowden right back around and put him on a plane to the United States so he can face the charges surrounding his now-notorious NSA-leakage — but Russia has roundly refused to extradite to Snowden, and they still haven’t made a decision about granting his request for temporary asylum. In case you missed it yesterday, the Senate — looking to apply a little more pressure — moved to enact sanctions against any country, hem hem, that grants Snowden with asylum, via the AP:
The measure introduced by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., demands the State Department coordinate with lawmakers on setting penalties against nations that seek to help Snowden avoid extradition to the United States, where authorities want him prosecuted for revealing details of the government’s massive surveillance system. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the proposal unanimously by voice vote as an amendment to next year’s $50.6 billion diplomacy and international aid bill.
“I don’t know if he’s getting a change of clothes. I don’t know if he’s going to stay in Russia forever. I don’t know where he’s going to go,” Graham said. “But I know this: That the right thing to do is to send him back home so he can face charges for the crimes he’s allegedly committed.”
Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua have offered Snowden asylum since his arrival at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport a month ago, shortly after identifying himself as the source of a series of news reports outlining the NSA’s program to monitor Internet and telephone communications. It was believed he would then fly to Cuba. The U.S. then canceled his passport, stranding him, with Russia yet to authorize his request for temporary asylum or allow him to fly on to another destination.
Except that he technically isn’t stranded, the Justice Department insisted in a letter they dispatched to Russia on Friday. “Despite the revocation of his passport on June 22, 2013, Mr. Snowden remains a U.S. citizen,” Eric Holder informed the Russian government. “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” — and what’s more, just in case Russia was worried, the U.S. government has no plans to torture and/or put Snowden to death, either. Via the NYT:
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a letter sent to the Russian minister of justice this week that the United States would not seek the death penalty against Edward J. Snowden, and would issue him a passport immediately so he could travel back to the United States.
The letter also offered reassurances that the United States would not torture Mr. Snowden, the former intelligence contractor who faces criminal charges of disclosing classified information and has been hiding in an airport in Moscow in order to evade the American authorities.
“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,” Mr. Holder said in the letter, which was sent to Justice Minister Aleksandr V. Konovalov. …
The charges Mr. Snowden faces in the United States do not carry the death penalty, the letter said, adding that the United States would not seek the death penalty “even if Mr. Snowden were charged with additional death penalty-eligible crimes.”
I mean, it certainly makes sense, I suppose, to technically get on the record and refute some of the bases for Snowden’s claims for asylum — no, the United States government has no intention of throwing him into the Pit of Despair, and yes, his case will promptly be brought before a civilian court complete with all of the usual lawful protections. …But I highly doubt that the Russian government has been holding back on extraditing Snowden because they’re primarily concerned about his personal wellbeing. Russia doesn’t tend to have a ton of qualms on the human-rights abuse front, you know?