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U.S. will not seek death penalty for Snowden, attorney general says

By Mariano Castillo, CNN
July 27, 2013 -- Updated 1616 GMT (0016 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Snowden's father asks the president to dismiss the complaint against his son
  • Snowden's father talks about the U.S. intelligence leaker
  • Lon Snowden says his son did what he knew was right
  • The FBI and security officials in Russia are discussing his case

(CNN) -- The U.S. Justice Department will not seek the death penalty for U.S. intelligence leaker Edward Snowden, Attorney General Eric Holder wrote to Russian authorities in a letter dated July 23.

In the letter, Holder says Snowden's arguments for temporary asylum in Russia are without merit.

Snowden is seeking asylum because he claims he will be tortured and face the death penalty if returned to the United States.

But the death penalty is not an option given the current charges against Snowden, and even if additional charges are filed, the United States would still not seek capital punishment, Holder wrote.

Once back in the United States, Snowden would not be tortured and would face a civilian trial with a lawyer appointed to him, the attorney general wrote.

"We believe that these assurances eliminate these asserted grounds for Mr. Snowden's claim that he should be treated as a refugee or granted asylum," Holder wrote.

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He also said it is untrue that Snowden cannot travel because his U.S. passport was revoked. Snowden is still a U.S. citizen and is eligible for a limited-validity passport that would authorize a direct return to the United States.

"The United States is willing to immediately issue such a passport to Mr. Snowden," Holder wrote.

Father asks Obama to rein in Holder

In a letter released Friday, Snowden's father called on President Barack Obama to order Holder to dismiss the criminal complaint filed against his son.

Lon Snowden defended his son's actions, comparing them to acts of civil disobedience.

"We are also appalled at your administration's scorn for due process, the rule of law, fairness and the presumption of innocence as regards Edward," the letter said.

Earlier in the day, Lon Snowden said on NBC's "Today" that Snowden did the right thing by leaking U.S. intelligence and helping Americans see the truth.

"I think my son, when he takes his final breath, whether it's today or 100 years from now, (will) be comfortable with what he did," he said. "He did what he knew was right. He shared the truth with the American people. What we choose to do with it is up to us as a people."

Lon Snowden expressed his disappointment with the recent House vote that continued funding for the spy program that Edward Snowden exposed.

There is a need for a strong intelligence community, Lon Snowden said, but many who voted for continued funding for the program are really looking out for the special interests that will benefit.

"It's all about the money," he said.

The father said he has not been in direct contact with his son, but there has been indirect contact through intermediaries.

The intermediaries do not include WikiLeaks, Lon Snowden said, but he added that he is thankful to that group for aiding his son.

"I'm thankful for anybody at this point that is providing him with assistance to keep him safe and secure," he said.

U.S., Russian officials continue talks

Meanwhile, the Kremlin said that the Russian security agency FSB is talking to American officials.

"The situation around Snowden is not being discussed at the top level. There's a discussion between heads of FSB and FBI," the Kremlin press office said.

A spokesman for Vladimir Putin said the Russian president "expressed a firm intention to not allow" further damage to U.S. interests, including a pledge by Snowden not to release any more intelligence. "And I have no doubt this is how it will be, no matter how the situation develops," the spokesman said, according to the Russian news agency RIA Novosti.

The many mysteries of Snowden's transit zone

Snowden isn't yet allowed to step outside the Moscow airport where he's been confined for weeks. He is waiting for permission to stay elsewhere in Russia while his request for temporary asylum is considered.

He has been searching for a place to settle after the United States charged him with espionage.

The former National Security Agency contractor, who admitted last month to revealing sweeping U.S. electronic surveillance programs to the news media, left Hong Kong for Moscow on June 23.

Snowden may remain stuck in the transit area for weeks and maybe months, the head of Russia's migration service, Vladimir Volokh, told the Russian news agency Interfax. The maximum length of time Snowden can spend at the airport is six months, he said.

CNN's Nancy Baker and Alla Eshchenko contributed to this report.

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