In a letter dated July 23, the attorney general said the criminal charges Snowden faces do not carry the death penalty and that the U.S. will not seek the death penalty even if Snowden were charged with additional death penalty-eligible crimes.
Holder says his letter follows news reports that Snowden, who leaked information on largely secret electronic surveillance programs, has filed papers seeking temporary asylum in Russia on grounds that if he were returned to the United States, he would be tortured and would face the death penalty.
The attorney general's letter was sent to Alexander Vladimirovich Konovalov, the Russian minister of justice.
Holder's letter is part of an ongoing campaign by the U.S. government to get Snowden back.
The attorney general's letter may allay reported Russian concerns about how Snowden might be treated if he is deported to the U.S.
Some Russian politicians, including parliament speaker Sergei Naryshkin, have said Snowden should be granted asylum to protect him from the death penalty.
If Snowden were to go to a country that opposes the death penalty, providing assurances that the U.S. won't seek the death penalty may remove at least one obstacle to his return to the U.S.
"I can report that the United States is prepared to provide to the Russian government the following assurances regarding the treatment Mr. Snowden would face upon return to the United States," Holder wrote. "First, the United States would not seek the death penalty for Mr. Snowden should he return to the United States." In addition, "Mr. Snowden will not be tortured. Torture is unlawful in the United States," Holder's letter said.
The attorney general said that if Snowden returned to the U.S. he would promptly be brought before a civilian court and would receive "all the protections that United States law provides."
Holder also said that "we understand from press reports and prior conversations between our governments that Mr. Snowden believes that he is unable to travel out of Russia and must therefore take steps to legalize his status. That is not accurate; he is able to travel."
Despite the revocation of Snowden's passport on June 22, Snowden remains a U.S. citizen and is eligible for a limited validity passport good for direct return to the United States, said the attorney general.
A spokesman for President Vladimir Putin said Russia has not budged from its refusal to extradite Snowden.
Snowden, who is believed to have been staying at the Moscow airport transit zone since June 23, applied for temporary asylum in Russia last week. The United States wants him sent home to face prosecution for espionage.
Asked by a reporter whether the government's position had changed, Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agencies that "Russia has never extradited anyone and never will." There is no U.S.-Russia extradition treaty.
Peskov also said that Putin is not involved in reviewing Snowden's application or discussions of the ex-NSA contractor's future with the U.S., though the Russian Security Service, the FSB, had been in touch with the FBI.
In an interview with The Associated Press, an injured American passenger said he saw on a TV monitor screen inside his car that the train was traveling 194 kph (121 mph) seconds before the crash — far above the 80 kph (50 mph) speed limit on the curve where it derailed.
Police lowered the death toll from 80 to 78 as forensic scientists matched body parts at a makeshift morgue set up in a sport arena in Santiage de Compostela, the train's destination and a site of Catholic pilgrimage preparing to celebrate its most revered saint.
Investigators have opened a probe into possible failings by the 52-year-old driver and the train's internal speed-regulation systems.
The driver, Francisco Jose Garzon Amo, was officially detained in the hospital where he was recovering, said Jaime Iglesias, the National Police chief of the Galicia region. He is being question "as a suspect for a crime linked to the cause of the accident," Iglesias said.
The driver is under guard by police and cannot yet testify because of his condition, Iglesias said, adding that he did not have details on his status but that it could delay efforts by police to question him.
Police are still working to identify what they believe are the remains of six people, and that the death toll count could change as they continue their work matching body parts, said Antonio De Amo, the police chief in charge of the scientific service for Spain's National Police.
An American victim was identified by the Diocese of Arlington in northern Virginia as Ana Maria Cordoba. Also among the dead were an Algerian and a Mexican, Spanish police said Friday.
Investigators, meanwhile, have taken possession of the train's "black box" and will hand it over to the investigating judge, Iglesias said. The box has not been opened yet, he said.
The box records the train's trip data, including speed, distances and braking, and is similar to a flight recorder for an airplane. A court spokeswoman Maria Pardo Rios declined comment on how long analysis of the box's contents would take.
Meanwhile, Stephen Ward, 18-year-old Mormon missionary from Utah, who was on the train said he was writing in his journal when he looked up at the monitor and saw the train's speed. Then, he said, "the train lifted up off the track. It was like a roller coaster."
Seconds later, Ward remembered, a backpack fell from the rack above him and he felt the train fly off the track. That was his last memory before he blacked out.
When Ward woke up, someone was helping him walk out of his train car and to crawl out of a ditch where the car had toppled over. He thought he was dreaming for 30 seconds until he felt his blood-drenched face and noticed the scene around him.
"Everyone was covered in blood. There was smoke coming up off the train," he said. "There was a lot of crying, a lot of screaming. There were plenty of dead bodies. It was quite gruesome."
___ Clendenning reported from Madrid. Ciaran Giles and Brady McCombs contributed from Madrid and Salt Lake City.
CLEVELAND (AP) - A Cleveland man accused of holding three women captive in his home for about a decade has pleaded guilty in a deal to avoid the death penalty.
Ariel Castro entered the plea Friday. In exchange, prosecutors are recommending the 53-year-old Castro be sentenced to life without parole plus 1,000 years.
Castro says a pornography addiction and "sexual problem" have taken a toll on his mind. He also says he was sexually abused as a child.
He had been charged in a 977-count indictment. He is pleading guilty to 937 counts.
He had been scheduled for trial Aug. 5 on allegations that include repeatedly restraining the women and punching and starving one woman until she had a miscarriage.
The women disappeared separately between 2002 and 2004. They escaped from Castro's house May 6.
ST. LOUIS (AP) - Two troubled St. Louis-area school district could pay a combined $23 million to cover tuition and transportation costs for students opting to attend accredited districts.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch (http://bit.ly/11iSOkf ) reports that nearly 1,700 students in the Normandy and Riverview Gardens districts have applied to transfer. That follows a recent Missouri Supreme Court ruling requiring unaccredited districts to pick up those costs for students who want to attend better schools.
The home districts must cover the tuition costs, and must pay for transportation to at least one school district.
The potential financial cost is a huge challenge for the two districts that are already facing budget problems.
About 16 percent of students in both districts have expressed interest in transferring.