John Kiriakou has recently become the only CIA officer to yet face imprisonment for any reason relating to use of torture in the post-9/11 “war on terror”. His supposed crime, however, was not any complicity in America’s on-going crimes against humanity, but rather the result of his decision to blow the whistle on the CIA and White House sanctioned torture programme and, specifically, their use of ‘waterboarding’ for purposes of so-called “enhanced interrogation”.
Having just been sentenced to spend the next two and a half years behind bars, John Kiriakou gave an extended interview on yesterday’s Democracy Now! [Jan 30th]. He began by explaining how he had become a whistleblower more or less by accident, and what the immediate consequences had been for himself and his family:
In 2002, I was the chief of counterterrorism operations for the CIA in Pakistan, and my job was to try to locate al-Qaeda fighters or al-Qaeda leaders and capture them, to turn them over to the Justice Department and have them face trial. That was the original—the original idea, not to have them sit in Cuba for the next decade.
But we caught Abu Zubaydah. He was shot three times by Pakistani police as he was trying to escape from his safe house. And I was the first person to have custody of him, to sit with him. We spoke to each other extensively, I mean, talked about everything from September 11th to poetry that he had been writing to his family. And then he was moved on to a secret prison after that. Once I got back to headquarters, I heard that he had been subject to harsh techniques, then euphemistically called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” and I was asked by one of the leaders in the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center if I wanted to be trained in the use of these techniques. I told him that I had a moral problem with them, and I did not want to be involved.
So, fast-forward to 2007. By then, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International had reported that al-Qaeda prisoners had been tortured, and ABC News called and said that they had information that I had tortured Abu Zubaydah. I said that was absolutely untrue. I was the only person who was kind to Abu Zubaydah, and I had never tortured anybody. So, they asked me to go on their show and defend myself. I did that. And in the course of the interview, I said that not only was the CIA torturing prisoners, but that it was official U.S. government policy. This was not the result of some rogue CIA officer just beating up a prisoner every once in a while; this was official policy that went all the way up to the president of the United States.
Within 24 hours, the CIA filed what’s called a crimes report against me with the Justice Department, saying that I had revealed classified information, which was the torture program, and asking for an investigation with an eye toward prosecuting me. The Justice Department decided at the time that I had not revealed classified information, that the information was already in the public domain. But immediately, within weeks, I was audited by the IRS. I’ve been audited by the IRS every single year since giving that interview in 2007.
But a more important bit of fallout from that interview was that every time I would write an op-ed, every time I would give a television interview or give a speech at a university, the CIA would file a crimes report against me, accusing me of leaking additional classified information. Each time, the Justice Department determined that I did not leak any classified information. In fact, I would get those op-eds and those speeches cleared by the CIA’s Publications Review Board in advance.
Then the CIA started harassing my wife, who at the time was a senior CIA officer, particularly over an op-ed I had written. They accused her of leaking classified information to me for the purpose of writing the op-ed. Well, I said I had gotten the information in the op-ed from two UPI reports and from a South American Ministry of Foreign Affairs website. And they would back off.
But this sort of became our life. We would be under FBI surveillance. She would be called into the CIA’s Office of Security. I would have trouble getting a security clearance when I went to Capitol Hill. It just became this pattern of harassment.
A pattern of harassment that will no doubt be familiar to other high-level whistleblowers such as Thomas Drake and Sibel Edmonds.
Click here to watch the interview or to read the full transcript on the Democracy Now! Website.
Democracy Now! also spoke to Kiriakou’s attorney Jesselyn Radack. She has previously represented Tom Drake, the National Security Agency (NSA) insider who helped to expose the massive fraud and waste within the organisation, whilst also bringing public attention to the illegal, although once again government sanctioned, programme of warrantless wiretaps. Radack says:
But in the grander scheme, the prosecution of John Kiriakou and the war on whistleblowers, using the heavy handed Espionage Act, by charging people who dare to tell the truth as being enemies of the state, sends a very chilling message. And Judge Brinkema [who presided over Kiriakou’s trial] herself acknowledged that a strong message had to be sent, that secrets must be kept. But apparently, that only applies to people who are trying to reveal government abuses and illegality, because all of the people in the White House and the CIA who revealed classified information and—of undercover identities to the makers of a Hollywood film, Zero Dark Thirty, have done so with impunity and with lavish praise. […]
Specifically, the White House and the CIA were very involved in the making of Zero Dark Thirty, which pretends to be some kind of neutral film that implies torture led to the capture of Osama bin Laden, which it absolutely did not. In that process, a high-level Defense Department official, Michael Vickers, revealed the identity of an undercover Special Operations Command officer, but was not held to account for that. And the CIA revealed numerous classified pieces of information, including sources and methods. […]
So when the United States talks about the sanctity of keeping secrets, and both the judge and multiple statements by United States officials discussed that, they are the biggest leakers of all. And they do so with impunity.
With mainstream news coverage focusing considerable attention on President Obama’s nomination of the seemingly rather moderate Chuck Hagel to replace well-known drone attack enthusiast Leon Panetta as US Secretary of Defense, surprisingly little concern is being raised about Obama’s other nomination of neo-con hawk and torture-endorsing John Brennan as Director of the CIA. Kiriakou, who had worked directly with Brennan twice, says Brennan “is a terrible choice to lead the CIA”:
Obviously I can’t read John Brennan’s mind, but I can tell you that at the time that the torture techniques were being implemented, John Brennan was President Bush’s director of the National Counterterrorist Center. He was also, a little earlier than that, the deputy executive director and then, I believe, executive director of the CIA. That’s the number three ranking position in the CIA. So, he would have had to have been intimately involved in—not necessarily in carrying out the torture techniques, but in the policy, the torture policy—either that or he had to be brain dead, because you can’t be in positions like that, director of the National Counterterrorist Center and executive director of the CIA, without knowing what the CIA’s torture policies are.
Now, I’m surprised, frankly, also, at the fact that there’s no outrage in the human rights community now that Mr. Brennan’s nomination has been made official. There was a great hue and cry in 2009 when he was initially floated for the position of CIA director. And I’m not sure why there’s a difference between four years ago and now. John Brennan certainly hasn’t changed.
Click here to watch the second part of the interview or to read the full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.