This fine piece on sentenced torture whistleblower John Kiriakou was written by friend and fellow blogger Peter Van Buren, and published on his site -- We Meant Well:
John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer, pleaded guilty
October 23, 2012 to leaking the identity of one of the agency’s covert
operatives to a reporter and will be sentenced to more than two years in
prison. As part of a plea deal, prosecutors dropped charges that had
been filed under the World War I-era Espionage Act. They also dropped a
count of making false statements.
Under the plea, all sides agreed to a prison term of 2 1/2
years. U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema noted the term was identical
to that imposed on Scooter Libby, the chief of staff to former Vice
President Dick Cheney. Libby was convicted in a case where he was
accused of leaking information that compromised the covert identity of
CIA operative Valerie Plame, though Libby’s sentence was commuted by
then-President George W. Bush.
Here is what military briefers like to call BLUF, the Bottom Line Up
Front: no one except John Kiriakou is being held accountable for
America’s torture policy. And John Kiriakou didn’t torture anyone, he
just blew the whistle on it.
In a Galaxy Far, Far Away
A long time ago, with mediocre grades and no athletic ability, I
applied for a Rhodes Scholarship. I guess the Rhodes committee at my
school needed practice, and I found myself undergoing a rigorous oral
examination. Here was the final question they fired at me, probing my
ability to think morally and justly: You are a soldier. Your
prisoner has information that might save your life. The only way to
obtain it is through torture. What do you do?
At that time, a million years ago in an America that no longer
exists, my obvious answer was never to torture, never to lower oneself,
never to sacrifice one’s humanity and soul, even if it meant death. My
visceral reaction: to become a torturer was its own form of living
death. (An undergrad today, after the “enhanced interrogation
” Bush years and in the wake of 24
would probably detail specific techniques that should be employed.) My
advisor later told me my answer was one of the few bright spots in an
otherwise spectacularly unsuccessful interview.
It is now common knowledge that between 2001 and about 2007 the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) sanctioned acts of torture
committed by members of the Central Intelligence Agency and others. The acts took place in secret prisons (“black sites
”) against persons detained indefinitely without trial. They were described in detail
and explicitly authorized in a series of secret torture memos
drafted by John Yoo, Jay Bybee, and Steven Bradbury, senior lawyers in
the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel. (Office of Legal Counsel attorneys
technically answer directly to the DOJ, which is supposed to be
independent from the White House, but obviously was not in this case.)
Not one of those men, or their Justice Department bosses, has been held accountable
for their actions.
Some tortured prisoners were even killed by the CIA. Attorney General Eric Holder announced recently
that no one would be held accountable for those murders either. “Based
on the fully developed factual record concerning the two deaths,” he
said, “the Department has declined prosecution because the admissible
evidence would not be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction
beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Jose Rodriguez, a senior CIA official, admitted destroying videotapes
of potentially admissible evidence, showing the torture of captives by
operatives of the U.S. government at a secret prison thought to be
located at a Vietnam-War-era airbase in Thailand. He was not held accountable
for deep-sixing this evidence, nor for his role in the torture of human beings.
John Kiriakou Alone
The one man in the whole archipelago
of America’s secret horrors facing prosecution is former CIA agent John
Kiriakou. Of the untold numbers of men and women involved in the whole
nightmare show of those years, only one may go to jail.
And of course, he didn’t torture anyone.
The charges against Kiriakou allege that in answering questions from
reporters about suspicions that the CIA tortured detainees in its
custody, he violated the Espionage Act
once an obscure World War I-era law that aimed at punishing Americans
who gave aid to the enemy. It was passed in 1917 and has been the
subject of much judicial and Congressional doubt
ever since. Kiriakou is one of six government whistleblowers who have been charged
under the Act by the Obama administration. From 1917 until Obama came
into office, only three people had ever charged in this way.
The Obama Justice Department claims
the former CIA officer “disclosed classified information to
journalists, including the name of a covert CIA officer and information
revealing the role of another CIA employee in classified activities.”
The charges result from a CIA investigation
That investigation was triggered by a filing in January 2009 on behalf
of detainees at Guantanamo that contained classified information the
defense had not been given through government channels, and by the
discovery in the spring of 2009 of photographs of alleged CIA employees
among the legal materials of some detainees at Guantanamo. According to
, Kiriakou gave several interviews about the CIA in 2008. Court documents charge
that he provided names of covert Agency officials to a journalist, who
allegedly in turn passed them on to a Guantanamo legal team. The team
sought to have detainees identify specific CIA officials who
participated in their renditions and torture. Kiriakou is accused of
providing the identities of CIA officers that may have allowed names to be linked to photographs.
Many observers believe however that the real “offense” in the eyes of
the Obama administration was quite different. In 2007, Kiriakou became a
whistleblower. He went on record
as the first (albeit by then, former) CIA official to confirm the use
of waterboarding of al-Qaeda prisoners as an interrogation technique,
and then to condemn it as torture. He specifically mentioned the
waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah
in that secret prison in Thailand. Zubaydah was at the time believed to
be an al-Qaeda leader, though more likely was at best a mid-level
operative. Kiriakou also ran afoul of the CIA over efforts to clear for
publication a book
he had written about the Agency’s counterterrorism work. He maintains
that his is instead a First Amendment case in which a whistleblower is
being punished, that it is a selective prosecution to scare government
insiders into silence when they see something wrong.
If Kiriakou had actually tortured someone himself, even to death,
there is no possibility that he would be in trouble. John Kiriakou is
48. He is staring down a long tunnel at a potential sentence of up to 45
years in prison because in the national security state that rules the
roost in Washington, talking out of turn
about a crime has become the only possible crime.
Welcome to the Jungle
John Kiriakou and I share common attorneys through the Government Accountability Project
and I’ve had the chance to talk with him on any number of occasions. He
is soft-spoken, thoughtful, and quick to laugh at a bad joke. When the
subject turns to his case, and the way the government has treated him,
however, things darken. His sentences get shorter and the quick smile
He understands the role his government has chosen for him: the head
on a stick, the example, the message to everyone else involved in the
horrors of post-9/11 America. Do the country’s dirty work, kidnap
kill, imprison, torture, and we’ll cover for you. Destroy the evidence
of all that and we’ll reward you. But speak out, and expect to be
Like so many of us
who have served the U.S. government honorably only to have its full
force turned against us for an act or acts of conscience, the pain comes
in trying to reconcile the two images of the U.S. government in your
head. It’s like trying to process the actions of an abusive father you
still want to love.
One of Kiriakou’s representatives, attorney Jesselyn Radack
told me, “It is a miscarriage of justice that John Kiriakou is the only
person indicted in relation to the Bush-era torture program. The
historic import cannot be understated. If a crime as egregious as
state-sponsored torture can go unpunished, we lose all moral standing to
condemn other governments’ human rights violations. By ‘looking forward, not backward
’ we have taken a giant leap into the past.”
One former CIA covert officer, who uses the pen name “Ishmael Jones,” lays out a potential defense
for Kiriakou: “Witness after witness could explain to the jury that Mr.
Kiriakou is being selectively prosecuted, that his leaks are nothing
compared to leaks by Obama administration officials and senior CIA
bureaucrats. Witness after witness could show the jury that for any
secret material published by Mr. Kiriakou, the books of senior CIA
bureaucrats contain many times as much. Former CIA chief George Tenet
wrote a book in 2007, approved by CIA censors, that contains dozens of
pieces of classified information — names and enough information to find
If only it was really that easy.
For at least six years it was the policy of the United States of America to torture and abuse its enemies
or, in some cases, simply suspected enemies. It has remained a U.S. policy, even under the Obama administration, to employ
“extraordinary rendition” — that is, the sending of captured terror
suspects to the jails of countries that are known for torture and abuse,
an outsourcing of what we no longer want to do.
Techniques that the U.S. hanged men for at Nuremburg
and in post-war Japan
were employed and declared lawful. To embark on such a program with the
oversight of the Bush administration, learned men and women had to have
long discussions, with staffers running in and out of rooms with
snippets of research to buttress the justifications being so laboriously
developed. The CIA undoubtedly used some cumbersome bureaucratic
process to hire contractors for its torture staff. The old manuals
needed to be updated
, psychiatrists consulted
, military survival experts interviewed, training classes set up.
Videotapes were made of the torture sessions and no doubt DVDs full
of real horror were reviewed back at headquarters. Torture techniques
were even reportedly demonstrated
to top officials inside the White House. Individual torturers who were
considered particularly effective were no doubt identified, probably
rewarded, and sent on to new secret sites to harm more people.
America just didn’t wake up one day and start slapping around some
Islamic punk. These were not the torture equivalents of rogue cops. A
system, a mechanism, was created. That we now can only speculate about
many of the details involved and the extent of all this is a tribute to
the thousands who continue to remain silent about what they did, saw,
heard about, or were associated with. Many of them work now at the same
organizations, remaining a part of the same contracting firms, the CIA,
and the military. Our torturers.
What is it that allows all those people to remain silent? How many
are simply scared, watching what is happening to John Kiriakou and
thinking: not me, I’m not sticking my neck out to see it get chopped off.
They’re almost forgivable, even if they are placing their own
self-interest above that of their country. But what about the others,
the ones who remain silent about what they did or saw or aided and
abetted in some fashion because they still think it was the right thing
to do? The ones who will do it again when another frightened president
asks them to? Or even the ones who enjoyed doing it?
The same Department of Justice that is hunting down the one man who spoke against torture from the inside still maintains a special unit
60 years after the end of WWII, dedicated to hunting down the last few
at-large Nazis. They do that under the rubric of “never again.” The
truth is that same team needs to be turned loose on our national
security state. Otherwise, until we have a full accounting of what was
done in our names by our government, the pieces are all in place for it
to happen again. There, if you want to know, is the real horror.
Labels: CIA, espionage act, kiriaku, peter van buren, whistleblower jailed