Moral Low Ground

US Government

CIA Torture Whistleblower John Kiriakou Sentenced to 30 Months in Prison

A former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) analyst who leaked the name of a covert officer who he thought had retired to a reporter and revealed details about US torture of terrorism suspects has been sentenced to 30 months behind bars.

John Kiriakou, 48, of Arlington, Virginia, formerly the CIA’s head of counterterrorism operations in Pakistan, was sentenced in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia. US District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema rejected Kiriakou’s claim that he was a whistleblower exposing US war crimes and said she would have sentenced him to a much longer prison term but could not do so under the terms of a plea bargain he struck with prosecutors. As part of that deal, Kiriakou pleaded guilty to violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act last October.

“This is not a case of a whistleblower,” Judge Brinkema said. “This is a case of a man who betrayed a solemn trust.” She added that Kiriakou’s actions endangered the officer whose cover he blew and hindered the CIA’s ability to gather intelligence.

Kiriakou, a 14-year agency veteran, allegedly leaked the identity of a covert CIA operative to defense attorneys representing a terrorism detainee imprisoned in the Guantanamo Bay prison camp. That operative oversaw the interrogation of al-Qaeda lieutenant Abu Zubaydah, who was waterboarded 86 times in one month in 2002.

Waterboarding is torture. President Obama has said so himself, as has Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and numerous top officials who served in the Bush administration.

Many describe waterboarding as “simulated drowning,” but in reality, it is actual drowning that, if done ‘properly’ is interrupted before the victim dies. Über-conservative columnist and Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer called it “a terrifying and deeply shocking torture technique.” The US has prosecuted others, and even its own soldiers, who have waterboarded in the past. The practice is also a grave violation of the Geneva Conventions and other international and domestic laws. 

Kiriakou was originally charged under the 1917 Espionage Act, which was used only three times before Obama took office. During Obama’s tenure, the Espionage Act been used against half a dozen government officials, part of a worrying administration crackdown on those who reveal war crimes and other illegal activity (see: Bradley Manning).

“This is being done to send a chilling message to whistleblowers, journalists and defense lawyers to keep quiet,” Jasselyn Radack, an attorney with the whistleblower defense group Government Accountability Project, told the Huffington Post.

By its actions in this and other whistleblower cases, the Obama administration has taken the position that revealing war crimes is a crime. Daniel Ellsberg, who in 1971 leaked the Pentagon Papers, revealing a long history of government lies and deception about the Vietnam War, slammed Kiriakou’s prosecution. He said it was hypocritical to go after the former CIA agent when the government officials and operatives who approved and conducted waterboarding enjoy immunity from prosecution.

“You’re criminalizing the revelation of illegality and you’re decriminalizing the illegality — the torture,” Ellsberg told the Huffington Post last year.

Ellsberg pointed to the ex-chief of the CIA’s clandestine service, who confessed to destroying 92 tapes showing the torture of al-Qaeda suspects in Thailand.

“Is that person prosecuted?” Ellsberg asked. “Absolutely not.”

But US Attorney General Eric Holder argues that Kiriakou’s leaks are a threat to national security. ”Safeguarding classified information, including the identities of CIA officers involved in sensitive operations, is critical to keeping our intelligence officers safe and protecting our national security,” he said in a statement.

Kiriakou was the first person in 27 years to be convicted of violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. He is also, ironically, the first person to be sentenced to prison in a Guantanamo-related torture case, but for speaking out against war crimes rather than for committing them. Those who devised, authorized and implemented torture in the post- 9/11 period have enjoyed protection and immunity under Obama.

“I never tortured anybody, but I’m heading to prison while the torturers and the lawyers who papered over it and the people who deceived it and the men who destroyed the proof of it–the tapes– will never face justice,” Kiriakou said at a recent event honoring him.

President Obama’s failure to hold the Bush-era torturers to account, as he once promised to do, is considered by many progressives to be one of his biggest broken promises, and his targeting of whistleblowers is often viewed as one of his biggest disappointments.

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One Comment

  1. Jacob GabelJanuary 28, 2013 at 9:23 amReply

    I was tortured for almost 3 years by the FBI and their friends only
    because 85 years old man, Roland, H Sibens(chicago)now he is 88, convinced them that I
    am a terrorist. I was tortured for working on my prosthetic legs in
    the basement. I done absolutely nothing illegal or wrong. They thought
    that in theory it is possible to hide bomb in them. They saw an
    opportunity to get famous, so they were trying to torture me till I
    sign their insane story. They tortured me using more than 100
    different torturing methods and trust to me waterboarding is not how
    they torture nowadays. I dont know where to find justice.

    I think that after 9/11 things got out of control. Freedom fighters
    became tyrants. In 1945, most Germans had an opportunity to learn about Nazis death
    camps. I hope that one day American citizens will get chance to learn about people
    like me, who were tortured with no reason for years.

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