Torture Whistleblower John Kiriakou: "I’m the Only One in Prison"

The former CIA agent says he'd "do it all again."
Torture Whistleblower John Kiriakou: "I’m the Only One in Prison"
John Kiriakou in the documentary Silenced. Photograph courtesy AFI Docs.

In an exclusive interview we posted last week, CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou talked about his life in prison, charging that his sentence was in retribution for leaking information about the agency’s torture program. Since then, the Senate partially released its report critical of the program, prompting a ping-pong game of blame between critics and defenders. After the release, reporter Natalia Megas wrote to Kiriakou to get his reaction to the Senate report. He answered in two letters about accountability, efficacy, and the problems with the CIA’s interrogations. Some excerpts:

What’s your reaction to the torture report?

It’s worse than anyone suspected. The torturers are free, the people who conceived of the torture are free. The attorneys who justified the torture are free. I’m the only one in prison, and I’m the one who refused to torture anybody.

If CIA leaders and the Bush Administration approved the brutal interrogation methods, how can anyone else be blamed or prosecuted?

I don’t think the prosecutable offenses are those that were approved by the Justice Department. The prosecutable offenses are those where CIA officers overstepped their legal authority. People died in CIA custody. How is that not a crime? And of course, the CIA’s former Deputy Director for Operations, Jose Rodriguez destroyed video evidence of the torture. I would call that obstruction of justice.

A letter from Kiriakou.

Do you feel like the CIA cast you off?

I don’t… I had a fantastic career at the CIA, and I still have a lot of friends there. But the CIA, in my view, became corrupted by its virtually unlimited power to create, expand, and then cover up the torture program. I’m proud of my CIA service. But the truth is that there are a lot of former and current CIA employees, including many in former and current positions of leadership, who should be in prison right now.

What do you say to those who say torture is justified if it works?

Whether the torture worked or not is irrelevant. (It didn’t anyway.) Rape works. We don’t do that. Murder works. We don’t do that. Beating children in front of their parents works. We don’t do that. The question isn’t, Does it work? The question is, Is it right? Is it moral?

What would you see the government do differently?

The post-9/11 national security state mentality must change. It’s untenable within the confines of the Constitution. The FBI doesn’t need to know what books we borrow from the library (as called for in the Patriot Act). NSA doesn’t need to know when Americans call their doctors, for how long they speak, and what websites they visit (as part of NSA’s metadata collection). None of it has anything to do with national security. Politicians shouting “9/11 every time somebody questions our national security policies is a red herring and an insult to the intelligence of the American people.

What can the American people do?

Americans must demand accountability from their elected officials on issues of transparency, surveillance, and national security. Answering questions with “That’s classified” or “That was approved by the secret FISA court” is anti-democratic.

You blew the whistle on torture, then got prosecuted for talking to the press. Would you do it all over again?

I would do it all again … Someone has to stand up and say it’s enough.

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