'No one went to jail but me': CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou speaks out
Former CIA analyst John Kiriakou blew the whistle on the agency’s use of waterboarding and was subsequently locked up. Fresh out of prison and on the heels of the CIA torture report, he feels vindicated – and says he wouldn’t hesitate to do it again.
‘I’m proud to have played a role in the outline of torture in the US’
During his nearly 15 years with the CIA, Kiriakou earned numerous commendations for his undercover work and help in chasing terrorist groups including Al-Qaeda. But he eventually became praised as the first agency employee to expose the extent of the CIA's use of torture.
Kiriakou was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison. While he was officially convicted for leaking the name of a covert officer, Kiriakou said he was really being targeted for revealing the details about post-9/11 torture tactics in the US.
RT:You've described your time in detention as "terrible years that ruined you personally,” yet you've also said it's all been worth it. Can you expand on that?
John Kiriakou: You know, I really do believe that it was worth it. I’m proud to have played a role, however small, in the outline of torture in the United States. And to me, the past now is water under the bridge. I’m proud to have played that role and it’s time to move on and continue this fight for human rights and civil liberties.
RT:You are currently writing a book about the conditions you encountered in prison. What were those conditions like?
JK: I was surprised by the terrible quality of the medical care, of the food. American prisoners aren’t even fed human-grade food. I remember passing boxes, cases of food in the cafeteria marked “not for human consumption, feed use only” or “for sale only in China.” And the medical care was even worse. There were almost a half a dozen deaths of prisoners when I was there in prison, and almost every one of those deaths was preventable.
‘No whistleblower really sets out to be a whistleblower’
Kiriakou first revealed details about the CIA’s use of waterboarding back in 2007. He was the first official with direct knowledge of the program to discuss it in public.
RT:What was your motivating factor to put yourself through this? You must have known there was a high risk you were taking on.
JK: No whistleblower really sets out to be a whistleblower. I saw a policy that I believed was not just wrong, but was criminal, and I decided to speak about it. I really didn’t think long-term about how the US government can bring its full weight against a whistleblower. The goal really of the Justice Department is to ruin the whistleblower personally, professionally, and financially. I hadn’t thought that through, and that’s exactly what happened to me. But again, it’s opened up a whole new world for me in the realm of human right and civil liberties.
RT:You say that the aim is to ruin the whistleblower. Washington has now officially admitted that torture took place, and a comprehensive report has been released – do you consider this a final victory?
JK: Absolutely. Everything that I said was true, and we now know that because of the release of the torture report.
RT:Now that all this is public knowledge, do you think the CIA will abandon its torture practices for good?
JK: I do believe that the CIA will abandon torture. Not just because it’s illegal, but because the truth always has a way of coming out. And I don’t think the organization can withstand another revelation that they had yet again begun a torture regime.
‘Great irony that whistleblowers are charged while torturers go free’
The criminal investigation that eventually led to Kiriakou began in 2009, when the government learned that defense lawyers for Al-Qaeda suspects at Guantanamo Bay were identifying witnesses to their clients’ “interrogations.” With the name of an officer involved – leaked by Kiriakou – Guantanamo lawyers made the case that the government tortured their clients.
RT:No one has of yet been held accountable for the torture program. How do you feel about that?
JK: It’s the great irony, isn’t it? Personally I feel that the Justice Department is hypocritical to charge me for a crime, and not just me but other whistleblowers as well – [such] as Ed Snowden, Chelsea Manning, and others – and then allow the torturers to go free. But what really bothers me, is that there is no prosecution of CIA officers who obviously violated the law; those CIA officers who were conducting interrogations in which prisoners were killed. I have no idea why there is no outrage, and why those officers are not being prosecuted.
RT:The horrible conditions that detainees endure in Guantanamo Bay at the hands of the CIA have become somewhat of a recruiting tool for jihadists. Do you think these practices have done more harm or good in the war on terror?
JK: I’m absolutely positive that that has been the case. We always seem to step in a mud puddle, so to speak, when it comes to things like interrogations or drone strikes or attacks on individuals. These activities always serve to promote terrorist recruitments. You know, when we first began fighting Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, we were talking about a core of just several hundred people. Well, now look at ISIS, which is sort of the next generation of Al-Qaeda. We are talking about fighting something like 35,000 people. And I think that we’ve had a hand in that recruitment.
‘I would do it again’
The leak led to an uproar within the CIA. The criminal case cleared defense lawyers, but Kiriakou was charged and pleaded guilty to violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act.
RT:How do you think the attitude of the US government to whistleblowers has changed? There’s been a number of high profile cases, including yours, over the last few years.
JK: I think that Americans are more aware of the role of whistleblowers, whereas as recently as three to four years ago, nobody gave whistleblowers a second thought. I have to say, really, since I went to prison, that I have been overwhelmed by the support I’ve received from average Americans across the country, and I think that just a few years ago that wouldn’t have been the case.
RT:Finally, after all that you've gone through, would you blow the whistle again if you were in a position to do so?
JK: I would. I would do it again. As terrible as it’s been, as difficult as it’s been, I have a family that is rock solid in its support of me, and a family that knows right from wrong, Torture is wrong, and I’m proud to have played a role in the end of torture as US government policy, and I would do it all again.