In a broadcast exclusive interview, we spend the hour with John Kiriakou, a retired CIA agent who has just been released from prison after blowing the whistle on the George W. Bush administration’s torture program. In 2007, Kiriakou became the first CIA official to publicly confirm and detail the agency’s use of waterboarding. In January 2013, he was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison. Under a plea deal, Kiriakou admitted to a single count of violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act by revealing the identity of a covert officer involved in the torture program to a freelance reporter, who did not publish it. In return, prosecutors dropped charges brought under the Espionage Act. Kiriakou is the only official to be jailed for any reason relating to CIA torture. Supporters say he was unfairly targeted in the Obama administration’s crackdown on government whistleblowers. A father of five, Kiriakou spent 14 years at the CIA as an analyst and case officer, leading the team that found high-ranking al-Qaeda member Abu Zubaydah in 2002. He joins us from his home in Virginia, where he remains under house arrest for three months while completing his sentence. In a wide-ranging interview, Kiriakou says, “I would do it all over again,” after seeing the outlawing of torture after he came forward. Kiriakou also responds to the details of the partially released Senate Committee Report on the CIA’s use of torture; argues NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden did a “great national service,” but will not get a fair trial if he returns to the United States; and describes the conditions inside FCI Loretto, the federal prison where he served his sentence and saw prisoners die with “terrifying frequency” from lack of proper medical care.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Today, a Democracy Now! radio and television broadcast exclusive. We spend the hour with John Kiriakou, the retired CIA agent who blew the whistle on torture. He’s just been released from prison. He’ll join us from his home in Virginia, where he remains under house arrest while finishing his two-and-a-half-year sentence. Shortly after his release last week, John Kiriakou tweeted a picture of himself at home with his smiling children, along with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “Free at last. Free at least. Thank God Almighty. I’m free at last.”
In January 2013, Kiriakou was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison. Under a plea deal, he admitted to a single count of violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act by revealing the identity of a covert officer involved in the rendition, detention and interrogation program to a freelance reporter, who didn’t publish it. In return, prosecutors dropped charges against Kiriakou brought under the Espionage Act. In 2007, John Kiriakou became the first CIA official to publicly confirm and detail the Bush administration’s use of waterboarding when he spoke to ABC’s Brian Ross.
JOHN KIRIAKOU: At the time, I felt that waterboarding was something that we needed to do. And as time has passed, and as September 11th has—you know, has moved farther and farther back into history, I think I’ve changed my mind. And I think that waterboarding is probably something that we shouldn’t be in the business of doing.
BRIAN ROSS: Why do you say that now?
JOHN KIRIAKOU: Because we’re Americans, and we’re better than that.
AMY GOODMAN: John Kiriakou’s supporters say he was unfairly targeted in the Obama administration’s crackdown on government whistleblowers. Shortly after his release last week, the Government Accountability Project’s Jesselyn Radack issued a statement, saying, quote, “Kiriakou is a dedicated public servant who became a political prisoner because he brought to light one of the darkest chapters in American history: the CIA’s ineffective, immoral and illegal torture program. … [I]t is a welcome development that Kiriakou can serve the rest of his sentence at home with his family,” she wrote.
Get our free emails
Meanwhile, the federal prosecutor in the case, Neil MacBride, has defended the government’s handling of the case. He spoke after Kiriakou’s sentencing in January of 2013.
NEIL MacBRIDE: As the judge just said in court, today’s sentence should be a reminder to every individual who works for the government, who comes into the possession of closely held, sensitive information regarding the national defense or the identity of a covert agent, that it is critical that that information remain secure and not spill out into the public domain or be shared with others who don’t have authorized access to it.
AMY GOODMAN: For more, we go to Arlington, Virginia, where we’re joined by John Kiriakou. Again, he remains under house arrest as he completes his sentence. He spent 14 years at the CIA as an analyst and case officer. In 2002, he led the team that found Abu Zubaydah, a high-ranking member of al-Qaeda. He is a father of five. In 2010, Kiriakou published a memoir titled Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the CIA’s War on Terror.
John Kiriakou, welcome back to Democracy Now! How does it feel to be out of prison?
JOHN KIRIAKOU: Utterly liberating. I actually had trouble falling asleep the first night home because I had grown so used to my bare mattress on a steel slab and the jingling of keys all night long. But I’ve finally adapted.
AMY GOODMAN: You’re not quite free yet, though, right, John? How long did you serve in jail?
JOHN KIRIAKOU: No.
AMY GOODMAN: And how long do you have under house arrest?
JOHN KIRIAKOU: I served 23 months in a low-security federal prison in Pennsylvania. I have three months of house arrest. And then, following house arrest, I am under what’s called supervised release, which is really probation, for another three years.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about why you believe you were jailed.
JOHN KIRIAKOU: Oh, I am absolutely convinced, Amy, that I was jailed because of the torture debate. People leak information in Washington all the time, whether it’s on purpose or inadvertent. We’ve seen—we’ve seen people like former CIA Director Leon Panetta, former CIA Director General Petraeus, leaking classified information with impunity. And that has convinced me that I’m right when I say that my case was never about leaking. My case was about blowing the whistle on torture.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to former Virginia Democratic Congressman Jim Moran, who took to the floor of the House of Representatives last year and called for President Obama to pardon you. Moran called you an “American hero” and a “whistleblower.” He said, quote, “Kiriakou deserves a presidential pardon so his record can be cleared, just as this country is trying to heal from a dark chapter in its history.” What is your response to that? You didn’t get that pardon, at least as of yet.
JOHN KIRIAKOU: No. No, I am deeply, deeply grateful for the work that Congressman Moran did. My only regret is that he’s retired now. He’s no longer in Congress. But he’s a very upstanding, very progressive and very decent man. I really appreciated his help. I’ve not formally asked for a pardon, and I probably won’t this year. But there seems to be some support growing for it. I’m always on the lookout for congressional support. And I hope that I can develop that through 2015 and then maybe go to the president sometime next year and ask for a pardon.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break, and then we’re going to go back in time and talk about what you did, talk about the fact that you’re the only official related to the torture program, you blowing the whistle on torture, who has been jailed. We’re talking to John Kiriakou, who spent 14 years at the CIA as an analyst and case officer, exposed the Bush-era torture program, became the only official jailed in connection with it. We’ll be back with him at his home under house arrest in a moment.