Exclusive Interview: CIA Whistleblower John Kiriakou — Part 3

Exclusive Interview With CIA Whistleblower John Kiriakou — Part 3 of 3

[John Kiriakou will visit North Carolina October 27-29. As background for the visit, we conducted this email conversation. The Prelude is here.  Part One is here.  Part Two is here.]

AFL: Besides telling of some pretty hair-raising “derring do” and anti-terrorist actions, you wrote very favorably overall in your book, The Reluctant Spy,  about the CIA (calling it “THE CIA” marks me as an outsider, yes?), and most of the people you worked with and for. I wonder if, in the years since, given what you’ve been through since, that estimate has evolved any?

john_kiriakou_shetterly-painting
A portrait of John Kiriakou that is part of a series, “Americans Who Tell The Truth,” by Robert Shetteerly. For more about the series, go here: http://www.americanswhotellthetruth.org

John Kiriakou: I still believe that the CIA is full of many brave and dedicated patriots who want nothing more than to protect the country. 

The problem is, and I say this with full candor, the place is run by murderers and sociopaths. In addition, literally all of the CIA’s leaders were and are holdovers from the Bush Administration. So nothing has changed, policy-wise.

AFL:  In your recent columns, you call forthrightly for prosecution of torturers. That’s a big shift from the view in The Reluctant Spy, as we’ve noted earlier. And I wonder if you extend it not only to those who did the waterboarding, but those further up the chain of command, who gave the orders, wrote the torture memos, and were architects of the whole machinery? Doesn’t that chain of complicity go up to the highest levels?

John Kiriakou: I no longer agree with Obama’s “look forward, not backward” policy on torture prosecutions.  I’m NOT saying that there should be prosecutions of line officers who thought they were working within the confines of the law.  I AM saying that those who went beyond the interpretation of the law and who tortured–and in some cases killed–prisoners should be prosecuted. 
But I also believe that those who conceived of the torture, those who approved of it, those who implemented it, and those who twisted the law to endorse it SHOULD be prosecuted.  

AFL: What about the forthcoming book by the former top CIA spymasters that’s supposed to debunk the Senate Intelligence report — how do we get ready for that? Are you or others preparing to take it on?

Senate-Intel-Report-CoverJohn Kiriakou: [As for] the book by the former Directors and Deputy Directors, I wrote a strong op-ed on the issue. The most important fact that they ignore is that the Senate Torture Report was based on PRIMARY SOURCE CIA DOCUMENTS! There is no room for interpretation. The documents say what they say. And they document the ugliness that was the torture program.

AFL: Do you talk about politics? If so, considering the various presidential candidates: several have made comments about torture. What do you make of what you’ve heard from them so far?  And related, do you think the Senate Intelligence report can survive the efforts of NC Senator Richard Burr to kill it and bury it? 

John Kiriakou: I’m a big fan of Bernie Sanders, who said in an email to a constituent that I had “done the country a great service.”  I think that in the unlikely event that Bernie is elected president, he would pardon me.  So would Rand Paul.  He’s my favorite among the Republicans, although his positions on social issues frighten me. 
To tell you the truth, I cast my final, pre-felony conviction vote for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party nominee for president.  He’s been a great supporter of mine.  I also like the Green Party’s Jill Stein very much. 
Of the other presidential candidates, I’m not really sure I trust any of them on torture, even Hillary.  On the Republican side, I’m comfortable calling just about all of them “pro-torture.”  This, in my view, disqualifies them to be president.

AFL:  Let me wrap up with one of the big questions hanging over the work we’ve  been doing here in NC, particularly through NC Stop Torture Now. NCSTN is a small group, but tenacious.

STN Award-Indy-11-2007
NC Stop Torture Now, protesting in 2007 outside the hangars at Aero Contractors. Aero is a CIA front company involved in torture rendition flights, located in Smithfield NC. It is still operating in late 2015, and has even expanded its facilities. But so is NC Stop Torture NOW. Its website: ncstn.org

First a bit of background: the situation in Washington regarding torture accountability has been authoritatively described to us as a logjam: the Obama White House has stonewalled everything, and brought the hammer down on whistleblowers & journalists to enforce the code of silence & impunity. 
Then the courts have bowed to administration claims of “national security” and refused lawsuits and legal challenges by victims and others. 
And Congress has been all but paralyzed, no investigations, no hearings, nothing– with the one noble exception of the Senate Intelligence Committee report. But even that took years, was nearly stifled in its cradle, then almost sabotaged by the CIA, has been ignored ever since, and could still be buried.
So all three branches of government are currently stalemated when it comes to torture accountability.
Now stay with me; all this is leading up to a question: those of us in NCSTN have been raising the issue of accountability for ten years now. And we’ll keep it up as long as we can, though some like me are getting pretty old. 
So give us the benefit of your unique experience, in the spy agency, as a Congressional staffer, then as a whistleblower who paid real jail dues, and now an advocate–with all of that:
What counsel can you give us in our ongoing work to help break this logjam on torture accountability?
Sorry to be so long-winded: your turn.

John Kiriakou: This last question is probably the most important. WE MUST NEVER GIVE UP! We have to ask every presidential candidate at every opportunity where they stand on torture, on accountability, on rendition, on the drone program, and on whistleblowers. Code Pink, for example, has written to every presidential candidate asking, if they were to be elected president, would they pardon John Kiriakou, Thomas Drake, and others. Bernie said yes. Rand said yes. Hillary is “thinking about it.” 

Everybody else ignored the question. It’s incumbent upon us to make sure to keep the issue in the press and to make sure that Americans realize that this isn’t over yet. We have to write op-eds and letters to the editor, make speeches, and teach classes to help ensure that the country never goes back to those dark days. Obama won’t be around forever. We will be. And we have to continue to fight.

AFL: And finally, who do you pick to win the World Series? How many games?

John Kiriakou: I hate to say this, as a lifelong Pirates fan, but St. Louis over Kansas City in 7.  Still, I’m pulling for the Cubs.***

***[Written before St. Louis & the Cubs were eliminated in the playoffs.]

AFL: Thanks so much for this, John!

John’s website: http://www.johnkiriakou.com

Join John Kiriakou at one of his NC appearances, Oct. 27-29, 2015.

NC Schedule details here:

Tues., Oct. 27, 2015

  • Noon:  The State of Things, WUNC Radio
  • 2:00 pm talk, Great Hall, North Carolina Central University Law School, Turner Law Bldg, 640 Nelson Street, Durham. Free and open to the public; more info at 919-599-1963.
  • 7:15 pm talk- “Keeping Government Honest: Whistleblowers, Torture, and America’s War on Terror.” Freedom Forum Room, 2nd floor of Carroll Hall, School of Media & Journalism, UNC-Chapel Hill. 

Wed., Oct. 28, 2015Wed., Oct. 28, 2015

• 11:00 AM- Guilford College, Greensboro. Luncheon (buy your own) with informal discussion, gather at 11:00 a.m. in the Atrium of Founders Hall; followed at

• 1:30 pm by a talk in the Moon Room of Dana Auditorium. Free and open to the public. Sponsor: Guilford College Friends Center.

Thurs., Oct. 29, 2015

  • 1:10-2:10 pm talk- NCSU Peace & Justice Forum, Talley Student Union, Room 3285, NCSU. Sponsor: Presbyterian Campus Ministry of Raleigh. All welcome.
  • 7:00 pm talk, “The American Legacy of Torture,” NCSU, Park Shops 210 (2310 Stinson Drive, Raleigh). 

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