The torturer, the spy, and the journalist: How the U.S. jailed the waterboarding whistleblower

Tyler Bass writes: A decade ago, long before Edward Snowden trolled the depths of a classified government surveillance program, John Kiriakou was learning about a government practice as secret and troubling, and a lot more gruesome.

On the night of March 28, 2002, Mr. Kiriakou, then a decorated officer at the Central Intelligence Agency, led a team that raided a suspicious house in Faisalabad, Pakistan, and made America’s first post-9/11 capture of a major al-Qaeda leader, Abu Zubaydah. After a shoot-out that almost killed him, Zubaydah was rushed to a hospital and nursed back to life by the CIA. During subsequent interrogations at a “black site” in Thailand and at the Guantanamo Bay prison, he was waterboarded eighty-three times.

In January of this year, the 15-year CIA veteran was sentenced to two and a half years in prison on charges of revealing classified information, including the name of a covert CIA operative. But he and his supporters claim that the government’s case against him was being built in secret since he began speaking to the press about waterboarding.

His prosecution, they say, was really payback for disclosing a secret program, and one that Kiriakou would argue was ineffective and wrong. The disclosure of a CIA officer’s name was illegal, but given numerous other leaks, he said it did not merit the government’s aggressive approach. “I’ve never believed my case was about a leak,” the father of five said in January after his sentencing. “I’ve always believed my case was about torture.”

In 2007, during an interview with ABC News, Kiriakou described Zubaydah’s initial treatment, and so became the first person to reveal the CIA’s waterboarding program. While his knowledge of the waterboarding program was second-hand, at the time he offered reluctant support, though he would discover later that he had been lied to about its efficacy. But in 2007, in his soft tenor, Kiriakou told reporter Brian Ross that Americans and Congress needed to be talking about this stuff. “Because I think as a country this is something we have to decide that we want to do as a matter of policy. It shouldn’t be secret. It should be part of a national conversation.”

Kiriakou is considered to be the sixth government employee to be charged with disclosing secret information under the Obama administration, which, despite the President’s signing of the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act last year, has carried out more whistleblower indictments than any other administration in history. (Snowden was the seventh whistleblower to be charged with spilling state secrets.) [Continue reading…]

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