John Kiriakou: The ex-CIA officer turned whistle-blower

By Ali Younes

John Kiriakou worked as an analyst and case officer for the CIA for 14 years. He was later sentenced to 30 months in prison [Photo courtesy of John Kiriakou]

Former CIA officer John Kiriakou speaks to Al Jazeera about the US’s use of torture and his time in prison.

For 14 years, John Kiriakou worked as an analyst and case officer for the CIA, leading the team that captured senior al-Qaeda member Abu Zubaydah in Pakistan in 2002. Then, in a television interview in 2007, three years after he had resigned from the US intelligence agency, he became the first current or former member of it to publicly acknowledge that the CIA used torture, and that its use was official policy under the administration of President George W Bush.
In 2012, the Barack Obama administration filed espionage charges against him.
Those charges were eventually dropped in October of that year, but Kiriakou did plead guilty to violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act by confirming the name of an officer involved in the then-secret CIA rendition programme that transferred CIA detainees to secret prison facilities around the world.
He was sentenced to 30 months in prison and released in 2015 after serving almost two years.
Kiriakou, who has written the soon-to-be-released book, Doing Time Like a Spy: How the CIA Taught Me to Survive and Thrive in Prison, talks to Al Jazeera about the US’s use of torture and his time in prison.
You were a CIA officer charged with protecting the US and its interests from global threats. How did you end up being imprisoned by the US government?
I decided to blow the whistle on the CIA’s torture programme, which I believed was immoral, unethical and illegal. I gave a nationally televised interview in December 2007 in which I said that the CIA was torturing its prisoners, that torture was official US government policy and that the policy had been personally approved by the president [George W Bush].
It seems that classified information is regularly leaked by government officials, so what was different about your case?
Classified information is leaked every single day in Washington. The White House, the Pentagon and the CIA leak constantly. But I was prosecuted because I made the CIA look bad. I was prosecuted because I aired the CIA’s dirty laundry.
There appears to have been an avalanche of leaks from the current White House but we haven’t seen any legal action over them. How is the administration of Donald Trump different from that of his predecessor Barack Obama?
President Obama was obsessed with leaks more than any other president in history except, maybe, Richard Nixon. The CIA knew they had a friend in Obama. In the past, the CIA would either ignore leaks or work behind the scenes to plug them. But they wanted to make an example of me because I called them criminals.
In this book, you say that torture does not work and describe it as “un-American”. Can you elaborate on your views on the use of torture?
I believe that torture is morally, ethically and legally wrong. We have laws in this country that specifically ban the kind of torture techniques that the CIA used against al-Qaeda prisoners. We just pretended that they were legal. At the same time, the CIA actually killed prisoners in custody using these techniques. Where is the justice for those people? I have come to the personal conclusion that we are supposed to be a country of laws. We are supposed to be a country governed by a constitution. We must follow all the laws, not just the ones that fit our own personal ideologies.
The Republicans who were the Senate minority in 2014 claimed that torture worked and had led to actionable intelligence, particularly from captured al-Qaeda leaders Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. How do you respond to this?
This is, simply, a lie. Yes, Abu Zubaydah provided that information. But he provided it to FBI agent Ali Soufan before the CIA started torturing him. None of that information was collected through the use of torture. Also, CIA leaders feel that they must justify their support for torture. It is their legacy.
Can you tell us about some of your own experiences of using torture and how these shaped your views on it? Did your opinions change over time?
The only personal experience that I had was in training when we took turns waterboarding each other. It was most definitely torture and it has no place in US policy. My personal opinion on torture has not changed. I tried to draw a distinction in that first interview [the 2007 TV interview]. I said there were two questions: Was torture moral, ethical and legal? Did torture work? The CIA has said for years that it worked. That was a lie. It was never moral, ethical or legal.
Do you think the American public is supportive of the use of torture and do you think they are fully informed about the ways in which it has been used?
I think, frankly, that most Americans are not well-informed. They believe whatever the government tells them. As a result, a majority of Americans support torture. But almost no Americans understand what torture is.
Trump has said that he supports the use of torture as an interrogation method, while spy chief Mike Pompeo is open to the idea of bringing back waterboarding. How do you feel about this?
This is a sickening position. It’s a terrible thing that people as important as Trump and Pompeo would publicly advocate committing a crime. The positive thing is that with the passage of the McCain-Feinstein Amendment, the techniques that the CIA used are clearly illegal. They won’t happen again.
[Senators John McCain and Dianne Feinstein introduced a bipartisan amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016. The amendment was designed to prohibit the use of torture and restricts interrogation techniques to those authorised in the Army Field Manual. It also required access for the International Committee of the Red Cross to detainees in US government custody, which is current US policy.]
Given that the Feinstein-McCain Act prohibits the use of torture, do you think the administration could potentially outsource torture to some of its allies as it has done in the past, particularly in the Middle East?
I would not be surprised if the White House ordered the CIA to send prisoners or terrorist suspects to third countries to undergo torture. As a policy, the CIA asks its foreign partners specifically to not torture suspects. But torture allegedly takes place with a wink and a nod. I would not be at all surprised if the Trump administration asks the CIA to do exactly that.
Can you tell us about some of the people you encountered in prison, what you learned from that experience and how it has helped shape you?
I met some truly good people in prison. Our government likes to put people into categories – Aryans, Italians, gang members, Muslims, etc. I made friends among all of them.
What did your time in prison teach you about the American prison system?
My experience led me to the conclusion that the American prison system is broken. It is racist and it is anti-poor. It must be torn down and rebuilt. The US is home to five percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of the world’s prison population. We are over-criminalised, over-legislated and over-regulated. This only weakens us as a country.
One of the most interesting things you mention in your book is that many of the prisoners at Loretto Federal prison chose to convert to Judaism. Can you tell us more about that?
Yes. Jews get much better food than anybody else because it has to be kosher. The average meal for regular prisoners costs something like 95 cents. But the kosher meal costs something like $2.35. The food is better, it’s cleaner, and there’s more of it. Also, Jews are allowed to buy extra treats around the Jewish holy days, like chocolate, soups, and other foods. Nobody else is allowed to have these foods. I once asked a Muslim friend why he didn’t get halal meals. He said there were none. I said, “We have pork two or three times a week. What do you eat?” He said he throws the pork away and eats whatever is left. The Muslims did not get the same kind of treatment as the Jews.
Did your CIA training help you while in prison and, if so, how?
That’s the whole point of the book. The CIA taught me 20 life rules that I used in prison. These rules kept me safe and healthy and kept me at the top of the social heap.


Al-Jazeera Films False Flag Fake Chemical Attack Against Civilians in Syria

A false flag fake chemical attack against civilians has recently been filmed by al-Jazeera stringers in Syria, and it was ordered from a European country, a military and diplomatic source revealed on Thursday.

“The “effectiveness” of the White Helmets’ TV-spectacle of accusing Syrian authorities of attacking civilians in Khan Shaykhun with sarin inspired terrorists to continue filming the fake ‘series’. According to info confirmed via several channels, al-Jazeera television channel stringers have recently filmed a staged, fake scene of an alleged chemical attack against civilians by the Syrian Army,” the source told Sputnik.
The source said around 30 fire engines and ambulances, as well as 70 local residents with children transported from a refugee camp were used in the filming across three locations in Idlib province, including Jisr Shughur.
“A multiple simultaneous uploading of filmed fake footage with ‘screaming’ social media comments was due to take place in the next few days (by Sunday) at the separate command of a mastermind and sponsor of the film in one of the European countries,” he added.
This filming appears to be ordered from a European country, the source said.
The revelation comes in the wake of a chemical incident in the Idlib province which was followed by a US missile attack against Syria.
On April 4, the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces claimed that 80 people were killed and 200 injured in a suspected chemical attack in Khan Shaykhun, blaming the Syrian government. Damascus vehemently rejected the accusations and said militants and their allies were responsible.
Early April 7, the United States launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the Syrian military airfield in Ash Sha’irat, located about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the city of Homs. US President Donald Trump said the attack was a response to the alleged chemical weapon use in Syria’s Idlib, which Washington blames on the Syrian government. Russia described the attack as an aggression against a sovereign state.
Earlier, the Russian Foreign Ministry reminded the Trump administration that all chemical weapons had been taken out of Syria in mid-2014 with the help of the previous administration of ex-president Barack Obama.
Syrian President Bashar Assad said in an interview with Sputnik that Western states are blocking attempts to investigate the Idlib chemical incident because in the event of a probe it will be established that the “attack” was a false flag and lie.
The OPCW announced in January 2016 that Syria’s weapons arsenal had been destroyed in accordance with an agreement reached after the 2013 Ghouta attack.


Blasting Le Pen, Rivlin calls for ‘war’ on new kind of Holocaust denial


At event marking end of Holocaust Remembrance Day, president says Israel must resist ‘unholy alliances with extreme right-wing elements’

President Reuven Rivlin on Monday called for a “war” against a new kind of Holocaust denial taking root across Europe today, and bitterly criticized far-right French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen.
Speaking at a ceremony marking the end of Holocaust Remembrance Day, Rivlin said an attempt by some in Europe to universalize the Shoah is more dangerous than the mere refusal to acknowledge that the mass murder of Jews had taken place.
While traditional Holocaust denial was a fringe phenomenon that convinced few, turning all Europeans into victims undermines the core message of Holocaust commemorations for decades to come and subsumes the unique targeted destruction of the Jewish community by the Nazi regime, he argued.
Without mentioning names, Rivlin criticized Le Pen and other European politicians for shirking their respective countries’ responsibility in having collaborated with the Nazi regime.
In the same vein, Rivlin warned Israel against cooperating with extremist parties on the continent, again clearly referring to Le Pen, who in Sunday’s French presidential elections came in second with 21.5 percent. Le Pen will face off against her centrist rival, Emmanuel Macron, in a second round next month.
“Some two weeks ago a French presidential candidate denied France’s responsibility for the deportation of its Jewish citizens to the Nazi concentration and death camps,” Rivlin said at an event marking the close of Holocaust Remembrance Day at Kibbutz Lohamei HaGeta’ot.
Earlier this month, Le Pen said that “if there are people responsible” for the deportation of French Jews, “it’s those who were in power at the time. It’s not France.”
Le Pen, who has advanced to the second round of the French presidential race, said on April 9 she did not “think France is responsible for the Vel d’Hiv,” the 1942 round-up of Jews at a Paris cycling track who were then sent to Nazi death camps.

Far-right leader and candidate for the 2017 French presidential election, Marine Le Pen, cheers supporters on stage after exit poll results of the first round of the presidential election were announced, at her election day headquarters in Henin-Beaumont, northern France, Sunday, April 23, 2017. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

The Israeli government condemned her remark as “contrary to the historical truth, which has been expressed by French presidents who have recognized the country’s responsibility for the fate of French Jews who died in the Holocaust.”
“As a sovereign state that has gained national independence, we have a duty to demand from other nations and states not to evade responsibility,” Rivlin said.
“We must wage a war against the current and dangerous wave of Holocaust denial. We must resist the renunciation of national responsibility in the name of alleged victimhood.”
The event was also attended by former German president Joachim Gauck.
Rivlin said he was uneasy about recent attempts to undermine proper Holocaust remembrance. The responsibility for the systematic murder of Jews Nazi Germany and its allies has recently changed from being a matter of academic study to a “burning political issue,” he said.
Holocaust scholars and others have pointed with increasing alarm to attempts by some in Europe to place the Holocaust in the context of Soviet atrocities, with nationalists in some countries viewing themselves as victims of Communism and honoring anti-Communist fighters who collaborated with the Nazis while downplaying Jewish victimhood.
“The prevalent message arising from recent political statements is uniquely disturbing. And in every place that message is the same: we are not responsible for the Holocaust. We are not responsible for the extermination of the Jewish people which occurred within our borders,” he said.
Denying one’s collaboration with the Nazis attempts to turn all of Europe into victims, the president argued. “This is a denial that seeks to annul the political and moral responsibility that must stand at the heart of memory of the Holocaust for generations to come. Victimization is the most comprehensive and effective note of exemption from responsibility,” he said.
If the Europeans continue to victimize themselves and refuse to accept their responsibility for the atrocities committed on their soil they will be unwilling to assume responsibility to fight modern-day anti-Semitism, xenophobia and increasing nationalist violence, Rivlin said.
Israel “must resist unholy alliances with extreme right-wing elements,” he said.
Some might think that populist parties such as Le Pen’s National Front, Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party and other groups said to be xenophobic and especially Islamophobic, are natural allies with Israel, but “we must recall that there was and will be nothing in common with anti-Semites in any shape or form,” the president said.
Israel’s official stance of avoiding contact with Le Pen’s National Front, which is accused of anti-Semitism, was reaffirmed during the January visit of the party’s secretary general Nicolas Bay.
Le Pen received 3.7% of the votes cast by French nationals in Israel on the first round of the presidential election on Sunday, far behind Francois Fillon (60.4%) and Emmanuel Macron (30.9%).
Rivlin cited similar efforts to shirk responsibility for having collaborated with the Nazis in Poland, Ukraine and the UK. Not all nations are equally guilty, he allowed, adding that Israel demands only of Germany to take full responsibility for the systematic planning and the implementation of the Final Solution.
“But we do call for moral internal reflection from all those who assisted carrying out of the systematic annihilation,” he said. “The denial of responsibility of the crimes committed in the days of the Second World War is Holocaust denial of a new, more destructive and dangerous kind from that we have known until now.”
Traditional Holocaust deniers belonged to the fringes and relied on “quasi-scientific work of so-called historians.” These old-school Holocaust deniers disputed reputable historians’ findings about the Final Solution and its anti-Semitic goals, Rivlin said.
“Their success was minimal,” he added. “Conversely, the denial of the Holocaust which is growing before our very eyes strives towards a more sophisticated goal, and is much more dangerous. This is not a denial of the very existence of the Holocaust, but a denial of the distinction between a victim and a criminal.”
Germans won’t have an identity unblemished by Auschwitz
Gauck, taking the podium after Rivlin, said he was moved to spend Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel and vowed to continue fighting Holocaust denial.
The 77-year-old Gauck, who served as Germany’s president until last month, said he used to be ashamed of being German due to the country’s dark past. “I was unable to like my country. I hated it even. My generation viewed our parents with disgust. They disclaimed all culpability, they allegedly knew nothing. The majority of them still maintained this silence in the 1950s and 60s and refused to accept responsibility for what had happened,” he recalled.
But even future generations of Germans will “not have an identity unblemished by Auschwitz,” he added. “The special and lasting connection between our peoples and Germany’s particular solidarity with the democratic State of Israel will remain part of their identity.”


Tomahawk missile strike on Syria was ‘after-dinner entertainment’ – US commerce secretary

Tomahawk missile strike on Syria was ‘after-dinner entertainment’ – US commerce secretary

Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump attend a dinner at the start of their summit in Florida, U.S., April 6, 2017. © Carlos Barria / Reuters
The 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles the US launched against Syria last month was just “after-dinner entertainment,” which “did not cost the president anything,” the US commerce secretary said, while President Trump called the attack a “tough decision.”
US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross delivered the controversial comments while speaking at the Milken Institute Global Conference on Monday, according to Variety.
US President Donald Trump’s executive order to launch an attack on a Syrian military airfield on April 7 in response to an alleged chemical attack in the town of Khan Shaykhun, which killed around 80 people on April 4, was apparently just “after-dinner entertainment,” according to Ross. The missile volley killed at least 14 people, including nine civilians.
“Just as dessert was being served, the president explained to [China’s President Xi Jinping] he had something he wanted to tell him, which was the launching of 59 missiles into Syria,” Ross said. “It was in lieu of after-dinner entertainment.”
While the estimated cost of the strike ranged from roughly $60 million to $100 million depending on which Tomahawk missile modification was used, Ross stated that it “didn’t cost the president anything to have that entertainment.”
The comments came just as President Trump described his decision to attack Syria as a “tough” choice, since the “wrong people” could be killed. Trump made the comments during an interview with CBS’ Face the Nation host John Dickerson.
“But most importantly, you know, the decisions. Like, when I make the decision to go with Syria, the 59 Tomahawk missiles. Unbelievable technology. We have unbelievable talent. But those are tough decisions. Those aren’t, like, decisions that I’m going to buy a building…”
“Tough, why?” Dickerson interrupted.
“Because it’s human lives,” Trump continued. “You’re killing people. And you can kill the wrong people, too,” he added.


Iraq: ISIL Uses Chemical Weapons in Mosul Again

TEHRAN (FNA)- The ISIL terrorist group launched chemical attack in Mosul city in Nineveh province for the eighth time in the recent months, hitting severely Iraqi soldiers and civilians.
The ISIL terrorists once again used chemical weapons against Iraqi troops and civilians, dropping mustard gas bombs on the al-Saura quarter, in the Southwestern part of the city of Mosul.
It is the eighth attack in which the terrorists have used chemical weapons. It was launched at a time when Iraqi government forces entered the district to rescue civilians.
Relevant reports said on Sunday that the Iraqi security forces arrested a group of ISIL members who were planning an attack with chemical weapons against army troops in Western Mosul.
Al-Sumariya News quoted an intelligence source saying the group was arrested while (Iraqi) government troops were patrolling al-Sihha district in Western Mosul in Nineveh province, adding that amounts of toxic substances were found within the group’s possession.
The ISIL militants have used chemical weapons several times against the Iraqi soldiers and civilians in the city of Mosul, since the army troops started the special operation to recapture terrorist group’s de facto capital.
The Iraqi troops’ progress in the old city center is much slower than the early phases of the military operation by the stubborn resistance of ISIL militants, in addition to the orders to the Soldiers that restricted the use of heavy bombings and increased sniper fire against the terrorists holed up in densely populated areas to reduce civilian casualties.
Meanwhile, the army’s advance has hardly moved for more than a month at the edges of the old city center as the federal police and special forces, known as Rapid Response, have been fighting heavy back and forth clashes against ISIL militants in the narrow streets in the old neighborhoods around the historical al-Nuri Mosque in the middle of Mosul’s city center.
Mosul’s al-Nuri mosque is highly symbolic because it was there that leader of the ISIL Takfiri terrorist group, Ibrahim al-Samarrai, also known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, declared himself the so-called caliphate of the terror group, shortly after the flashpoint city fell to terrorists in June 2014 and became their de facto capital in the Arab country.
According to latest reports, nearly 400,000 people are trapped in the area controlled by the ISIL terrorists, as Iraqi forces make slow progress in liberating the rest of the second largest city in Iraq from the militants. Baghdad also announced that the number of people who have managed to flee the ISIL terrorists in Mosul has reached 500,000.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi announced in October 2016, the start of a military operation to recapture Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq which fell to the ISIL since 2014.
The Iraqi defense ministry announced earlier in January that the ISIL terrorist group lost over 50 percent of its militants in the city of Mosul in Nineveh province as Iraqi troops have managed to recapture the Eastern part of the de facto Capital of the ISIL.
“The intelligence obtained by us indicates that there have been over 6,000 ISIL terrorists in Mosul and around 3,400 of them have been killed in battles with Iraq’s joint military forces in the major city of Nineveh province,” Iraqi Defense Ministry Spokesman Colonel Laith al-Naimi said.
He added that over 250 bomb-laden vehicles and the entire bomb-making workshops of the terrorists were destroyed in Mosul which means that the ISIL was paralyzed by the Iraqi forces.
The Iraqi Army started a new phase of its military operation in Nineveh province late February to drive the ISIL terrorists out of their bastion in the Western part of the city of Mosul.
With half the city under the control of Baghdad forces, the Iraqi Armed Forces will likely face heavier resistance in the Western part of Mosul, as the ISIL attempts to hold onto their final positions.
Local sources had disclosed that the ISIL was preventing civilians in the Western part of the city of Mosul from leaving the region in a move to use them as human shields as the terrorist group’s positions are under intensifying attacks by various troops.
Commanders expect the battle in Western Mosul to be more difficult, in part because tanks and armored vehicles cannot pass through the narrow alleyways that crisscross ancient districts of the city. The Western part of Mosul, with its narrow streets and heavily populated neighborhoods, appears to be a bigger challenge to the Iraqi army forces.