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John Kiriakou: Biden Is Denying CIA Torture Victims Their Day in Court

CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou comments on the legal case of five Guantanamo Bay torture victims and what its outcome could say about the US.
Detainees on arrival to Camp X-Ray, the holding facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
Detainees on arrival to Camp X-Ray, the holding facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.[US DoD]

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Reports regarding five Guantanamo Bay detainees who were victims of the Central Intelligence Agency’s illegal torture program raise new questions about the American justice system. A Guardian article uncovered that Ammar al-Baluchi, one of the five terror-suspect detainees currently in a decades-long pre-trial status at Guantanamo Bay, was used as a “living prop” to train CIA agents at black sites how to use “enhanced interrogation techniques” that the public now knows were torture by another name. A separate report revealed that there’s a plea bargain negotiation underway for the five defendants in question, including Abu Zubaydah, who, as Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer wrote recently, the U.S. government treated “brutally — more than 80 waterboarding sessions, hundreds of hours of live burial [with live cockroaches in a coffin] and what [the CIA] calls ‘rectal rehydration.’” The negotiations essentially amount to another coverup attempt by the U.S. government, argues John Kiriakou, the CIA whistleblower who has spoken out about the intelligence agency’s torture program. Plea bargains, if accepted by the torture victims, would deny them their day in court and keep silent their barbarous treatment. 

Kiriakou joins host Robert Scheer on this week’s “Scheer Intelligence” to examine the latest developments in the decades-long case that is tied to the former CIA agent’s own life in inextricable ways. Kiriakou explains how the moral imperative to blow the whistle on the horrors committed in Americans’ name, tore his whole life apart, including leading to 23 months behind bars and, he says, his now ex-wife, then a CIA agent herself, spying on him at the request of their former employer. He also was  behind the capture of Zubaydah, from whom he and an FBI agent obtained invaluable information before others in the CIA took the case into their own hands and committed the brutal, heinous acts detailed in the torture victim’s testimony to the Internatonal Red Cross as well as the 2014 Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA Torture. When the torture began, Zubaydah notably stopped providing information about al-Qaeda.

Revisiting the details of how the CIA torture program began, Kiriakou and Scheer discuss what has come from the revelations Kiriakou made at such a high personal cost. The conversation leads to questions about what kind of country the U.S. is and whether the American public will ever have access to information about the extent of the crimes committed in the post-9/11 years. Listen to the full discussion between Kiriakou and Scheer in the audio player above. 



Robert Scheer


Joshua Scheer

RS: Hi, this is Robert Scheer with another edition of Scheer Intelligence, where the intelligence comes from my guests. In this case, an intelligence agent from the CIA—John Kiriakou, who was recruited out of George Washington University in Washington by his professor. Went into the CIA, learned Arabic, spent a lot of time in different places, hotspots of the world, but particularly in the Middle East. And who was responsible for the capture of what was then alleged to be the No. 3 member of al-Qaeda. And this was considered a big achievement; he spent many hours with this fellow, until he was turned over to others. And at the end of the day he was, Abu Zubaydah, he was tortured. 

And we’ve had a newsbreak in this. Remember, as we’re getting ready for maybe World War III, and we’ve got the Cold War back with Russia—what happened in the war on terror? We know Afghanistan is a mess; we know Saudi Arabia is as solid as ever with its own convictions and values, sometimes murderous. And now the U.S. is going to, and the West is going to depend more on Saudi oil. And what happened in this war on terror? Who caused it? What was the account? 

And we had just the newsflash that we’ve not had any trials or anything where we might learn who these folks were and what they did, but five key witnesses, including the one that John was involved in capturing at Guantanamo, that there’s a plea deal. And they might—they won’t have a trial where we could learn something, but they might be held in Guantanamo after all of this torture and what have you, to just die, their life, so-called naturally. 

John, what do you make of it all? Where are we? Is this the end of the tale? And what do we really know? 

JK: Well, rather than being at the end of the beginning, which we were for many years, it seems, it looks like now we’re at the beginning of the end. You know, the sad part about this whole situation that’s dragged on now for 20 years—it was 20 years ago this week that we captured Abu Zubaydah. The sad part is that there’s no justice that will be had in this scenario. In the end, Abu Zubaydah was not allowed to face his accusers in a court of law. Well, not just Abu Zubaydah, but Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other three—they were not allowed to face their accusers in a court of law; they were never charged with a specific crime. They were never allowed to have a jury of their peers judge their behavior. 

And so as a result, we’ll never really know what they have to say in this case. For all these years, these 20 years, the CIA and the Pentagon have kept their testimony secret—in many cases, top secret—and you know, I think historically we’re going to be lesser for it. We’ll never know the lessons that could have been learned because of the 9/11 attacks, because we’re not allowed to know them. 

RS: Well, just so we don’t sound like these conspirator-thesis people that everybody loathes, let me just say that what you said about “not knowing” is really what the 9/11 Commission Report told us. This was the—

JK: That’s right.

RS: — assembled by President Bush, and there’s a disclaimer in the 9/11 Commission Report, a very honest disclaimer that the narrative they developed of what this plot was, and how it was carried out, was flawed because they were not allowed to talk to the key witnesses. 

And, you know, that they weren’t even allowed to talk—this is the 9/11 Commission, these people had the highest security clearance—they were not allowed to talk to the people, in the CIA and elsewhere, who interviewed the key witnesses. So, they were dependent upon stuff that came from, basically, the torturers, through a third party in the government, to develop their narrative. 

And one of the virtues, of course, of an open public trial—we might have learned something about it: what was their relation to Saudi Arabia, why did they do what they’re alleged to have done. And for all our claims about being a society of law, these people were tortured. And tell us about it, because you sat there—what was it, 56 hours—

JK: Fifty-six hours.

RS: Yeah. Describe that. So you were in on the first thing, you were the one who sort of led the capture. And you were guarding him. And tell us what happened. He’s one of those five that’s still in Guantanamo, still hasn’t had a trial, and we still don’t know who he was and what was it all about.

JK: Yeah, that’s exactly right. I led the raids that resulted in the capture of Abu Zubaydah. And Abu Zubaydah was the first high-value target that we caught after 9/11. We had killed al-Qaeda’s—his title was director of military operations, Mohammed Atef—we had killed him in October of 2001 in a bombing raid in Afghanistan, but we had never actually captured anybody. And so this Abu Zubaydah capture was a very big deal. And as you said in your introduction there, I sat with him after the capture for 56 hours; we spoke at great length. There were certainly a million questions that I had for him that I didn’t have the opportunity to ask, because I had to turn him over to CIA colleagues of mine, who then took him to a secret prison. But there were a million things that I wanted to ask him. And it’s kind of a long story—I’ll be very short with it—but the FBI was—

RS: You can go a little longer. Because you were a key witness to this history. You were there when it was still raw and relatively open, before the control people came in, and we never heard from this guy, and by the time we heard from him he had been driven crazy by all this torture and everything. 

JK: That’s right.

RS: So just introduce us to this high-value asset that you, John Kiriakou, actually had captured.

JK: Sure. We believed at the time that Abu Zubaydah was the No. 3 in al-Qaeda. As it turns out, he wasn’t the No. 3, but he was still a very important component of the al-Qaeda leadership. He was—I guess you could call him al-Qaeda’s logistician. He was the person who had founded the House of Martyrs safehouse for al-Qaeda in Peshawar, Pakistan; he was the one who founded and ran both of al-Qaeda’s training camps in southern Afghanistan. If you needed a fake passport or an airplane ticket or cash or anything, it was Abu Zubaydah who secured those things for you. 

Now, he always claimed that he was not a part of the planning of 9/11. In retrospect, that was probably true. But what he was able to provide us was at least as important as an account of the planning for 9/11. What Abu Zubaydah ended up giving an FBI agent by the name of Ali Soufan was first and foremost al-Qaeda’s wiring diagram. 

We just didn’t know what al-Qaeda looked like below the leadership. We knew that Osama bin Laden had created the group; we knew that the No. 2 was Ayman al-Zawahiri, formerly of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, who had merged his group with bin Laden’s and took the No. 2 spot. We knew that Mohammed Atef was the head of military operations. And we knew that there was a very bad man out there by the name, or by the nom de guerre, I should say, of Mukhtar. And I can get to that in a minute. 

But we didn’t know anything beyond that. We didn’t know, for example, how al-Qaeda had set up its various cells around the world. We didn’t know where those cells were. We didn’t know how al-Qaeda foot soldiers communicated with their leaders. We didn’t know how they sent money. We didn’t know how they sent operational instructions to one another. We didn’t know anything about the planning. And so, Abu Zubaydah was able to tell us how that was all structured. 

For example, we could ask a question like this: let’s say al-Qaeda wanted to conduct an operation in Dusseldorf. How would you go about that? And Abu Zubaydah would answer that, well, there’s one guy named Mohammed, and Mohammed lives at this address, and Mohammed has access to weapons, and he has a friend named Abdullah, and this is Abdullah’s phone number, and Abdullah has access to explosives, and they stay at an apartment that’s owned by Rashid, and this is Rashid’s email address. So that then we—

RS: He told you all this without torture. 

JK: Correct.

RS: In fact, the only usable information that came out of him or any other prisoner was without torture.

JK: Was without torture. And that’s really the key here. This is what he was telling Ali Soufan, the FBI agent, who just sat across from Abu Zubaydah at a table, treated him with respect, gave him an occasional cigarette or an apple or a cup of tea, and established a rapport with him. This really did work. And so he gave us that wiring diagram, and then he told us about Mukhtar. Now, we knew that Mukhtar was instrumental in this planning of the 9/11 attacks, but that’s all we knew, and we had no idea what his name was. I remember Abu Zubaydah laughing, because he couldn’t believe that we didn’t know that Mukhtar was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. And so that was revelatory for us—

RS: Who had gone to school in North Carolina before he became a terrorist, right?

JK: That’s right. And who spoke English as well as you and I. And so we at least then knew where we needed to look. We needed to look for Mukhtar’s trail; he was probably in Pakistan somewhere, perhaps in Afghanistan; and thanks to Abu Zubaydah, thanks to Ali Soufan getting it from Abu Zubaydah, we found Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a safe house in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, in August of 2002. 

Now, what ended up happening was there was great professional jealousy at the CIA, because the FBI was taking the lead in carrying out these interrogations. The reason the FBI was taking the lead was because 9/11 was still an open criminal investigation, and because the FBI was highly skilled in these kinds of interrogations. They had been doing it since the Nuremberg Trials in 1946. 

And so, the CIA, because it was so angry and upset, the director, George Tenet, at the time, went to see President Bush, and told President Bush that the CIA just had to take over primacy of this interrogation. President Bush made a terrible mistake and agreed to pull out Ali Soufan and the rest of the FBI contingent, and to allow the CIA to take over.

RS: And the FBI didn’t believe in torture, and the CIA did. They brought in the torturers. And you know, so talk about that, because that led to your disillusionment with the CIA. So, you know, this is the real issue. We know, we have the—we can’t read the Senate report that was done when Dianne Feinstein was head of the intelligence committee, and how many pages is that report? 

JK: Ah, it’s about 50,000 pages. And what was finally released to the public, it’s almost embarrassing to say, was just a 500-page—a very heavily redacted, 500-page executive summary of the actual report. We’ll never get to see what the actual report looks like. Never.

RS: At least the introduction, though, or the summary makes it clear that no usable information was obtained with torture. You know, we expect countries all over the world—now, very prominently, Putin’s Russia—to be accountable for their actions and their human rights violations and so forth; that’s our message. We are never held accountable for ours. Here was—yes, this massive use of torture in the name of making us safer, did not produce any usable information. They brought in these guys who justified it on some kind of pseudo-scientific basis. 

And here we are now at the end of the chapter, with these five key witnesses, including the one that you captured, still sitting in Guantanamo. And we don’t know anything more, really, about them, what they did—they’ve never been able to testify to what they did, explain their actions—any more than you did, and your FBI counterpart, going back to the beginning. So torture didn’t work. It’s inhuman, but there’s no accountability. And these guys still will not have their trial. Why not?

JK: You are absolutely right. And that’s what the real shame of this entire situation is. They will never have their trial, because the CIA is afraid—rightfully afraid—that they will talk about the torture that they underwent. Torture that was a crime, not just in the United States, but international crime, as the United States is a signatory to the United Nations convention against torture. They’re afraid that they will reveal information that the CIA considers to still be classified. They’re afraid that they’ll talk about CIA sources and methods, that they’ll talk about the torture program and what they suffered through. And they just don’t want to take a chance that any of that information will ever become public. 

You know, in the Senate torture report, in the executive summary that we spoke about a moment ago, there’s a footnote there that is so important, it bears raising right now in this conversation. It says that even though Abu Zubaydah was not a member of al-Qaeda, even though Abu Zubaydah had never pledged fealty to Osama bin Laden, even though Abu Zubaydah never directly committed any crime against Americans or American installations—he will never be allowed to leave Guantanamo, ever. And the footnote goes on to say that when he dies, the CIA will cremate his body and will throw his ashes in the Caribbean. 

Well, that’s not justice. And that’s not the American way. If this man is as bad as we say he is, then let’s give him his day in court, because whether we like his politics or not, that’s what the Constitution says that he gets. And we’ve never given him that. 

RS: How long are we going to pretend, it’s not the American way. My goodness, you know. Because what you’re really talking about is denying the public information that it needs to have about why bad things happen. And you can go back—and that’s why they say in a war, truth is the first casualty. We can try to examine, you know, the dropping of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima; the Gulf of Tonkin, which was the excuse for expanding the War in Vietnam. You don’t get the information unless some whistleblower comes along—and they’re very few and far between; Daniel Ellsberg to you, there’s what, 14 or 18 in between? 

You know, and so tell us about your whistleblowing. Because you didn’t go along with the torture. But you didn’t openly expose it until you were out, and you did it in a way that actually tried to advance the discussion, didn’t make anybody weaker or threaten anyone. Nothing like the making of the movie Zero Dark Thirty, where the producers were allowed to meet the people, or hear and get the names of the people who killed bin Laden. You know, putting their lives at risk.

JK: That’s exactly right. You know, this all took place in 2002. At least, the beginning of the torture took place in 2002. And just before, months before it began—let me clarify that. I returned to CIA headquarters in May of 2002. And immediately upon my return, I was asked if I wanted to be trained, quote, in the use of enhanced interrogation techniques. I had never heard that term before. And when it was explained to me, I objected, and I said, this is a torture program. I said, I have a moral and ethical problem with this, and I don’t want to have anything to do with it. 

Well, I was labeled as “the human rights guy,” which was not a compliment. And I moved on to a different position. Well, that was May of 2002. On August 1, 2002, the CIA began to torture Abu Zubaydah. And as they capture additional high-value targets, they began to torture those high-value targets as well, in a series of secret prisons placed all around the world. 

Well, as it happened, I had been promoted when I got home from Pakistan, and I was given a position as the executive assistant to the CIA’s deputy director for operations. And in that position, I had access to literally everything that the CIA was doing around the world. And I’m reading these reports of torture that are coming back. And I thought to myself, surely people are going to see how patently illegal this is. Somebody’s going to go public. 

Instead, what happened was, certainly some people at the secret site were upset, even repulsed, by what they were seeing’ some of them wrote cables back saying that watching Abu Zubaydah be tortured made them vomit; one woman fainted; one doctor complained, this is not why I joined the CIA, I joined the CIA to serve my country, not to participate in this. And I thought, OK, this is great, because so many people are upset, somebody is going to say something. And then nobody said anything. A couple people curtailed their assignments, meaning they said I can’t work here anymore, and they came back home; that’s a career-ending decision. But nobody went public. 

And so I left the CIA about two years later, still waiting for somebody to go public. And then finally in December of 2007, five and a half years after Abu Zubaydah was tortured for the first time, I decided that I would say something. I was approached by Brian Ross of ABC News, and I decided that I would tell him the truth. He had heard from other people that there was a torture program, but nobody would confirm it on camera. 

And so I confirmed it on camera in December of 2007. I believed at the time that the American people had a right to know; I believed that the American people own the information, and they have a right to know what the CIA is doing in their name. And I also believed that it was illegal for the CIA to classify the torture program in the first place, because it’s illegal to classify a crime. You can’t put a classification on a program that is illegal to begin with. That’s a felony. And so I decided to go public and to tell what I knew.

Now, you’re right: I said in that ABC News interview that I believed we should have a national conversation about a torture program. We should decide as a country, as a nation, if this is who we want to be. Do we want to be the bully that we complain about when we see other countries doing it? Or do we want to be that shining beacon that Ronald Reagan always bragged about, a beacon of hope for human rights, and civil rights and civil liberties? Because we can’t be both. They’re mutually exclusive. 

RS: OK, but you said that, and you didn’t get in trouble yet. And that’s when George Bush was—I want to be clear about this—

JK: Right.

RS: George Bush was president, and they didn’t bring an action against you.

JK: No. The day after the ABC News interview, the CIA filed something called a crimes report against me with the FBI, saying that I had exposed classified information in violation of the Espionage Act. And so from December of 2007 to December of 2008, at the tail end of the George W. Bush administration, the FBI investigated me. And they did it for a whole year—and then in December of 2008, they sent my attorneys something called a declination letter, saying that they were declining to prosecute me because they did not believe that I had revealed classified information. 

And then off the record, one of the FBI agents told my attorney that the torture program was the worst-kept secret in Washington. So, we were so excited, my wife and I actually went out to dinner that night to celebrate. That this dark cloud that had hung over my head for a year had finally dissipated.

RS: Your wife, who had been in, was in the CIA.

JK: Correct, my wife was also a senior CIA officer, and was still in the CIA at the time. What I didn’t know—well, there were two things that I didn’t know, one of which I only learned very recently. What I didn’t know was that four weeks later, when Barack Obama became president, and John Brennan became the deputy national security advisor for counterterrorism, and later CIA director—

RS: This is the guy who shows up on MSNBC?

JK: All the time. All the time. Talking head on—

RS: He’s the darling of liberals now, yeah.

JK: That’s right. Well, John Brennan asked the Justice Department to secretly reopen the case against me. So I had no idea that for the next four years, from January of 2009—or three years, rather, January of 2009 to January of 2012, that my phones were being tapped, that my emails were being monitored, and that teams of FBI agents had surveillance on me. And so in January of 2012—

RS: This is because—now, I want to be clear. Because most of the people I know are Democrats, and they think Democrats are never warmongers, and they never could cover up for torture and so forth. This was the Obama-Biden administration.

JK: Correct.

RS: And maybe, you know, people like Rachel Maddow on MSNBC could ask John Brennan, why’d you do this? The FBI didn’t think this guy had done anything wrong, or the Bush administration didn’t; why did you do this? You know, they didn’t do it against General Petraeus, who was head of the CIA, and he turned over his black briefing books for the president, the highest secrets, to his mistress, right?

JK: That’s right.

RS: He got a slap on the wrist for this, didn’t serve any time. You served two years, had your life destroyed; he didn’t lose his pension, you lost your pension. 

JK: That’s exactly right.

RS: Your life was wrecked. You know—

JK: Yeah, it was.

RS: –the making of the whistleblower. So you know, how does this happen? Where is our collective memory? Why don’t we—

JK: Ha!

RS: Well, think about it. I mean, I’m asking—Barack Obama moved against more people under the Espionage Act than all presidents before him combined. 

JK: Well, let’s talk about that because that’s a very important point. The Espionage Act was written and passed into law in 1917 to combat German saboteurs during the First World War. Between 1917 and 2009, it was used three times to try Americans who had spoken with the media. Three times, in almost a century. In the eight years of the Obama presidency, eight people—all of whom were whistleblowers—were arrested and charged with espionage for speaking to the media. So almost three times the number of all previous presidents combined. There’s just no excuse for that. None. Barack Obama, for all of his reputation as a progressive, had a positively Nixonian obsession with national security leaks, and was willing to use the iron fist that is the Espionage Act to clamp down on those leaks.

RS: And so you were facing a very long sentence. 

JK: Forty-five years is what I was facing. And in fact, that was the Justice Department’s first offer, was 45 years. And one of the attorneys, a woman, one of the Justice Department attorneys, said “Take a plea to an espionage charge, Mr. Kiriakou, and you might live to meet your grandchildren.” That’s how it started. 

RS: Oh.

JK: Yeah, it was—I went home and I—

RS: Oh! That’s cold. That—

JK: Yeah, I’ll tell you what’s colder. I’ll tell you what’s colder—it’s something that I just learned in the last couple of months—that the whole time that I was going through this, my now ex-wife was reporting back to the CIA’s office of security all of my plans. Like, I would meet with my lawyers, and I would tell her, well, here’s our strategy, and she would call the CIA and tell them what my legal strategy was. She admitted to that in open court six weeks ago. 

RS: Ah. So, this is, you know, our fear of totalitarian societies that—

JK: It’s real. It’s real, Bob.

RS: –can turn husband against wife and children against their parents. It’s real. 

JK: It is.

RS: And what you’re saying is so chilling because, you know, I’m one of those people who was enthusiastic for Obama; I even still have the artist-designed T-shirts that cost me 500 bucks and everything when I made a contribution. I wrote columns saying how great it was, and obviously I still think it’s great that we have a non-white-male president, but you know, I don’t feel it’s so great that we have Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court. So you hoped that the promise of Obama would be something progressive. 

And we never examined this. That’s why I’m doing this. I’m trying to examine how this happens and why we look the other way. And one reason we do this—and this is where George Orwell’s 1984 is so important, is that need for an enemy. And once we locate the enemy—and you can change the enemies, you can swap them around. You know, right now we don’t know whether it’s communist China or anti-communist Russia, led by Putin. [Laughter] But they’re almost interchangeable at this point. You have to have the enemy. And once you find the enemy, truth, decency, honor, common sense—all of that gets sacrificed. And there you got swept up in it. 

And I want to mention the irony that you couldn’t find a job. You lost your pension, you have five children, you’re expected to provide support, and you end up working for an almost nonexistent Russian-sponsored radio station called Sputnik, which has an outlet in Kansas that goes about four blocks, I gather, before it gets garbled by everybody else’s signal. And you got a small station in Washington. And that’s the only way you can scratch a living here. And that station lets you denounce Putin’s invasion; you know that station gave you a contract in which you explicitly had the right to criticize Putin and criticize Russia. So, you haven’t had a bad experience with that station. Now, everybody would like you to resign, and what, starve? Starve for being a whistleblower. And not have a voice.

JK: How ironic is that, right? You know, when I—I went to prison, in the end, for 23 months. The government’s best and final offer was three and a half years, and I said, you know what? I was just so—I was so depressed, to the point of being suicidal, I just didn’t care anymore. I said, you know what? I’m going to roll the dice and go to trial. And when I go to trial, I’m going to testify on my own behalf. And I might accidentally mention some of the horrible crimes against humanity, and war crimes, that I witnessed in 15 years at the CIA. And then we’ll just see how the cards fall. And then they came back—OK, OK, 30 months, you do 23. So that was the final deal. But you’re right, when—

RS: But they stripped away your financial stability and ability to get a job or anything—yeah—

JK: Well, not only did they confiscate my pension, which was worth $700,000, they forced me to spend $1.1 million—most of which I didn’t have—on attorneys’ fees. They literally, quite literally, bankrupted me. So, I was ruined financially. And then when I got home from prison two years later, I literally could not find a job anywhere. I was turned down at Target, at McDonald’s, at Safeway. I literally could not find a job anywhere. 

And then finally, I got an offer of my own radio show at Sputnik News, the Russian government news service. And I turned it down. I turned it down, because I said well, I can’t in good conscience work for the Russians. Seven or eight months later they approached me a second time, and they said look, we’d really like to give you your own show. And I said, well, if I’m going to work for you guys, I would need a guarantee that I can say anything I want to say, and I can criticize anybody I want to criticize—including Vladimir Putin. And without missing a beat, the general manager said, “Done.” And I said—

RS: And it was in your contract, right?

JK: Well, I said, are you willing to put it in writing? He said yes. I said, put it in my contract. He said, “Done.” A day later, I had a contract, it’s in writing; I’ve been doing my own show there now for five years. And on the day—just to give you as an example, on the day of the Russian invasion, I started my show by saying that I wholeheartedly condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, I don’t care what their reasons are, no country has the right to cross a border into another country’s territory, and the Russians need to withdraw immediately from all Ukrainian territory. And I’ve been saying that every day since the invasion began, and never once has anybody objected to it or even asked me to tone it down. Never. 

RS: Yeah, but you are finished. All your training, all your knowledge—I mean, let’s—we didn’t even go into that, that you were in Bahrain, you know what’s going on in Saudi Arabia, you know the world; you’re very incredibly smart, you’ve written important books. But all somebody has to say—it’s like the old blacklist: oh, he was on Sputnik. Boom! You’re not a human being anymore. Because they feel so virtuous. The same people, by the way, who destabilized the Ukraine, these glorious Democrats in the administration, you know. They’ve taken over the State Department. So, they effectively, you know, undermined and helped this guy who was able to get along with Russia get thrown out back in the, you know, 12 years ago. And—no, I’m sorry, eight years ago.

JK: Eight years ago.

RS: And—yeah, and they always feel self-righteous. That’s where I want to get at here. I’m talking to a guy who was destroyed by Barack Obama. Let’s just put it—and Biden, who was in that administration. 

JK: That’s right.

RS: And destroyed for telling us the truth about terror and torture and all the things, we spend all of these resources—oh, get the bad guys, bad guys—he got the bad guy. He was able to get more—the information, the only valuable information was gotten by people like John Kiriakou who did not engage in torture, made us safer. And he dared to confirm that we have a torture program, that’s what—he’s a whistleblower who told us we had a torture program. And the Senate spent, what was it, six years investigating this, the Senate Intelligence Committee; they were locked in a room in the CIA building, not allowed to take anything out. 

And there’s a great movie, The Report, which everyone should watch, about how hard it was to get this material out. And they finally—there I’ll say something positive about Democrats. It was the Democrats on the committee—the Republicans didn’t join in—under Diane Feinstein who get this report, and the report has never been made public to us. So for all the talk about transparency, democracy, and so forth, we don’t even know how many copies there are and where they are.

JK: Yeah, you know, that’s a good point. That’s a good point. We don’t know how many copies there are. The conventional wisdom here in Washington is that the CIA produced 10 copies, right—one went to the White House, to the executive office of the president; one went to the office of the vice president; one went to the National Security Council; DOD, state, CIA, FBI, NSA; one or two copies otherwise. 

But the CIA has never given up ownership of the information. And so even if those copies are housed in safes in these respective departments and agencies, they actually belong to the CIA. And there was a news report about three years ago saying that the CIA had begun to destroy them—well, if they only exist in hard-copy form, and they’re destroyed, that information is lost forever. And there are generations of Americans who haven’t even been born yet, who will never have any idea [of] the crimes that the CIA committed in the name of counterterrorism. 

RS: Not just the CIA, the American government. 

JK: The American government, sure.

RS: They knew, they—come on, it was the Justice Department and John Woo and those people who all said it was legal. You know, there’s no accountability. And we pride ourselves on the open society, and then you can have a report six years in preparation, done by your Senate Intelligence Committee—and the public never gets to read it. There’s no accountability. 

And then you have the rare whistleblowers; you’re clearly one. But Daniel Ellsberg, there was the Pentagon Papers, and told us the truth about what the Vietnam War was about. And tens of thousands of people knew the truth; they never said a word about it, you know; their careers got in the way of the truth. You know, or their fear of the government got in the way of the truth. He told the truth, and he also faced something like 137 years, I forget the number now. And I was supposed to be a witness at that trial because I knew something about Vietnam and had been there some time. 

But the fact of the matter is, we’re so self-righteous. You know, we are—everything else is fake news. Anything embarrassing to the U.S. government is fake news; everything that undermines our patriotism is fake news. But you can spin a tale about the Vietnam War or the Iraq War—the New York Times, which was the leading outlet for spreading the lie that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, they’ve come out scot-free. Everybody—“Oh, New York Times, that’s not fake news, that’s real journalism,” you know. 

And then the same thing here on the torture report. Nobody talks about what we’ve done in this [torture], smashing—right, most recently we had a report how they practiced smashing a prisoner’s head against the wall so they could do it to other prisoners. Consciously, openly smashing his head against the wall. You know, and there’s no accountability. No one has gone to jail for that. And the people who supported it and lied about it, they’ve all been honored and given promotions. 

And then they picked the one guy—you know, let’s wrap this up with that. John Kiriakou, the one guy who said, yes, this happened—and then you go to jail and your life is destroyed. That’s the fate of the whistleblower. And then you were praising our way of life, our system of government, our Constitution—yeah, you know, the whistleblower should be protected, according to the body of the Constitution, separation of powers, as well as the amendments—but they’re not. 

We have, what—all of the whistleblowers that I know of, I’ve interviewed quite a few of them—they don’t come to more than a dozen or so in this area. And they’ve all had their lives destroyed, their income destroyed, you know; you think of a guy like Binney at the NSA, and he tells us the truth and they bust into his shower when he’s naked there, you know, and they’re going to arrest him. This guy had worked his whole life in the national security establishment. So maybe that’s the way to wrap this up. I’ll give you the last word here, John Kiriakou, an American hero for my money.  

JK: Thank you. And thank you for raising these issues. You know, time has passed since this all began; it’s been 20 years, as I said, 20 years this week. And there aren’t a lot of people talking about this. But these questions have never been answered. This information has never been made public. So, thank you for keeping it out there and keeping it current. I think that you’re doing a public service, and this is very important. 

RS: Yeah, but you know what, we’re not going to reach that many people. Let’s cut to the chase here. We always hear that—you do good work, and yeah, it’s a public service. The fact of the matter is, Daniel Ellsberg’s revelations were not able to stop the Vietnam War. And you know, we’re right now legitimately horrified, say, by what the Russians are doing in Ukraine, and killing civilians. You want to compare that to the carpet-bombing of Vietnam? You want to compare that to the bombing of Japan and Germany in the war? I mean, at least that was a full-scale war. 

You know, but what Ellsberg revealed in the Pentagon Papers is a war that never made any sense, and the conservative estimates, McNamara once said he would be considered a war criminal if the wrong side had won, with three and a half million he admitted to that died there, mostly civilians. Now the figure—we throw in Cambodia and Laos and so forth, probably between five and six, seven million died. In a war that no one could make sense of. You know, we tore apart the whole Mideast area—and you know more about it than probably anybody I could talk to—for no rhyme or reason that made sense. 

And there’s no accountability. We have this illusion that we are accountable, and we’re not. This is Rome. This is Rome, and they can cover it with fancy language, they can cover it with manners, but it’s Rome on a rampage. You know, and that’s really what’s happening: the incredible assertion of the American prerogative, American power, and anything America does, somehow is morally justifiable. 

JK: I couldn’t agree more. I think you’re exactly right.

RS: All right, let’s wrap it up, then. That’s it for this edition of Scheer Intelligence. I want to thank John Kiriakou, a very brave, if broken human being. I mean financially, not spiritually. [Laughter] I want to thank the folks at KCRW, the FM station in Santa Monica, the NPR station, for putting this on, Christopher Ho and the others. Joshua Scheer, our executive producer. Natasha Hakimi Zapata, who does the introduction. Lucy Berbeo, who does the transcription. And the JKW Foundation in the memory of a very strong, independent writer, journalist, Jean Stein, for helping support these shows. See you next week with another edition of Scheer Intelligence. 

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