I was driving East towards Maryland on the 76 Turnpike and I couldn’t get last night’s Frontline show from PBS out of my head. It had enraged me and mixed my emotions about this trip to Washington DC even more. Lanny Breuer was stuck in my goddamn head. Breuer was Chief of the Criminal Division at Justice and charged with the task of investigating Wall Street fraud after the Mortgage crisis and subsequent bailouts and bringing criminals to justice.
Of course Breuer could find no “criminals”. According to Breuer, greed is not a crime, fraud is not a crime. Another factor in Breuer’s thinking was that, in his words “The jobs of tens of thousands of employees can literally be at stake”. And as Senator Ted Kaufman rightly pointed out “That is not the job of a prosecutor, to worry about the health of the banks, in my opinion. Job of the prosecutors is to prosecute criminal behavior. It’s not to lie awake at night and kind of decide the future of the banks.”
The reason this upset me so greatly as I headed towards our nation’s capital, just three days after Barack Obama’s recent coronation was I was not going for a protest, or to see a museum, I was going to support and visit my cousin, John Kiriakou who was about to be sentenced to jail for 30 months by the same government who could find no crimes among the Wall Street Banks.
If you are not familiar with John’s story we have covered it extensively from the beginning. In short, he is the only person involved with the illegal CIA torture program following 9/11 who will be headed to jail. And the reason is he is heading for federal prison is because he’s the only one who blew the whistle on torture –he’s the reason we now know about waterboarding at all. The government of course alleges that John “outed” an agent who was undercover which threatened that agent and this country’s security. Of course it does not dispute that the agent took part in illegal torture, so even if their allegation was true it would be the equivalent of giving up the name of a Nazi war criminal after Word War II. Nor is there any dispute that Richard Armitage outed CIA agent Valerie Plame in the infamous Scooter Libby case or, more recently that former CIA director David Patraeus leaked intelligence to a journalist with whom he was sexually involved –both of these men are walking free. Apparently leaks in the name of political revenge or fucking won’t be charged. John Kiriakou made the mistake of trying to tell the truth.
And to add to this shit heap, it’s now known that a top Obama official leaked intelligence to the makers of the film Zero Dark Thirty, infamous now for its inaccurate and fictitious account of torture leading to the capture to Osama Bin Laden. A subject John Kiriakou knows is patently false because he was fucking there in Afghanistan rooting out Al Qaeda operatives. But it’s a marvelous propaganda film for the CIA, the military and Obama and that’s what’s important.
And as the LA Times pointed out “…compare Kiriakou’s actions against those of Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., the former head of the CIA’s clandestine operations. In 2005, Rodriguez destroyed 92 videotapes of detainee interrogations because, he wrote in an e-mail, letting the public see them would be “devastating” to the agency. Both the destruction of the tapes and the scenes they documented were probably felonies. Yet the Justice Department’s two-year investigation into the case ended with a whimper, and no charges, last summer. Rodriguez, now retired, was last seen opining on the torture scenes in “Zero Dark Thirty” for the Washington Post.”
I was thinking about all of this as I made it to the George Washington Parkway on the way to John’s house in Virginia and then…there it was! In all it’s white marble splendor, the seat of Democracy, of power: the Mall of Washington DC.
There was the Washington Monument, note that Washington wrote during war “Should any American soldier be so base and infamous as to injure any [prisoner]. . . I do most earnestly enjoin you to bring him to such severe and exemplary punishment as the enormity of the crime may require. Should it extend to death itself, it will not be disproportional to its guilt at such a time and in such a cause… for by such conduct they bring shame, disgrace and ruin to themselves and their country.”
And seeing the Lincoln Memorial, we can recall Lincoln instituted the first formal code of conduct for the humane treatment of prisoners of war in 1863. Lincoln’s order forbade any form of torture or cruelty, and it became the model for the 1929 Geneva Convention. Lincoln himself said “If torture is not wrong, then nothing is wrong.”
But just as the monuments have faded and slowly decayed over time, so have the words and the ideals these men stood for. It occurred to me that “The Mall” has never been a more appropriate designation for this area selling fantasies of justice and Democracy with a glittering facade, hiding nothing more than a chintzy profit scheme, corporate branding, with cameras and cheap thugs making sure you don’t mess with the merchandise unless you buy it and take it home.
I made it to John’s house, a different house than I had visited him in previously but the neighborhood felt familiar. The reason I learned later is the house John was in sat literally in the shadow of the house he had built with his wife for his family. A house he was forced to sell. John has paid close to a million dollars in legal fees fighting the government and it has cost him an even dearer price than that: not only did he lose his job and status in the government, the CIA forced out his wife who was a commended analyst working for them as well. As I entered John’s house he looked beaten, not by his case, but by a flu he and and two of his young children had. His wife and baby has so far been spared but he was trying to rally for a speech he had to give later. He was being honored with a painting by Artist Robert Shetterly who has an amazing series of portraits titled “Americans who tell the truth”. John was to join an illustrious group including Muhammed Ali, RFK, Pete Seeger, Emma Goldman, Daniel Ellsberg and one of John’s own attorneys, Jesselyn Raddack, a whistleblower herself among many others.
John immediately handed me a speech and seemed frantic “I want to read this after my sentencing, my lawyers don’t want to let me. I attack at least 6 people in this, the bastards deserve it.” I loved the speech and hoped he would say these things to the press. Why not? Once charged they couldn’t do further harm, but then of course maybe they could. John has learned all too well the government does not operate fairly, or with honor. He decided to sleep on giving the speech to the court after his sentencing. His speech for the portrait though was as positive, defiant and sincere with a wry bit of humor as he was.
At this point I was attacked with a screeching dinosaur. John’s infant son attacked me with the beast and we were soon in a maelstrom of his two other children demanding our attention with their smiles which we were glad to acquiesce. It was then I could see what his life had become. I saw him taking calls from lawyers with a baby in his lap. Answering emails from Oliver Stone while explaining how to play an iPad game. A man who was once embedded among Al Qaeda cells was rushing medicine up the stairs to his sick daughter, completing his urgent mission. It was difficult though to experience the joy he and his children had with each other and not be saddened by the fact they would be without him for 30 months.
We got to talk then and I asked if he had seen the Frontline show on Wall Street. He had not and I went through the details and mentioned the name Lanny Breuer. “THAT SCUM!” he shrieked. It turned out Breuer had been John’s own attorney through the Valerie Plame case and later, Breuer himself charged John with espionage. In an interview with Kevin Gosztola of Firedoglake, John said of Breuer…
“I don’t think I am overstating this when I say I feel like we’re entering a second McCarthy era where the Justice Department uses the law as a fist or as a hammer not just to try and convict people but to ruin them personally and professionally because they don’t like where they stand on different issues.
I know Lanny Breuer. Lanny Breuer’s my former attorney from the Scooter Libby case but I think that Lanny Breuer became a zealot when he went to the Justice Department and he drank the Justice Department’s anti-whistleblower kool-aid. And I think we see the same thing with Neil McBride in the way he’s targeting WikiLeaks with a grand jury when in fact he should be targeting the bankers who have ruined our country and the crooked politicians who shirk their responsibilities to oversee the intelligence community.”
Incredibly, only minutes after this revelation, we both learned that Breuer had just resigned. We can only hope that Frontline made the final push, and tellingly, the Department of Justice like a petulant teen told Frontline they will never cooperate with them again. Nothing hurts worse than the truth apparently. Breuer’s crimes go far beyond Wall Street and John Kiriakou though, he can also take some blame for the horrid attacks that led to the death of Adam Swartz and as the blog Empty Wheel shows, rewarded abuse in many other cases. Breuer is scum and one can only hope history continues to see him as such.
John and I had some time to talk about our families and at times the situation kept seeming surreal that someone I knew as a young boy, who gained some fame locally for writing the Shah of Iran in his early teens, and then devoted his life to his country would soon be going jail for “doing harm” to his country. It was beyond the realm of reason and good sense. When people would ask me why I refused to vote for Obama, I would tell them, among my many other reasons, it was personal. Horrified they would say “well you can’t want Romney to win?” To which I would reply, “maybe I do, maybe we need to see the grim, stone face of tyranny freed from the false mask of a ‘progressive’ smile.”
Later, John would smile to hear that activist/actress Susan Sarandon wrote some support for him, joining Oliver Stone, Mark Ruffalo and a great many other public figures with the courage to stand for him and against the injustice of their own country. Incredibly he has gotten more support from the likes of Jerry Falwell than from Obama’s sycophantic Democrats. Falwell’s Liberty University supports John because torture isn’t Christian, and indeed they are correct.
John left early for the event and I got to speak with his wife who told me that she too had given her self for her government and now for what? It is a powerful thing to have one’s faith shaken so surely but I think they’re also seeing it liberating. They see that that were living under a lie. Any support they might have assumed came from their country only went as far as their silent compliance and no further.
I made it downtown to the event, at a leftist bookshop / cafe called Busboys & Poets, that despite their radical leanings, did not find it distasteful to charge me $10 for a neat Scotch. I saw John and he seemed a bit nervous but also heartened by the full room of friends and supporters that had come to see him. Tellingly, the only cameras there were from the RT network. Certainly none of the other networks would cover this.
There were two speeches from the Government Accountability Project (GAO), who support Whistleblowers and have even started a fund for John’s family for the time he’ll be in jail. One speech was by his lawyer from the GAO, Jesselyn Raddack who I have to state is not part of his legal team being paid a million dollars, or trying to edit his speeches. She herself was a Whistleblower against the illegal interrogation of John Walker Lindh. She of course was placed under criminal investigation by the government and now is the director of Homeland Security and Human Rights at the Government Accountability Project. Her blog at Daily Kos is essential reading about the case and about the attack of Whistleblowers.
The artist, Robert Shetterly then spoke eloquently about John and as he explained in Common Dreams about why he chose John as a subject.
“This portrait is an attempt to recognize a real hero. It is a terrible irony that the people who ordered the use of torture are free and continue to be rewarded for their “service” to this country, while the man who tried to stop torture is going to prison.
I was telling a friend recently about my choice to paint Mr. Kiriakou, and she said she was disappointed that I had chosen to do it. Why, I asked. Well, she said, Code of Honor. She was referring to the notion that an honorable member of an intelligence agency or the military would never speak negatively about another member publicly, never desert a comrade. Her attitude is understandable but fails to see how dangerous this code can be when it is used to hide the breaking of a more serious code. Just as a soldier is required by law to report a war crime, an intelligence officer who tries to stop the use of torture is staying true to the oath he or she took to defend the Constitution. The people who ordered torture, who lied about the fact of its use, who carried it out have made a mockery of any idea of the Code of Honor. For a person to invoke the Code of Honor as a reason for not reporting a crime makes one complicit in the crime. And for a person in a position of power to expect those under his/her jurisdiction to remain silent about a crime because they are respecting a Code of Honor is tantamount to moral bribery. A higher Code of Honor was broken by those political, military, and intelligence leaders who lied to create an unnecessary, illegal war and then denied and justified the use of torture.
Some people defending and supporting John Kiriakou have said that he has been destroyed by this ordeal. Originally he was charged under the Espionage Act and faced 35 years in prison. As a young man ( 48 ) with five children rather than risk conviction, he plea bargained to one count of revealing an agent’s name (even though that name was never revealed publicly and did nothing to expose classified information). Mr. Kiriakou has had his freedom taken away from him. He has lost his job, his house, his income. He has a debt of half a million dollars in lawyers fees. But destroyed? I’d say created. He has discovered a moral fiber that he may not have known that he had. He can, without denial, rationalization or hypocrisy, look at himself in the mirror. It’s hard to say you are on the right side of history when most of your former colleagues are on the other. But he has a new community now — a community of whistleblowers, truth tellers, and activists for justice and human rights who support his courage. His former colleagues fear him because they know his courage to tell the truth complicates their Code of Honor and, perhaps, indicts their cowardice.”
He then introduced John and unveiled the painting, a masterful work that captured John perfectly with a face weary, triumphant and at peace.
John then spoke. In his speech he said “I accept my sentence without bitterness. I’m sorry for the pain my family has to endure. But I believe that when people see something that is wrong and cruel and unjust and undemocratic, there is an obligation to say so and say so loudly. I’m not naïve, I know national security and counter terrorism and intelligence are rough arenas and hard, dangerous choices are needed – but I also know debasing another person and serializing human rights abuses under legal paper is not the American Way, not what our democracy stands for in the world.
So I called attention to waterboarding. And I said America is better than that – we are more principled, we are more honorable, we are more humane, we are more responsible. We are NOT a lowest common denominator country, measuring what is right by what others do. The American Way stands for something and it is NOT torture.
So I head to prison accepting responsibility for my actions and hoping maybe the country is better and more informed and more transparent for the debate I initiated.
I have never gained for what I have said publicly. And I believe I was prosecuted not for what I did but for who I am – a CIA officer who said torture is wrong and ineffective. And if I’m actually guilty of a crime then I should have a lot of company in prison – a long list of people whose books and articles and TV appearances and sexual dalliances have compromised security and violated secrecy.
But I’ll be able to tell my children their Dad paid his debt to society in the hope that just maybe society comes out the better for it. The irony is I never waterboarded anyone, but I’m heading to jail while the torturers and the lawyers who papered it over and the people who deceived about it never face justice. And that’s the saddest part of this story.”
This was followed by jazz pianist Mary Anne Driscoll singing an interpretation of John’s words written on the painting which read:
“Even if torture works, it cannot be tolerated — not in one case or a thousand or a million. If their efficacy becomes the measure of abhorrent acts, all sorts of unspeakable crimes somehow become acceptable. I may have found myself on the wrong side of government on torture. But I’m on the right side of history … There are things we should not do, even in the name of national security. One of them, I now firmly believe, is torture.”
At the end of the program, I was never more proud to call this man family, friend, and hero than that moment. And for the first time, amongst the applause I felt hope that I had not felt in months. John was not alone, far from it. The bastards thought they could take everything away from him but they took nothing of real consequence, but they cannot see that. Instead they lost their own souls, legitimacy and any respect due to them. Looking around the room and thinking of his upcoming sentence, I know that the government thinks they are taking 30 months of John Kiriakou’s life, his freedom and in a sense they are. But when he is out, he will be more free than ever and the bastards will be put on notice. John Kiriakou is not alone, he is with Bradley Manning, Daniel Ellsberg, Thomas Drake, Jesselyn Radack, Julian Assange, Jeffrey Hammond and Adam Swartz. And he is with those who support them all and demand truth and justice.
I left the next morning and awaited to hear the news of John’s sentencing. The lackey judge spouted some gibberish about how John had “already said too much” and she wished, of course, she could have given him more time. No mention of torture, just the supposed “damage” John had done to his country. Remarkable when considering what torture and drone warfare has done to ensure America’s endless war on terror and assuring the next generation of terrorists will be waiting for our weapons and defense contracts.
John is quoted as saying…
“I am proud that I stood up to our government. I stood up for what I believed was right conviction or no conviction. I mean they can convict anybody of anything if they put their minds to it, but I wear this as a badge of honor. I am not a criminal. I am a whistleblower. The thing that I blew the whistle on is now the law of the land. Torture is illegal and it’s officially abandoned in our country and I’m proud to have had a role in that.”
Daniel Ellsberg said “courage is contagious” and I have seen that it is. I and many like me are starting to finally see the corruption unveiled at every level of our government and using the tools we have available to fight back. I am proud and without fear now to call myself an enemy of the state. Not an enemy in a militaristic or violent sense but an agent of change, among an army, some loud and visible and some quite “Anonymous”. As Thoreau said “The law will never make men free; it is men who have got to make the law free.” John Kiriakou stands up for the law of man, not the injustices of his country and we, and history, must not let him be forgotten for it.
You can support John Kiriakou at his website.