John Kiriakou Will Tell You Everything You Need to Know About Transparency Under Obama

When he enters a federal prison on Friday, John Kiriakou will be the only former CIA agent prosecuted in relation to the Bush White House's torture program, but not for committing torture.

Jan 28 2013, 4:00pm

When he enters a federal prison on Friday, John Kiriakou will hold the distinction of being the only former CIA agent to be prosecuted in relation to the Bush White House's torture program, not for committing torture but for helping to blow the whistle on it.

For his crime--he leaked the name of another officer connected to the torture program--Kiriakou is going to jail for 30 months. But the government's relentless pursuit of him speaks of a larger campaign that has targeted and prosecuted whistleblowers with more zeal than any other previous administration combined. Before Obama, the 1917 Espionage Act was used three times to bring cases against government officials accused of providing classified information to the media. Since he took office, Obama has prosecuted six Americans under the Espionage Act.

“I don’t think I am overstating this when I say I feel like we’re entering a second McCarthy era, “Kirkiakou told Firedoglake in an interview, “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.”

The Justice Department insists that Kiriakou’s views on torture had nothing to do with his prosecution, and defenders of the charges cite the fact Kirikou initially defended enhanced interrogation practices before shifting his position. But anyone who honestly believes that Kiriakou getting audited by the IRS every year since 2007 or followed into church doesn't count as intimidation, presumably also thinks that Aaron Swartz was coincidentally visited by the Secret Service two days after filing a Freedom of Information Request to obtain information on the treatment of Bradley Manning.

Last week, Kiriakou said, of Swartz’ tragic death, “I'm frankly surprised that more people haven't committed suicide because of the way the Justice Department overreaches on these cases…as bad as the Bush Justice Department was, we didn't see this kind of ... vindictive and selective prosecution of people that we see under Obama. That's really what it is, it's vindictive and it's selective."

This, despite the fact that the Obama administration has happily carried out its own leaks to the press, such as information about successful drone strikes and the operation that killed Osama bin Laden. As David Carr wrote last year, "this particular boat leaks from the top. Leaks from the decks below, especially ones that might embarrass the administration, have been dealt with very differently."

In general, Obama's promises of transparency have faltered. Consider that: 

  • The number of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits filed against the federal government increased by 26% under the Obama administration versus the Bush administration, according to a December study by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.

  • Despite a 2009 memo from Attorney General Eric Holder telling them to do so, a government-wide audit performed by the National Security Archive found 62 of 99 federal agencies still have not updated their FOIA regulations. The audit also found that 56 agencies have not updated their FOIA regulations since the passage of the OPEN Government Act of 2007, which mandated agencies retool their FOIA offices, including fee structures and reporting.

  • A Bloomberg investigation found that 19 of 20 cabinet-level agencies disobeyed the law requiring the disclosure of public information: “In all, just 8 of the 57 federal agencies met Bloomberg’s request for those documents within the 20-day window required by the Act."

  • An August 2012 Washington Post analysis found that early freedom of information progress by the Obama administration “stalled and, in the case of most departments, reversed in direction.” According to the Post, "the number of FOIA requests denied in full due to exemptions rose more than 10 percent last year, to 25,636 from 22,834 the previous year." (Melanie Ann Pustay, director of the Office of Information Policy at the Department of Justice, told Bloomberg News the figures may reflect an increase in the number of FOIA requests made to agencies since 2009.)

  • Holder's Justice Department has defended all agencies that choose to withhold information from the public, a report on found.

These details and the stories of Kiriakou, Swartz, Manning, and many others, stand in stark contrast to the image promulgated by “the most transparent administration in history”, strengthening the separation between rhetoric and reality that the President’s reign has been built upon. In his second inaugural speech, President Obama referenced, “A decade of war now ending,” no doubt an astonishing assertion to the people of Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, victims of regular drone strikes, in a program the administration will barely admit exists. This information was also, surely, a shock to the people of Iran who are beginning to see dramatic medical impacts as a result of the brutal economic sanctions, an act of war by any stretch of imagination and a policy Vice President Joe Biden referred to as, “[The] most crippling sanctions in the history of sanctions.”

However, no one could be more confounded by the statement than the people of Afghanistan, the country Obama was indirectly referencing, as the occupation reaches tragic milestone after tragic milestone. The line from the White House is that the war will end in 2014, but a closer look at the government’s actual plans reveals that the Pentagon wants 6,000-20,000 troops in the country until at least 2024.

Kiriakou on Al Jazeera, January 25

The fictions that fuel Obama’s support now crystallize in the visage of John Kiriakou; the only official to be prosecuted in connection with torture programs of the last decade. The individuals directly responsible for the descent into what Dick Cheney called, “The Dark Side,” continue to ink book deals and obtain cushy positions throughout the country. Last week, Condoleezza Rice, one of the chief architects of the Iraq War, was hired by CBS as a news contributor. Prior to that, Colin Powell, as responsible for the crimes of the Bush administration as anyone else, was lauded by liberals more passionately than usual for a making a few commonsensical comments about the weak-mindedness of the Republican party. The Tuesday before the Kiriakou sentencing, a military judge announced that Marine Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich will not face the death penalty, despite pleading guilty to killing 24 Iraqi civilians in 2005, many of whom were elderly people or children. Wuterich was the last Marine charged in the Haditha killings, 6 others had their charges dropped and one was acquitted.

Yet Bradley Manning, who didn’t participate in a war crime but allegedly leaked information about one, now faces life in prison. John Kiriakou, who didn’t participate in torture but leaked information about the practice, is going to jail for over two years. And Barack Obama, who campaigned on another round of  hope, change, and openness, is continuing a relentless war on whistleblowers-and likely signing off on another classified drone strike.


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Photo: Associated Press / Cliff Owen