Yesterday, John Kiriakou, a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer, gained the dubious distinction of being the SIXTH person charged in the Obama administration's record-breaking war on whistleblowers:
The Justice Department on Monday charged a former Central Intelligence Agency officer with disclosing classified information to journalists about the capture and brutal interrogation of a suspected member of Al Qaeda, Abu Zubaydah . . .
Worse, in Kiriakou's case, the Obama Justice Department appears to be covering for one of the most abhorrent crimes of the Bush administration – torture. Despite the flowery rhetoric that got him elected, Obama has a dismal record on accountability for Bush-era wrongdoing:
Criminal prosecutions for officials who authorized or conducted torture and warrantless surveillance: 0
Criminal prosecutions for so-called "leakers," who are more often than not whistleblowers: 6
And, not just whistleblowers, but whistleblowers who exposed secret government surveillance (National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Thomas Drake) and torture (Kiriakou). Here's what I had to say in the L.A. Times about the latest in Obama's war on whistleblowers:
"What's missing from all these cases is any allegation that these people have actually caused harm to the United States," said Jesselyn Radack, national security and human rights director for the Government Accountability Project, which represented former National Security Agency official Thomas Drake in an Espionage Act case that collapsed last year.
The Justice Department's criminal complaint charges Kiriakou with one count of violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, two counts of violating the Espionage Act, and one count of making false statements. The Justice Department's press release and complaint paint Kiriakou in the worst possible light, but considering the Justice Department's abysmal record on Espionage Act prosecutions (i.e. Tom Drake), the truth about Kiriakou's actions could be radically different from the picture painted in the complaint.
What is already abundantly clear is that Kiriakou is the only person criminally prosecuted in connection to the Bush torture regime, and he helped expose waterboarding, an act Attorney General Holder himself agreed was torture. Whether Kiriakou exposed that the U.S. waterboarded Zubaydah one time or 83 times is a difference of degree, not of kind.
Here's what the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), whose lawyers were also targeted as part of the investigation leading to Kiriakou's charging because they tried to identify CIA officers involved in torture to defend Guantanamo detainees, had to say about the indictment:
Anthony Romero, the executive director of the A.C.L.U., said the organization was “relieved” but criticized the opening of the investigation, saying it — and the Obama-era leak investigations more broadly — had had a “chilling effect on defense counsel, government whistle-blowers, and journalists.”and
ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero called the investigation "incredibly troubling" and said it would have a chilling effect on reporters, whistle-blowers and defense lawyers. Romero criticized "the fact that the government continues to investigate those who research and report on the individuals who committed torture and yet don't prosecute those who undertook that torture."
“The Justice Department has initiated no prosecutions concerning extreme interrogation methods,” Aftergood said. “But it is now prosecuting an individual who helped bring such events to public light. Is that what we want?”
The Justice Department's claims that respect for the classification system and national security are priories in these prosecutions are belied by the fact that the Obama administration makes good spin out of leaks of supposedly "highly-classified information" when Obama wants to cover his own posterior or grab unprecedented levels of executive power. (i.e. Obama administration's refusal to release the secret Justice Department memo authorizing the assassination of an American citizen without due process, while leaking talking points for the front page of the New York Times OR the minute-by-minute play-by-play of the glorified killing of Osama bin Laden in The New Yorker and coming soon to a theater – I mean movie, not political – near you).
Bottom line: These unprecedented Espionage Act prosecutions are about sending a message to whistleblowers, anti-democratic control of information, and cover up - none of which are legitimate uses for our criminal justice system or the Espionage Act, which was written to target spies not whistleblowers.
Jesselyn Radack is National Security & Human Rights Director for the Government Accountbility Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.