If the name John Kiriakou sounds familiar, it should. He is the former had of counterterrorism operations for the CIA in Pakistan whose team group captured Abu Zubaida, one of the people tortured under the watch of Gina Haspel, now Trump’s nominee to head the CIA. He has an op-ed about it in the WAshington Post.
I knew what was happening to Abu Zubaida because of my position in CIA operations at the time. I kept my mouth shut about it, even after I left the CIA in 2004. But by 2007, I had had enough.
President George W. Bush had steadfastly denied to the American people that there was a torture program. I knew that was a lie. I knew torture didn’t work. And I knew it was illegal. So in December 2007, I granted an interview to ABC News in which I said that the CIA was torturing its prisoners, that torture was official U.S. government policy and that the policy had been personally approved by the president. The FBI began investigating me immediately.
A year later, the Justice Department concluded that I had not committed a crime. But CIA leaders were still furious that I had aired the agency’s dirty laundry. The CIA asked the new Obama Justice Department to reopen the case against me. It did, and three years later, I was charged with five felonies , including three counts of espionage, resulting from that ABC News interview and a subsequent interview with the New York Times . Of course, I hadn’t committed espionage, and the charges were eventually dropped, but only after I agreed to plea to a lesser charge. I served 23 months in prison.
So let’s compare and contrast. Haspel carries out torture, something so forbidden by the UN Convention Against Torture that any nation may prosecute her for it, and destroys the evidence of it to avoid Congressional oversight. She is given multiple promotions and now is in line to run the entire agency she has brought such shame to. Kiriakou blows the whistle on torture and spends two years in prison and his career is over. Because he told the truth. He is blunt — and correct — in his assessment of the situation:
And the message it sends to our friends and allies (and the countries we criticize in the State Department’s annual human rights reports) is this: We say we’re a shining city on a hill, a beacon of respect for human rights, civil rights, civil liberties and the rule of law. But actually, that’s nonsense. We say those things when it’s expedient. We say them to make ourselves feel good. But when push comes to shove, we do what we want, international law be damned.
The meaning of Haspel’s nomination won’t be lost on our enemies, either. The torture program and similar abuses at military-run prisons in Iraq were among the greatest recruitment tools that al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and other bad actors ever had, according to legal experts, U.S. lawmakers and even the militants themselves. It energized them and gave them something to rally against. It sowed an even deeper hatred of the United States among militant groups. It swelled their ranks. It was no coincidence that the Islamic State paraded its prisoners in front of cameras wearing orange jumpsuits (like those worn by Guantanamo Bay detainees) before beheading them. Haspel and the others at the CIA who engineered and oversaw the torture program are at least partially responsible for that, because they showed the world how the United States sometimes treats captives.
We are hypocrites. We have always been hypocrites. We talk so grandly about human rights but violate them with impunity every single day. We lecture the world about the importance of the rule of law, then blatantly apply the law only to others and not to ourselves. That’s the government. The American people? Frankly, they couldn’t possibly care any less. Run a flag up a pole and they’ll still salute, no matter how drenched it may be in blood and shame. They’ll still get weepy-eyed when Lee Greenwood sings.
This is not patriotism, it is mindless, tribalistic nationalism. True patriotism is demanding that your government live up to the ideals it professes. John Kiriakou is a patriot. Gina Haspel is a war criminal and a felon and a disgrace to the constitution she swore to uphold.