National Treasure John Kiriakou, who went to prison for exposing the U.S. torture program under George W. Bush, was on the latest episode of the Washington Babylon podcast. (Along with the hilarious and delightful Tina-Desiree Berg, who I’m about to feature in an upcoming promo.)
Kiriakou was “the first C.I.A.officer to be imprisoned for leaking classified information to a reporter” and served nearly two years in federal prison. Kiriakou first came to public attention in 2007 when he spoke publicly about waterboarding” and is one of eight current or former government employees prosecuted by the Obama administration for disclosing secrets to reporters,” according to the New York Times. “Only three such cases were prosecuted under all previous presidents.”
Here’s an excerpt from our great conversation — it is lightly edited — and make sure to check out the whole episode out here:
The federal anti-torture Act of 1946 outlawed tactics that we used on Al Qaeda suspects; 1946 was the genesis because of Nuremberg. We executed Japanese prisoners who waterboarded American soldiers. That was an executable offense. The law didn’t change between 1946 and 2002, we changed.
On January 11, 1968 the Washington Post ran a front-page article showing an American soldier waterboarding a Vietnamese prisoner. Secretary of defense Robert McNamara ordered an investigation. The soldier was arrested and charged with torture, and sentenced to 20 years, which he served at Leavenworth.
Why was torture illegal in 1946 and 1968 but legal in 2002? Because George W. Bush said so? I didn’t buy it.
I kept my mouth shut for a long time and then in December 2007 I went on ABC and said the CIA was torturing prisoners, that it was official policy, not the work of a rogue CIA officer as President Bush had speculated, and I said the policy was personally approved by the president. That’s when the federal government fell on my head.
We think that terrorism is a new phenomenon that we’ve never dealt with before but we did deal with it before, we just choose to forget about that. We enforced the law against torture. Not only did we sign the UN convention against torture, we were the drafters. We went around the world asking countries for their signature and it was modeled on our own anti-torture law.
But then September 11 happened and we said we’re not going to pay attention to that anymore. You can’t do that, you can’t pick and choose. If you want to torture people you have to change the law and we never did that.