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CIA whisteblower John Kiriakou as depicted in artist Robert Shetterly's "Americans Who Tell the Truth" series.  (Credit: Robert Shetterly)

John Kiriakou: Blowing Whistle on Bush-Era Torture 'Was Worth It'

Whistleblower, who's now serving remainder of 30-month sentence at home, told Democracy Now! that 'entire torture program was approved by the president himself.'

Andrea Germanos

Former CIA agent John Kiriakou said Monday that the Bush-era torture program "was approved by the president himself" and that the two years he spent behind bars for blowing the whistle on that program was worth it.

Kiriakou was sentenced to 30 months in prison in 2013 after pleading guilty to releasing the name of an officer implicated in a CIA torture program to the media and violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. He was released from federal prison last week and is serving out the remainder of his sentence at home.

He is the only government employee who has gone to jail in connection with the torture program—a fact attorney Jesselyn Radack has called "a miscarriage of justice" and which Kiriakou said makes him feel like he's "in the Twilight Zone sometimes."

In an interview with Democracy Now!, Kirikou said he was convinced about the reason for his imprisonment: "My case was about blowing the whistle on torture."

He explained what led him to reveal in 2007 that "high-value detainee" Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded and tortured in numerous other ways. Kiriakou was part of the CIA team that captured Zubaydah in a house raid in Pakistan, but did not participate in his torture.

"I learned initially that he had been waterboarded in the summer of 2002, at the end of the summer of 2002. And as I said in the 2007 interview with Brian Ross, I believed what the CIA was telling us, that he was being waterboarded, it was working, and we were gathering important, actionable intelligence that was saving American lives," Kiriakou told host Amy Goodman.

"It wasn’t until something like 2005 or 2006 that we realized that that just simply wasn’t true—he wasn’t producing any information—and that these techniques were horrific. It was in 2007, Amy, that I decided to go public. President Bush said at the time, categorically, 'We do not torture prisoners. We are not waterboarding.' And I knew that that was a lie. And he made it seem as though this was a rogue CIA officer who decided to pour water on people’s faces. And that simply wasn’t true."

"Torture—the entire torture program was approved by the president himself, and it was a very carefully planned-out program. So to say that it was rogue, it was just a bald-faced lie to the American people," Kiriakou said.

He added that the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture shows "how wrongheaded the CIA torture program was," and because of this, some prosecutions need to be made.

"What about case officers who took the law into their own hands or who flouted the law and raped prisoners with broomsticks or carried out rectal hydration with hummus? Those were not approved interrogation techniques. Why aren’t those officers being prosecuted? I think, at the very least, that’s where we should start the prosecutions."

That President Obama is not going to pursue prosecution of lawyers at the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department or CIA heads was understandable, he said, "But what about the CIA officers who directly violated the law, who carried out interrogations that resulted in death?" "Those people should not be above the law." he said.

Despite the nearly two years in Loretto Prison, where he previously described people under medical care "die with terrifying frequency," he told Democracy Now! he'd do it all again.

"What has happened since that 2007 ABC News interview is that torture has been banned in the United States. It is no longer a part of U.S. government policy. And I’m proud to have played a role in that. If that cost me 23 months of my life, well, you know what? It was worth it," he concluded.

See more from his interview in the video below:


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