Thursday, January 26, 2012

Upside Down Justice: Prosecuting Whistleblowing Not Torture

The prosecution of torture whistleblower John Kiriakou criminalizes the revelation of illegality, and decriminalizes the torture. -- Daniel Ellsberg

John Kiriakou, the CIA's former director of counterterrorism operations in Pakistan, has been charged with four felony counts for having allegedly disclosed classified information to reporters about the CIA’s interrogation program. Included among those charges are two counts under the Espionage Act of 1917.  John Rudolph at Huffington Post reports that "Kiriakou allegedly leaked information to reporters about two CIA agents directly involved in interrogations of terrorism suspects during the Bush administration that used waterboarding -- a simulated drowning technique that President Obama has himself described as torture."

Kiriakou, the New York Times explains, was "a leader of the team that captured Abu Zubaydah, and he came to public attention in late 2007 when he gave an interview to ABC News portraying the suffocation technique called waterboarding as torture, but calling it necessary."

This is the the sixth prosecution by the Obama Administration of a whistleblower.  (See Put Your Lips Together And . . . Get Indicted.)  What is particularly disturbing about each of these cases is the Justice Department's reliance on the draconian Espionage Act by characterizing the leaking of classified information to reporters as "aiding the enemy."  As Rudolph notes, the 1917 espionage law has only been used three times previously to prosecute leaks to the media.   And, as Charlie Savage in the Times states, Obama has brought “more such cases than all previous presidents combined.”

Daniel Ellsberg, Rudolph writes, called it "brazenly hypocritical" to prosecute Kiriakou for leaking information related to waterboarding while those who performed it were granted immunity:  "You're criminalizing the revelation of illegality and you're decriminalizing the illegality -- the torture."

Glenn Greenwald sums up the Administration's philosophy.  First, "if you are a high-ranking government official who commits war crimes, you will receive full-scale immunity, both civil and criminal, and will have the American President demand that all citizens Look Forward, Not Backward."  But, "if you talk publicly about any of these war crimes, you have committed the Gravest Crime — you are guilty of espionage – and will have the full weight of the American criminal justice system come crashing down upon you."

As Greenwald concludes:
It’s long past time to rip those blindfolds off of the Lady Justice statues. When the purpose of American justice is to shield those with the greatest power who commit the most egregious crimes, while severely punishing those who talk publicly about those crimes, it’s hard to imagine how it can get much more degraded or corrupted than that.


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