Friday, December 21, 2007

CIA going after former employee who talked about waterboarding

At this point I don't know whether this is a serious effort to punish him and his lawyer is just putting up a brave front or whether his lawyer is right when he says this is routine and he doesn't expect prosecution. But the CIA has asked the Justice Dept. to investigate whether former CIA officer John Kiriakou, a former CIA interrogator in Pakistan, made public classified information when he told various media that the CIA had waterboarded Abu Zubaida, one of the two al-Qaida operatives the tapes of whose interrogations were destroyed.

Here's an account of his original WaPo interview, about 10 days ago.

Kiriakou's lawyer, Mark Zaid, said this is "a routine act the CIA undertakes even when they know no violation has occurred." He went on to, in essence, inform the government through the media that if charges were filed it would become a First Amendment issue, and that a filing could result in publicity and other stuff coming out that the government might not want to come out.

Whatever happens in this case, it is pretty apparent that this story has legs. I don't think the government will be able to sweep it under the rug. In a way, that's a tribute to the founders' scheme in creating a government with three "equal" branches, with the idea that they would serve to check the excesses of the others. It doesn't always work as well as the founders would probably have liked -- otherwise we wouldn't have such an imperial executive branch -- but sometimes it does work.

Whether it's because it's an election year with an opposition party in control of Congress or because some individuals have remembered, as they sometimes do, that they're sworn to protect the constitution, not the current occupant of the oval orifice, there's at least the possibility of some unwelcome publicity if not necessarily personal accountability. Despite the ignorant mutterings of some sofa samurais about how torture is essential to "protecting" us, even those who authorize it know it's wrong and almost certainly illegal, and their actions show they didn't want its use to be public knowledge. Some people may not be capable of shame, but at least they understand that acknowledging that U.S. government operatives have used torture is bad PR.

Kiriakou is potentially interesting. He has sorta justified the use of waterboarding back then and said it led to getting useful information from Zubaida -- shortly after 9/11, when the government was scrambling and improvising and most people thought another attack was probably imminent. But he now says waterboarding is torture and "Americans are better than that ... Maybe that's inconsistent, but that's how I feel. It was an ugly little episode that was perhaps necessary at that time. But we've moved beyond that."

There's much more to discuss -- the FBI, for example, disputes whether Zubaida was all that important and whether waterboarding really elicited useful information. But with Congress determined to investigate, the CIA saying it will cooperate, and a judge who ordered other evidence not to be destroyed ready to hold a hearing even though the cases before him may or may not be related to the Zubaida tapes, we're likely to learn a great deal more -- infinitely more than the White House wanted us to know.

No comments: