Under Obama, you're more likely to go to jail for talking about torture, than for having tortured people
John Kiriakou is the only member of the Central Intelligence Agency imprisoned because of torture programs that saw people beaten, waterboarded, and "rectally rehydrated" in the years following the World Trade Center attack in 2001. He wasn't jailed because he participated in the program. Instead, he was indicted under the Espionage Act for talking about it to the media, and he remains in prison even though the program is now public.
Kiriakou's case is emblematic of the Obama administration's relentless pursuit of those who reveal the truth about the intelligence community, the military, and other agencies whose actions the administration has decided should remain hidden from public view. Meanwhile, the people who authorized and perpetrated those programs remain free.
Consider the case against James Risen, the New York Times reporter who has been threatened with jail time for refusing to reveal a source used in his book, "State of War." Risen has been targeted because the administration believes former CIA agent Jeffrey Sterling is the source who revealed to Risen the existence of an agency program meant to provide faulty nuclear weapons blueprints to Iran. Sterling was arrested back in 2011.
Then there's the efforts to silence a Yemeni journalist who revealed the drone program's staggering costs long before the Western media began to scrutinize the strikes. Obama is said to have personally asked Yemen's government to detain the journalist, Abdulelah Haider Shaye, who was falsely accused of aiding Al Qaeda to justify his imprisonment.
We now know the drone program has led to the deaths of many civilian men, women, and children. A report published earlier this year claimed drone strikes meant to target just 41 known individuals resulted in the deaths of more than 1,000 unknown people. In 2013, a drone strike hit a wedding party and killed 12 people the Yemeni government describes as civilians. The Obama administration claims all 12 of them were militants.
And finally there's the administration's targeting of Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who leaked documents that revealed National Security Agency programs which have led to a global surveillance dragnet. Snowden has been described as a traitor who should be imprisoned; if he returns to the United States he will almost certainly be charged for his actions under the Espionage Act, legislation which the administration has grown fond of.
The result is the criminalization of revealing the truth about US programs, which threatens journalists and whistleblowers from around the world. But the people who actually had something to do with these programs, or lied to Congress about them, remain at large.
That's true of the CIA agents who tortured at least 119 people after the 9/11 attacks by leaving them shackled in complete darkness with either a bucket to piss in or a diaper to hold their "waste" around their bodies. It's true of the contractors who allowed this program to continue, of the officials who leaked information to the press with the CIA's permission, and of the CIA director who repeatedly lied to Congress about the program.
It's also true of the people who authorize drone strikes in countries against which we are not at war regardless of the possibility of civilian casualties, of the operators who control the drones that carry the missiles responsible for those deaths, and of the officials who decided it was okay to kill an American citizen and his son without the benefit of a trial.
And of course it's true of the people who developed the NSA programs, who lied about those programs to Congress, and who bet on the companies participating in them. Not a single one of them has been indicted, threatened, or punished in seemingly any way.
All of which means the Obama administration believes that it's worse to reveal the CIA's torture programs than it is to allow innocent people to be detained and tortured for years. To report on the drone program's "collateral damage" -- which is to say innocent civilians whose only crime is living in the wrong country -- than to kill hundreds of children. To reveal illegal surveillance programs than to spy on millions of people without warrants.
Put another way: the "most transparent administration in history" has shown time and again that it's worse to reveal information than it is to violate the human rights of untold numbers of people from around the world, whether that's via physical torture or spying.
[illustration by Brad Jonas]