A former CIA agent who pleaded guilty in October to revealing the identity of a covert agent was sentenced to 30 months in prison on Friday, a sentence secured by a plea deal, and much lighter than the 20 years he could have faced.
John Kiriakou, 48, worked for the CIA for 14 years, from 1990 through 2004, and led the team that captured alleged terrorist Abu Zubida in 2002. He later confessed to ABC News in 2007 that he witnessed U.S. personnel repeatedly subject Zubaida to a torture technique known as waterboarding, where the victim is made to feel they are drowning.
It was in follow-up emails with reporters regarding the topic of Zubida that he included the name of a former colleague who allegedly participated in his torture — an act that violated a federal law that nobody has been prosecuted under 27 years. However, since he was not charged until 2012, that gave him time to leverage his big revelations into some consulting work for ABC, according to the BBC.
While most torture whistleblowers come forward because they feel the need to expose government wrongdoing, Kiriakou’s emergence was unique in that he was actually advocating for the technique, saying that one of the 83 times Zubida was allegedly waterboarded, it worked and convinced him to cooperate.
The claims were politically prescient for former Vice President Dick Cheney, who was in hot water with Democrats in Congress for personally approving the U.S. used wasterboarding but refusing to call it torture. However, Kiriakou later admitted in his memoir “The Reluctant Spy” that he did not actually witness any of this, and other journalists intimately familiar with Zubida’s story have since charged that he made the whole thing up.
Addressing Kiriakou inside the Virginia courtroom, The New York Times noted that Judge Leonie M. Brinkema lamented Kiriakou’s sentence and insisted he is not a “whistleblower,” as his attorneys claimed. “I think 30 months is way too light,” she reportedly added.
Similar tactics were allegedly used by high ranking members of the Bush administration against former CIA agent Valerie Plame, whose husband, former diplomat Joe Wilson, contradicted the administration’s claim that the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had purchased materials for atomic weapons from Niger. A subsequent investigation saw Cheney’s chief of staff, Scooter Libby, indicted for obstruction of justice and lying to investigators, but no officials were ever jailed for leaking Plame’s identity.
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