CIA whistle-blower John Kiriakou shares letter from prison

Through his lawyer, the former agent who spoke out against torture, details federal prison experience


Natasha Lennard
May 30, 2013 11:58PM (UTC)

It remains an abrogation of justice that the one person jailed for his involvement in the CIA's rendition and enhanced interrogation programs is the man who blew the whistle on the torturous Bush-era practices. But former CIA agent John Kiriakou is currently serving a 30-month sentence for speaking out to the press against waterboarding and torture, and revealing the name of another implicated agent.

Through his lawyer, whistle-blower advocate Jesselyn Raddack (herself a DOJ whistle-blower), Kiriakou has sent a handwritten letter from prison, published first by Firedoglake. The following excerpts below are fascinating expositions of his experience (although we recommend you read his whole letter here):

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Greetings from the Federal Correctional Institution at Loretto, Pennsylvania. I arrived here on February 28, 2013 to serve a 30-month sentence for violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982. At least that’s what the government wants people to believe. In truth, this is my punishment for blowing the whistle on the CIA’s illegal torture program and for telling the public that torture was official U.S. government policy. But that’s a different story. The purpose of this letter is to tell you about prison life.

...

My cell is more like a cubicle made out of concrete block. Built to hold four men, mine holds six. Most others hold eight. My cellmates include two Dominicans serving 24- and 20-year sentences for drugs, a Mexican serving 15 years for drugs, a Puerto Rican serving [7 ½ years ?] 7 ½ years for drug conspiracy, and the former auditor of Cuyahoga County, Ohio, who’s doing [unintelligible] years a long sentence for corruption. They’re all decent guys and we actually enjoy each other’s company.

The prison population is much like you might expect. Loretto has 1,369 prisoners. (I never call myself an “inmate.” I’m a prisoner.) About 50% are black, 30% are Hispanic, and 20% are white. Of the white prisoners, most are pedophiles with personal stories that would make you sick to your stomach. The rest of the whites prisoners are here for drugs, except for a dozen or so who ran Ponzi schemes. Of the 1,369 prisoners, 40 have college degrees and 6 of us have master’s degrees. The GED program is robust. (Bust when I volunteered to teach a class my “counsellor” [sic] shouted, “Dammit, Kiriakou! If I wanted you to teach a fucking class, I’d ask you to teach a fucking class!”) I’m a janitor in the chapel. I make $5.25 a month.

...

Violence hasn’t been much of a problem since I arrived ... I’ve also had some luck in this regard. My reputation preceded me, and a rumor got started that I was a CIA hit man. The Aryans whispered that I was a “Muslim hunter,” but the Muslims, on the strength of my Arabic language skills and a well-timed statement of support from Louis Farrakhan have lauded me as a champion of Muslim human rights. Meanwhile, the Italians have taken a liking to me because I’m patriotic, as they are, and I have a visceral dislike of the FBI, which they do as well. I have good relations with the blacks because I’ve helped several of them write commutation appeals or letters to judges and I don’t charge anything for it. And the Hispanics respect me because my cellmates, who represent a myriad of Latin drug gangs, have told them to. So far, so good.

...

The only other problem I’ve had with the COs [Corrections Officers] was about two weeks after I arrived. I get a great deal of mail here in prison (and I answer ever letter I get.) Monday through Friday, prisoners gather in front of the unit CO’s office for mail call. One female CO butchers my name every time she says it. So when she does mail call, I hear “Kirkaow, Kiriloo, Teriyaki” and a million other variations. One day after mail call I passed her in the hall. She stopped me and said, “Are you the motherfucker whose name I can’t pronounce?” I responded “Ki-ri-AH-koo.” She said, “How about if I just call you Fuckface?” I just walked away and a friend I was walking with said, “Classy.” I said to him, “White trash is more like it.” And hour later, four COs descended on both of our cells, trashing all of our worldly possessions in my first “shake-down.” Lesson learned: COs can treat us like subhumans but we have to show them faux respect even when it’s not earned.

I’ll write about COs more next time. If you’d like to drop me a line, I can be reached at John Kiriakou 79637-083, P.O. Box 1000, FCI Loretto, Loretto, PA 15940.


Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

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