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Reprinted from Consortium News
Editor's Note: On Nov. 16, PEN Center USA, the West Coast branch of PEN International, gave former CIA officer John Kiriakou its First Amendment Award for his role in exposing waterboarding as torture used during President George W. Bush's "war on terror." Kiriakou then faced retaliation which led to a 30-month prison term for revealing classified information.
PEN International, a human rights and literary arts organization that promotes the written word and freedom of expression, asked former CIA analyst Ray McGovern to write an essay describing Kiriakou's contribution and sacrifice. McGovern wrote:
John Kiriakou was just a name in the news until early 2012 when I got a call from Jesselyn Radack, mutual friend, whistleblower and intrepid attorney, who suggested I have lunch with him. John had been arrested in January and charged with unauthorized disclosure of classified information. Over lunch I learned how John had transitioned from highly decorated CIA officer to target of a government vendetta.
John, you see, had refused to be trained in how to torture. Even worse, he had the temerity to confirm publicly that our government was implementing a White House-approved program of torture techniques that turned out to be virtually identical to those listed in the Gestapo Handbuch.
Those of you who have seen the documentary Silenced already know of the key role Jesselyn Radack has been playing in defending whistleblowers like John Kiriakou. What? This is the first you have heard of Silenced? Well, there's a subject for another discussion. Suffice it to note here that the powers-that-be in the distribution business simply chickened out, as they so often do.
Silenced chronicles behavior by faux lawyers at the Department of Justice that is anything but just -- or lawful. But, hey, who, in this day and age, wants to take on a notoriously vindictive DOJ? And so, with supreme irony, Silenced has been silenced.
The documentary shows in a poignant way how, after Jesselyn Radack's own ordeal at the hands of DOJ where she had been an adviser on legal ethics, she decided to devote the rest of her professional life to defending other whistleblowers. John Kiriakou and NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake are also featured -- all three playing their own roles.
The film presents an extraordinary example of how personal involvement with innocent suffering -- with injustice suffered first hand or by others -- can move the heart and the will so deeply that experience becomes catalyst for solidarity and action.
And healing. This came second nature to the community that immediately enfolded the Kiriakou family and helped John's wife Heather and their three young children -- 2, 7, and 9 at the time -- survive the ordeal of two years with dad stuck in prison. There were lots of us -- many no strangers to jail or prison for whistleblowing or nonviolent resistance -- and Code Pink, as usual, stepped up to share leadership.
Making an Example of John
At CIA's urging, DOJ was coming after John Kiriakou big time. And Heather, herself a widely respected CIA analyst, was let go. In effect, government retaliation created a situation of "two-less" replacing the "twofer" that had been serving with such distinction and integrity at CIA.
When John went to prison, I could identify -- albeit in a very small way -- with what it means to be away from wife and children for what seems like forever. Decades ago I had spent three months alone in the Soviet Union, away from my wife and three small children. I ached; I missed the hugs so much that I dreamed of finding a way to send my arms home in the diplomatic pouch.
It's harder still, of course, for wives. It always is. It was challenging enough for my wife to cope with our three children -- all of them under 10 -- for three months. The mind boggles at what it must have been like for Heather with three still younger children.
And in the midst of all this, with zero warning, Heather's mother had a fatal heart attack. She had been an anchor against the wind for Heather and also a large part of her grandchildren's lives. With our own three daughters, I have witnessed first-hand the sanctity of the unique bond between mother and daughter. Maybe only a woman can fully understand the depth of the challenge Heather faced with the sudden death of her treasured soul mate -- and with no husband nearby to lean on.
The "Dark Side"