In this week's episode of "Scheer Intelligence," host and Truthdig Editor in Chief Robert Scheer speaks to former CIA counterterrorism official John Kiriakou, who served nearly 15 years with the agency. Kiriakou, who spoke openly about his opposition to the CIA's torture program, served two years in prison after being charged with espionage and wrote the book "Doing Time Like a Spy: How the CIA Taught Me to Survive and Thrive in Prison."
Scheer and Kiriakou discuss the nomination of Gina Haspel for CIA director. Kiriakou says that "Haspel should be disqualified for her past at the top of the CIA's illegal torture program." He also says her nomination sends the message that CIA agents need not respect the law in order to advance in the agency.
Scheer cites a poll showing a majority of Americans see torture as a tool that makes the nation more secure. "What's happened here?" he asks Kiriakou.
"We've decided that, as a matter of policy, whatever is expedient is OK, because we're the good guys, so we can do whatever we want. And that's clearly wrong," he says.
Kiriakou also says torture has become a partisan issue, with the majority of Republicans supporting its use and the majority of Democrats opposed. Yet, he adds, progressive politicians knew more than they revealed about the extent of the CIA torture program.
Listen to the interview in the player above and read the full transcript of the conversation below. Find past episodes of "Scheer Intelligence" here.
--Posted by Emily Wells
Robert Scheer: This is Robert Scheer with another edition of Scheer Intelligence. It's actually my alternative to the Central Intelligence Agency, and by coincidence our guest today is John Kiriakou, who was sort of a hero at the Central Intelligence Agency, where he worked for almost 15 years. And he overlapped the events of 9/11, and it was John Kiriakou who was in charge of counterterrorism operations in Pakistan, and is an Arab speaker, Arabic speaker, and very knowledgeable in the region, who was involved in the capture of the most important, at that time most important Al-Qaeda operative, who was supposed to have been the No. 3 one, Abu Zubaydah. And the interesting question here is the effectiveness of torture, and the nominee from President Trump to be the new head of the CIA, Gina Haspel, has been referred to [by] some, including John Kiriakou, as "Bloody Gina." Because during that period she was a deputy director of counterterrorism activities, and she was involved in not only conducting these torture experiments and practices in Thailand and elsewhere, but she is also accused of having destroyed 92 tapes that were supposed to be released about the torture program, which don't exist now. So why don't you bring us up to date? We're doing this interview while she's still a nominee. And what is your view of that nomination, and where do you think it's going to end up?
John Kiriakou: First of all, thanks for having me, Bob. It's always a pleasure to speak with you. I enjoy these conversations a great deal. And I think this is a very, very important issue. I've been writing about this and speaking about this extensively; I did an op-ed in The Washington Post last week; I feel very, very strongly about this nominee. And my feeling is that it's a wonderful, wonderful thing that the president wants to name a woman as the director of the CIA. But that woman ought not to be Gina Haspel. There are probably 50 women across government, across the intelligence community, who would be well qualified, highly qualified, and would probably be terrific directors of the CIA. But Gina Haspel should be disqualified for her past at the very top of the CIA's illegal torture program.
RS: Well, why don't you bring us up to date on that? Because you know, yeah, some people are even saying you should support her because she is a woman, and you know, there are other people saying she just was following orders, and what have you. And you've written quite critically of that practice of exonerating torture. So what's going on here? Are we, have we come to see torture as American-as-apple-pie? I know a group of defense intellectuals who oppose torture have cited polls saying that a majority of Americans now think it's an efficient tool to make us more secure. We seem to be the major force in the world justifying torture these days. What's happened here?
JK: Yeah, that's a shame, too. Because the torture issue has become very partisan. A huge majority of republicans support the torture program, and a huge majority of democrats oppose the torture program. So let's get a couple of our historical facts out on the table at first. In 1946, Bob, we executed Japanese soldiers who had waterboarded American prisoners of war during the Second World War. It wasn't called waterboarding then, it was called "water torture," or "the water treatment"; but it was waterboarding, plain and simple. And that was deemed to be a death penalty offense.
In January of 1968, The Washington Post ran a front-page photograph of an American soldier waterboarding a North Vietnamese prisoner of war. On the day that that photo was published, the Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara ordered an investigation, the soldier was arrested, he was charged with torture, he was convicted, and he was sentenced to 20 years in Leavenworth. Well, between 1946 and now, the law never changed. Waterboarding and other forms of torture were illegal in 1946, they were illegal in 1968. And John Yoo and Jay Bybee's memo from the Justice Department in 2002 notwithstanding, waterboarding was still illegal in 2002. So you know, to me, we are conceding our leadership position on international human rights. And we have decided as a matter of policy that whatever is expedient is OK, because we're the good guys, and so we can do whatever we want. And that's just simply wrong.
RS: I mean, clearly, we're hardly the good guys in wars like Iraq that you --