On this July 4th holiday when the nation goes through the annual ritual of celebrating its history and praising itself for the freedoms it gained from the British 237 years ago, it is sobering to realize that it has, almost casually, allowed the government to gut those very freedoms leaving just a brittle, hollowed-out shell that looks good on paper but has little or no substance.
Take for instance, torture. It is universally regarded as a horrible crime worthy of condemnation and severe punishment for its practitioners. One of the biggest scandals is that not a single person who was responsible for the torture programs in the Bush and Obama regimes ever went to jail or suffered even the slightest consequences for committing torture, authorizing torture, sending people to be tortured in other countries, or providing the ‘legal’ cover for torture.
But there is one person who did go to jail over the torture issue and that is CIA officer John Kiriakou. But he was prosecuted not for committing any of those acts but for whistleblowing about them, revealing not only the existence of torture but confirming for the first time that the US government was committing the ghastly act of waterboarding. He was convicted of passing along classified information to a reporter and is now serving a 30-month prison sentence that began in February.
A little over a month ago, Kiriakou sent a letter describing what life is like for him in jail and the interactions he has had with other inmates. It provides a fascinating glimpse of life inside and the unexpected friendships and alliances that form within those walls.
Then a couple of days ago, he wrote an open letter to fellow whistleblower Edward Snowden giving him advice on what to do. Like the previous letter, it is handwritten.
He warns that the US is “devolving into a police state with the loss of civil liberties that entails” and thanks Snowden for trying to prevent it. He calls most members of Congress “mindless lemmings” that will follow “the national security leadership over the cliff” but that there are a few (unnamed) “clear thinkers” who should be cultivated.
He ends with the most important advice:
Finally, and this is the most important advice that I can offer, DO NOT, under any circumstances, cooperate with the FBI. FBI agents will lie, trick, and deceive you. They will twist your words and play on your patriotism to entrap you. They will pretend to be people they are not – supporters, well-wishers, and friends – all the while wearing wires to record your out-of-context statements to use against you. The FBI is the enemy; it’s a part of the problem, not the solution.
Kiriakou should know. Earlier, he had described how the FBI tried repeatedly to entrap him.
Even as I write this, I am astonished at what I am describing: a nation in which we are warned that the government is our enemy and that the law enforcement agencies are out to get us if we so much as look sideways at them and their criminal practices. It is astonishing that it has come to this under a president who is supposedly a professor of constitutional law, who promised transparency and commitment to the rule of law, and, most incredibly, is the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.