Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Who are you, John Kiriakou? (And who ordered the torture?)

ABC News bills its exclusive interview with John Kiriakou as “Coming In from the Cold: CIA Spy Calls Waterboarding Necessary but Torture,” but where exactly was this spy coming in from?

In his interview with Brian Ross, Kiriakou says a great many things—and it is quite the mixed bag. Sure, he says that he now believes waterboarding to be torture (he tried it and lasted about five seconds), but he also takes a twisted road to say that it was necessary for such a “high value” detainee.

In fact, much of the interview, and much of the tone of the ABC tape, goes to great ends to inflate the importance of Abu Zubaydah. To watch the report, you would believe that Zubaydah was the linchpin to breaking open the whole 9/11 conspiracy, and you would also believe that the crucial information was first divulged by AZ as a direct result of the waterboarding.

Ross and his colleagues do little to undercut this contention. It makes for an exciting exclusive, but not for very good journalism. The truth—if we can ever truly get there in these hyper-secret times—about Abu Zubaydah and his importance seems much, much hazier than Kiriakou or ABC leads us to believe.

Though I don’t have time to post a complete point-by-point (I’m a little under the weather today), I have read numerous major reputable publications on this subject, and I can safely say that for every bit of information that Kiriakou (or, for that matter, George W. Bush) claims was revealed by AZ after his torture, there is credible evidence that the US knew the intel before Zubaydah was even captured. The Washington Post and New York Times have covered this, and even the Report of the 9/11 Commission makes note that the supposedly key information that Kiriakou and Bush like to attribute to AZ—the “nickname” of Khalid Shaykh Mohammed—was known to the US before the attacks of 9/11/01.

Ron Suskind, in his book, The One Percent Doctrine, calls Zubaydah a low-level logistics guy, responsible for making minor travel arrangements, who knew nothing of al Qaeda’s inner workings. Suskind also notes that AZ was, in the words of one intelligence analyst, “insane, certifiable, [a] split personality.”

Like I said—none of that is in the Ross piece. Instead, the takeaway on this is that waterboarding may very well be torture by 2007 standards, but in those heady, just barely post-9/11 days, even torture could be forgiven since it lead to such crucial—and dare I say, because Kiriakou does—life-saving intelligence.

I can already feel the goalposts moving on this debate. Is it not only a matter of time before all the “serious” people “admit” that waterboarding is, y’know, basically a technique that borders on torture now that we look at it, but given the times and the “ticking time bomb,” sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.

Watch this space.

One interesting thing that John Kiriakou does say, and at some length, is that instructions for this “enhanced interrogation”—like that used to rough up Abu Zubaydah—came directly from CIA headquarters:

The former intelligence officer says the interrogators’ activities were carefully directed from Langley, Va., every step of the way.

“It wasn't up to individual interrogators to decide, ‘Well, I’m gonna slap him. Or ‘I'm going to shake him.’ Or ‘I'm gonna make him stay up for 48 hours.’ Each one of these steps, even though they're minor steps, like the intention shake-- or the openhanded belly slap, each one of these had to have the approval of the Deputy Director for Operations.

“. . . . [B]efore you laid a hand on him, you had to send in the cable saying, ‘He's uncooperative. Request permission to do X.’ And that permission would come. ‘You're allowed to him one time in the belly with an open hand.’"

This is information that should prick up the ears of more than one committee chair in Congress as they begin to ask questions about torture and the destroyed tapes of Abu Zubaydah’s (and at least one other’s) interrogation.

But, to the matter at hand, I still have questions about who John Kiriakou is. Aside from his being a retired CIA officer of undetermined grade, it appears that he now has a job in the business. . . and when I say “the business,” I mean “the industry.”

Lindsay Beyerstein reported yesterday that Kiriakou, who is credited as a “security consultant” on the upcoming Paramount release The Kite Runner, was connected with the film’s producers by “lobbyists from Viacom.”

The film adaptation of the Khaled Hosseini novel has been the center of some controversy of late. Several of the young stars of the film had to be spirited out of their native Afghanistan after fears arose that the boys and their families might be targets of violence because of a simulated rape scene in the movie.

Several papers credit Rich Klein, a “Middle East expert” with Kissinger McLarty Associates (KLA), as having made many of the arrangements for the evacuation. Klein seems to be the go-to guy for many productions looking to film in the Middle East. KLA is a K Street consulting firm formed by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Mack McLarty, the former White House Chief of Staff for President Bill Clinton. (I do no know if John Kiriakou is connected in any way with KLA, nor do I know if KLA is the Viacom lobbyist that Beyerstein references.)

It’s a tangled, but interesting connection. One, of course, not mentioned by Ross or ABC. It is also a connection made more interesting when you note the Nightline feature that will appear one day after it aired the Kiriakou piece—that would be an interview with the makers of. . . wait for it. . . The Kite Runner.

UPDATE: It seems that Kevin Drum had some similar thoughts about Abu Zubaydah’s suddenly fast-rising stock.

(cross-posted to Daily Kos and The Seminal)

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

So ... happy Kos (who raised the subjebiect) is half Greek.
So .... dissapointed Kiriakou is kind of Greek origin

7:36 PM  

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