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Former CIA Agent, Anti-Torture Activist John Kiriakou Toasted By Progressives as He Prepares For Prison

At a party in a famous Washington hotel, CODE PINK and Fresh Juice Party gave the CIA whistleblower a rambunctious send-off. "They can't break me," he told the crowd.
 
 
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It’s not often that one receives an invitation to a “going to prison reception,” and one taking place at an elite hotel, no less. But in the penthouse room of the Hay-Adams on Thursday, activists gathered to say farewell to former CIA agent John Kiriakou as he prepares to begin a 30-month sentence in federal prison for leaking classified information to reporters.

The party was sponsored by the activist groups Fresh Juice Party and CODE PINK, and underwritten by philanthropist Naomi Pitcairn, heir to the Pittsburgh Plate Glass fortune.

The first person in 27 years to be convicted of violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, Kiriakou views himself as a whistleblower who is being punished for shedding light on the government’s policy of torturing terrorism suspects through the use of waterboarding and so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

“If this case were about leaking, the jails and the prisons in this country would be bursting with former CIA officers and White House officials -- and they’re not,” Kiriakou told the partiers gathered for his send-off. “This case was not about leaking; it was about torture.“

Kiriakou, a tall, broad-shouldered man with a cheerful face and dressed in a dark business suit, was introduced by Jesselyn Radack, a director of the Government Accountability Project who described herself as “one of John’s many attorneys.”

“...it’s abhorrent that the people who order torture, the people who wrote the legal memos justifying torture, the people who carried out the torture, and the people who destroyed the videotapes of it -- none of them are going to jail,” Radack said. “In fact, they all have blanket immunity, courtesy of the White House.”

The crowd, many dressed in the evening’s “prison chic” dress code, booed. (Interpretations of incarceration-inspired fashion included get-ups in black-and-white stripes, as well as orange jump suits. “Orange is the new black,” read the invite, paraphrasing the late fashion diva Diana Vreeland’s famous dictum. That turn of phrase is also the title of a new book by Piper Kerman.)

Kiriakou’s conviction is part of what the Washington Post describes as an administration crackdown on leakers. In the number of prosecutions of those charged with leaking secret government information, the Obama administration’s Department of Justice has exceeded all previous administrations, the Post’s Greg Miller reported.

The Hay-Adams Hotel is an historic venue, and a frequent host to dignitaries from around the world, thanks to its proximity to the White House. The hotel’s penthouse offers a spectacular view of the president’s dwelling from above, with the Washington monument soaring in the background.

Pitcairn explained her choice of venue. Pointing at that view, she declared: “We look down on people who torture.”
Joining Pitcairn and CODE PINK founder Medea Benjamin in lauding Kiriakou were other former national security officials who took issue with the denial of constitutional rights to terrorism suspects since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. They included Thomas Drake, a former National Security Agency who was charged for revealing what he said was the agency’s waste and abuse of taxpayer dollars (his complaint was later corroborated by a Pentagon report) and Air Force Col. Morris Davis (ret.), who quit his post as chief prosecutor at the Guantanamo detention facility because of the denial of due process to the suspects he was prosecuting.

It was more than a night of dour speeches, though; being a CODE PINK event, there was plenty of music and artistic satire. Kiriakou was serenaded by two dozen activists who sang the anthem, “Have You Been to Jail For Justice,” while Benjamin, resplendent in a striped outfit of hot pink and black, performed choreographed moves with a colleague.

And the duo Emma’s Revolution performed two of their soulful protest tunes.

Before the evening came to a close, I got a few words with Kiriakou. How did he manage the contrast between the evening’s light-hearted approach to what he’ll face next week -- more than two years in prison, away from his wife and five kids.

“There’s nothing I can do about it now,” he said. “I have to accept my fate. But I don’t have to sulk, and I don’t have to feel sorry for myself, and be depressed. I’m going to make the most of the last week and have as good a time as I can have, and I’ll deal with the next phase when I come to it.”

That all sounded like in-the-moment, Zen-type stuff to me, so I asked if he had a spiritual practice that led him to that point of view.

“Honestly, I am a very devout Greek Orthodox, and I take strength from that; I always have,” he replied. “They can’t take it away from me. They can’t break me.”

The Government Accountability Project has set up a fund for donations to help keep Kiriakou’s family afloat during his absence; the page is here.