Wednesday, December 12, 2007

From Silent Spook to All Kiriakou All the Time - Something Doesn't Smell Right

Cross-posted at Raising Kaine

Is it just me or is there something fishy about this Kiriakou guy? Just last week we learned out of the blue that the CIA destroyed hundreds of hours of videotape of detainee interrogations, some of which included torture such as waterboarding. Within a few days of these revelations a new face suddenly appeared on the scene, that of the earnest and articulate John Kiriakou, who claims to have been intimately involved in the apprehension of Abu Zubaydah and his interrogation, but not his waterboarding. Yet in spite of claiming to have not been on the scene when Zubaydah cracked, Kiriakou talks about it as he were. Moreover, he repeatedly asserts that Zubaydah cracked after only 38 seconds and immediately provided information, really good information, that saved a lot of lives.

Okay, call me suspicious, but something's off. Kiriakou makes me wonder if he's leading us all down the primrose path. He claims to have been an important factor in the CIA's apprehension and interrogation of the suspect, but has he actually offered any proof of his claims? How do we know what his position was within the agency? Why is he suddenly hitting every talk show in town, blabbing as fast as his tongue can move and asserting simultaneously that waterboarding is torture, which is bad, but that it worked really well and really fast on Zubaydah, which is good? Does anyone else think there may be a little disinformation campaign going on here?

My suspicion that maybe there is something contrived at work here deepened after I read Red Wind's diary at DailyKos Who Are You, John Kiriakou? Red Wind points out that up until Kiriakou started describing Zubaydah as an extremely high value detainee most people in the know did not regard him as such, and moreover, most or all of the information Zubaydah provided was either already known or was discredited:

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.”

Given all this how is it that Kiriakou is allowed to go around, unchallenged, asserting that Zubaydah's information was so spectacular? Why isn't the CIA moving to stop him from revealing its activities and supposed secrets? The CIA seems unfazed by his garrulousness, not even denying or objecting to what he's doing, yet he paints himself as somehow being in opposition to the CIA.

Here's what I think. Kiriakou can be only one of two things. Either he was a low-level CIA functionary who likes to pretend he was far more important than he actually was and his prattlings are just the rambling boasts of a little man; or he is a sandbagger. All trial lawyers know that the best way to handle detrimental information about a witness or evidence is to lead with it before the other side can. When a witness has a serious flaw the attorney presenting that witness will often ask the witness about his flaws instead of waiting until opposing counsel raises the issue in cross-examination. This is sandbagging. I've listened to Kiriakou. A day or two ago I heard him say that he has decided that waterboarding is wrong and we shouldn't do it, but in the same breath claiming that it had such salutory effect on Zubaydah he could not deny its efficacy. His whole conversation was a resounding endorsement of the practice once you look past the BS feeble protests against it. I suspect that Kiriakou is being allowed to say what he is saying because it's setting up the administration's defense - sure, waterboarding's probably illegal and all, but look how many lives it's saved, they'll say. And yet ... and yet there is no showing that it saved lives. There are only Kiriakou's claims that it did. No one else in the administration can actually admit having been involved in waterboarding because they could be prosecuted. But they can sandbag the opposition. They can plant the idea that Zubaydah cracked after half a minute, had a vision of Allah that night, and the next day commenced to spill his guts and name every Al Qaeda cell from Peoria to Peshawar. How convenient. Half a minute of discomfort for all those lives? What a great bargain. Sure, it's the devil's bargain, but it's not like we hurt the guy, and he was really only discomforted for half a minute. No biggie, right?

Yesterday I listened to the interview where Kiriakou claims that he cracked after only 5 seconds of waterboarding and was amazed at Zubaydah's ability to resist for a whole half minute, but then I remembered journalist Kaj Larsen's endurance of 25 minutes of waterboarding before the session was stopped. How to explain the disparity between Kiriakou's claim that half a minute is an extraordinarily long time when Larsen underwent almost half an hour? Could this be a deliberate attempt to minimize the torture in the minds of the public?

I'm just saying, we should stop taking this Kiriakou at face value.