Ex-CIA Official Reveals New Details About Torture, Plame Leak

May 13, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Jason Leopold, t r u t h o u t

john-kir-cia In a wide-ranging video interview with Truthout, former CIA counterterrorism official John Kiriakou reveals new information about the capture and torture of “high-value” detainee Abu Zubaydah and discloses, for the first time, his role in the events that led to the leak of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame.

On March 28, 2002, at exactly 2 AM, CIA, FBI and Pakistani intelligence agents raided 14 houses in Faisalabad, Pakistan and captured 52 alleged terrorists, including one who the Bush administration had wrongly claimed was the No. 3 person in al-Qaeda and one of the planners of the 9/11 attacks: Abu Zubaydah.

The CIA official who led the team that resulted in Zubaydah’s capture was, at the time, a 12-year agency veteran named John Kiriakou, who was sent to Pakistan just two months earlier to take charge of counterterrorism operations there.

Kiriakou made headlines in December 2007, when, during an interview with Brian Ross of ABC News, he became the first CIA official to publicly confirm that agency interrogators had waterboarded Zubaydah and that Zubaydah broke after 30 to 35 seconds, revealing actionable intelligence about a terrorist attack that “probably” saved American lives. Kiriakou said he believes waterboarding is torture.

Kiriakou was interviewed just a few days after The New York Times broke the story that the CIA had destroyed videotapes made between April and August 2002 that showed Zubaydah and another “high-value” detainee, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the alleged mastermind of the USS Cole bombing, being interrogated and tortured.

The details Kiriakou disclosed during his interview with Ross, which he said he obtained from a classified CIA cable he read, was picked up by dozens of other news organizations around the world and reignited the debate over the efficacy of torture, leading many right-wing pundits, Republican lawmakers and Bush administration officials to declare that “enhanced interrogation” methods worked.

But Kiriakou, who at one point was being pursued by federal prosecutors for revealing classified information to ABC News, was wrong.

Government documents declassified in the years since Kiriakou was interviewed by ABC News showed that Zubaydah, in addition to being subjected to other brutal torture techniques, was waterboarded at least 83 times in a single month. And, as Truthout first reported, newly declassified Justice Department documents stated that the government does not contend, as the basis for his continued detention, that Zubaydah “had any direct role” in or “advance knowledge” of 9/11 or was aware of any impending terrorist attacks as numerous Bush administration officials had maintained.

Last week, during a wide-ranging interview with Truthout, Kiriakou, who recently published a book, “The Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the CIA’s War on Terror,” was confronted with these facts and he acknowledged that the intelligence that asserted Zubaydah was Osama bin Laden’s top lieutenant, that he had played a role in the planning of 9/11 and that he was a major figure in al-Qaeda was “obviously flawed.”

The Invasion of Iraq

In addition to new details he disclosed about Zubaydah and torture in general, Kiriakou said after he returned to Langley in late spring 2002 following his capture of Zubaydah and dozens of other alleged terrorists, he was “absolutely convinced” he would receive a promotion. But he was passed over by Jose Rodriguez, head of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center. Rodriguez is now the subject of a federal criminal investigation over the destruction of torture tapes, which he ordered purged.

Kiriakou said he was instead given a “field promotion” and by August 1, 2002 – the month in which the CIA maintains Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times – he was working on top-secret issues related to the administration’s Iraq invasion plans. So secret was his new job, Kiriakou wrote in his book, that he had to sign six separate “secrecy agreements.”

After he and his boss, Robert Grenier, the CIA’s associate deputy director of operations for policy support who was later promoted to Iraq mission manager, signed the secrecy agreements they were briefed on their new assignment.

“Okay, here’s the deal,” the CIA’s unnamed director of Iraq operations told Kiriakou and Grenier. “We’re going to invade Iraq next spring. We’re going to overthrow Saddam Hussein. We’re going to establish the largest Air Force base in the world and we’re going to transfer everybody from Saudi Arabia to Iraq. That way, al-Qaeda won’t have that hanging over us, that we’re polluting the land of the two holy cities.”

Kiriakou wrote that he and Grenier were stunned.

“We’re going to invade Iraq?” Grenier asked the unnamed director of Iraq operations, Kiriakou wrote. Kiriakou added that Grenier had later told him that one of his bosses had briefed him “on the executive branch’s thinking a couple of months earlier,” meaning the war had been in the planning stages for some time, which supports similar claims made by other former Bush administration officials.

“It’s a done deal, Bob,” the director said. “The decision’s already been made … . the planning’s completed, everything’s in place.”

Kiriakou wrote that the Iraq director explained to him and Grenier that the ruse the Bush administration cooked up was “ratchet up the pressure on weapons of mass destruction … go to the United Nations toward the end of the year to make it look as if we wanted to ask the UN Secretary Council to authorize force. We expected Russian, Chinese and French opposition … and we were prepared to go it alone.”

Kiriakou said he was told the public and Congressional debates surrounding the invasion of Iraq had no bearing on the administration’s plans.

“We were going to war regardless of what the legislative branch or what the federal government chose to do,” he wrote. The CIA’s role would be one of “support … not a rerun of Afghanistan where [the agency] was running the show.”

The Plame Leak

During his interview with Truthout, Kiriakou also for the first time revealed details about his role in the events that lead to the leak of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson, an episode he did not write about in his book.

He said that in June 2003, a month before columnist Robert Novak had disclosed Plame’s name and undercover status in a column he wrote attacking her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who called into question the veracity of the Bush administration’s claims that Iraq attempted to purchase uranium from Niger for use in building an atomic bomb, Kiriakou was present at a “Deputies Committee” meeting where officials from the departments of State, Defense (DoD) and the CIA were in attendance.

For the office of the vice president “it was Libby. For CIA it was Grenier [who was standing in for Deputy CIA Director John McLaughlin]. For DoD it was [Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul] Wolfowitz. For State, to the best of my recollection, it was the guy who was Undersecretary for Political Affairs [Marc Grossman]” because Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage was out of town.

Kiriakou said he was the “note taker” at this meeting, which took place on June 10, 2003, when I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, former Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, “entered the room furious, putting on a big show, arms flailing around, swearing and demanding to know why nobody at the CIA told him that Valerie Plame was married to Joe Wilson.”

Kiriakou said it was clear to him that when Libby “entered the room” on June 10, 2003, he had already known that Plame was an undercover operative. However, Libby claimed that he first learned about Plame’s status and the fact that she was married to Ambassador Wilson after Kiriakou sent his email.

After Libby’s outburst, Kiriakou said he “went back to headquarters and I wrote an email  to all of the executive assistants of all the top leaders in the agency saying, this meeting took place, Libby is furious, we believe that he was conveying a message from the vice president. I wanted to know when did we know that Valerie was married to Joe Wilson, sent it around, nobody ever responded to my email.”

“I later learned because [CIA] General Counsel [John Rizzo] said we’re going to handle it at our level not at the executive assistant level,” Kiriakou said.

Kiriakou said he believes Rizzo took over because Rizzo and “others realized from the get-go that this was going to be way over our pay grade.”

“I remember my boss at the time, Grenier [head of the CIA’s Iraq Issues Group], telling me I don’t think you realize what a big deal this is. And frankly I didn’t.”

Kiriakou said the “big deal” in question was the fact that “the agency dropped the ball.”

“It was an agency officer, specifically Bob Grenier, who told administration officials that Valerie was an undercover CIA case officer. We thought it was just someone leaked something to Bob Novak. It was probably, who knows, Karl Rove, Scooter Libby, [Deputy Secretary of State] Rich Armitage, we didn’t know. We didn’t know that it had come from the CIA. Now I think Grenier accidentally did that. And I think he probably didn’t believe the administration was going to do anything with it. But he knew early on that the agency was involved even if accidentally.”

Kiriakou said he could not recall if Grenier told Libby or Armitage that Plame was “undercover,” but his “guess is that the scenario was that Grenier told Armitage, who told Libby, who told Grenier.”

Kiriakou appears to have muddled the details of his story on this important point. It’s clear that it was Libby who first told Grenier about Plame’s covert status.

Attempts to reach Armitage and Grenier for comment were unsuccessful.

Grenier never testified during Libby’s trial that he spoke to Armitage about Plame. To the contrary, Grenier, who had originally stated during his grand jury testimony that he did not recall having a conversation with Libby about Plame, testified during his second appearance in January 2007 that, on June 11, 2003, a day after Kiriakou sent out the email, he recalled that he told Libby that Plame worked at the CIA’s Counterproliferation Division.

‘’It wasn’t as though I suddenly, you know, had this flashing revelation that, ‘Oh my God, I did say it,’ ‘’ Grenier said. ‘’But again, as I thought about it over time and as I remembered specifically, again, those sort of mental gymnastics that I went through immediately after the conversation, I developed a growing conviction that, in fact, I had said it. I mean, at a certain point, I said, ‘You know, wake up and smell the coffee – you must have told him.’ ‘’

Kiriakou said after Libby was indicted and his trial began he “was called as a witness for the defense … something that was deeply upsetting to me.”

“So I hired an attorney, Lanny Breuer,” who is presently assistant attorney general at the Justice Department’s criminal division. “And I told Lanny I really don’t know why I am being subpoenaed. We speculated it was to impeach Bob Grenier’s testimony. I had no idea [Grenier] told the Special Prosecutor that he had inadvertently leaked Valerie’s status. So Lanny Breuer told Special Prosecutor [Patrick Fitzgerald] and Libby’s attorneys that there is nothing I am going to say that is going to help Scooter Libby in this trial. So I went on the final day [to Libby’s trial]. I sat with other CIA officers called to testify and they didn’t call any of us to testify on the stand.”

In 2007, Libby was convicted of four counts of perjury and obstruction of justice and was sentenced to 30 months in jail. George W. Bush later commuted the sentence to spare Libby any jail time.

The foggy memories and apparent lies revolving around who told what to whom and when in early June 2003 was explained in detail by Marcy Wheeler, who wrote a book about the Plame leak, “Anatomy of Deceit,” and covered Libby’s criminal trial.

In a June 6, 2007, blog post, Wheeler said that on June 11, according to Libby’s calendar, he “called Robert Grenier in the presence of Cheney and [Cheney’s press secretary Cathie] Martin, looking for information he likely already knew from [Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Marc] Grossman and almost certainly from Cheney. That suggests Cheney, Martin and Libby discussed how to respond to [Washington Post reporter Walter] Pincus [who queried Libby about Ambassador Wilson’s claims about bogus intelligence related to Niger] and that (presumably not telling Martin of the details they were after) they called Grenier for the missing piece: An on-the-record statement saying that State and DoD had been interested in the intelligence as well.

“Libby didn’t get Grenier immediately. Instead, Grenier called back … learned what Libby was looking for, did some research and prepared an answer: Valerie sent Joe, Plame worked in [the Counterproliferation Division] and [the Department of Defense] and State were also interested in the intelligence,” Wheeler wrote. “Will CIA be willing to say the last bit publicly? Libby asked. I don’t see why not, Grenier said, have your press person speak to my press person. This leads to a conversation between [CIA spokesman Bill] Harlow and Martin. Perhaps Harlow agrees to make a statement – but if he does, it comes too late for the Pincus article [published July 12, 2003]. Also, such a statement doesn’t make it into Martin’s talking points on Wilson that she was still using almost a month later.

“There seem to be two explanations for this: either the Cheney note is actually a note from Libby’s conversation with Grenier (remember, he wrote ‘VP’ sometime after he wrote the note itself). Or, [the Office of the Vice President] already had the talking points set up – and they had just called Grenier to try to solicit this information out of him. Perhaps, even, they were trying to make sure Cathie Martin learned of the information Cheney already knew, but via a third party source that couldn’t be traced back to the Vice President.

“I lean toward the latter – it seems highly unlikely that Libby would have made up the conversation with Cheney and stuck to that story over four years and a trial. Which means the Libby-Cheney conversation happened sometime before the [June 11, 2003] Grenier conversation (and therefore further suggests that, as has been assumed all along, Cheney was indeed Libby’s first source for Plame’s identity),” Wheeler continued. “And the Grenier conversation was simply an attempt to set somebody up to tell Libby, Martin and the press the same information via a different source.”

Although Kiriakou is fuzzy on the details surrounding the events surrounding who knew what and when that led up to the leak of Plame’s identity, the details he did provide supports arguments Wheeler and others had made over the years that Libby knew Plame was married to Wilson and was a covert operative before he spoke to Grenier and Grossman about it. This revelation also calls into question the truthfulness of Grenier’s testimony, suggesting that he ignored Libby’s outburst when he entered the meeting on June 10, 2003, when Kiriakou was present and instead focused simply on the phone call he received from Libby inquiring about Plame after the fact.

While Kiriakou could not recall the exact details about what took place, one thing seems crystal clear: there was an important meeting that took place on June 10, 2003, a meeting where Libby made it abundantly clear that he had already learned that Plame was married to Ambassador Wilson and that she was an undercover operative.


US-AFGHANISTAN: Group Seeks Probe of Mass Graves

July 23, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By William Fisher


A U.S. soldier secures the area around a school, which will host a local election committee on the upcoming presidential election, in the village of Dadu-Khel in Logar Province in Afghanistan 7/22/09.  

REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov

NEW YORK, Jul 17 (IPS) – A prominent human rights group is calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate why the administration of former President George W. Bush blocked three different probes into war crimes in Afghanistan where as many as 2,000 surrendered Taliban fighters were reportedly suffocated in container trucks and then buried in a mass grave by Afghan forces operating jointly with U.S. forces.

The Boston-based Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), which discovered the mass gravesite in 2002, has issued the call for the criminal probe. The organisation says U.S. government documents it has obtained show that the bodies were reportedly buried in mass graves in the Dasht-e-Leili desert near Sheberghan, Afghanistan.

It charges that Afghan warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum, who it says was on the payroll of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), was responsible for the 2001 massacre at a prison run by the general’s forces near the town of Shibarghan.

“Physicians for Human Rights went to investigate inhumane conditions at a prison in northern Afghanistan, but what we found was much worse,” stated Susannah Sirkin, PHR’s deputy director.

“Our researchers documented an apparent mass grave site with reportedly thousands of bodies of captured prisoners who were suffocated to death in trucks. That was 2002; seven years later, we still seek answers about what exactly happened and who was involved,” she said.

PHR says senior Bush administration officials impeded investigations by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the State and Defence departments, and apparently never conducted a full inquiry. The New York Times made the disclosure earlier this month in a story by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter James Risen.

Subsequently, President Barack Obama told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that he has directed his national security team to look into the alleged massacre. Obama said the government needs to find out whether actions by the U.S. contributed to possible war crimes.

“The Bush administration’s disregard for the rule of law and the Geneva Conventions led to torture of prisoners in Guantánamo and many other secret places,” noted Nathaniel Raymond, PHR’s lead researcher on Dasht-e-Leili.

“Contrary to the legal opinions of the previous Department of Justice, the principles of the Geneva Conventions are non-negotiable, as is their enforcement. President Obama must open a full and transparent criminal probe and prosecute any U.S. officials found to have broken the law,” he said.

“The State Department’s statement to the New York Times that suspected war crimes should be thoroughly investigated indicates a move towards full accountability,” added Raymond. “We stand ready to aid the U.S. government in investigating this massacre. It is time for the cover-up to end.”

PHR reiterated its call to the government of Afghanistan, which has jurisdiction over the alleged mass grave site, to secure the area with the assistance of ISAF (International Security Assistance Force-Afghanistan), protect witnesses to the initial incident and the ensuing tampering, and ensure a full investigation of remaining evidence at the site, including the tracing of the substantial amount of soil that appears to have been removed in 2006.

“Gravesites have been tampered with, evidence has been destroyed, and witnesses have been tortured and killed,” PHR said. “The Dasht-e-Leili mass gravesite must finally be secured, all surviving witnesses must be protected, and the government of Afghanistan, in coordination with the U.N. and NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation), must at last allow a full investigation to go forward.”

PHR charged that U.S. officials have been reluctant to pursue an investigation – sought by officials from the FBI, the State Department, the Red Cross and human rights groups – because the warlord, Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, was on the payroll of the CIA and his militia worked closely with U.S. Special Forces in 2001.

The group said the United States also worried about undermining the U.S.-supported government of President Hamid Karzai, in which General Dostum had served as a defence official.

“At the White House, nobody said no to an investigation, but nobody ever said yes, either,” said Pierre Prosper, the former U.S. ambassador for war crimes issues. “The first reaction of everybody there was, ‘Oh, this is a sensitive issue; this is a touchy issue politically’.”

PHR’s Raymond, who is head of the organisation’s Campaign Against Torture, told IPS that President Obama’s statement was welcome.

But, he added, “The president’s rhetoric must be matched by urgent action. He needs to pressure President Karzai to secure the mass graves site, protect witnesses and make sure that U.S.-led military forces and the United Nations in Afghanistan protect all evidence of the crimes.”

The New York Times reported that the U.S. has put pressure on Afghan officials not to reappoint General Dostum reappointment as military chief of staff to the Afghan president.

General Dostum has previously claimed that any deaths of the Taliban prisoners were unintentional. He has said that only 200 prisoners died and blamed combat wounds and disease for most of the fatalities.

The first calls for an investigation came from PHR and the International Committee of the Red Cross. A military commander in the United States-led coalition rejected a request by a Red Cross official for an inquiry in late 2001, according to the official, who, in keeping with his organisation’s policy, would speak only on condition of anonymity and declined to identify the commander.

Subsequently, PHR asked the Defence Department to investigate the alleged massacre, but no action was taken. PHR says the prisoner deaths came up in a conversation with Paul D. Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defence at the time, in early 2003.

“Somebody mentioned Dostum and the story about the containers and the possibility that this was a war crime. And Wolfowitz said we are not going to be going after him for that,” according to the group.


US Willing to Talk to Taliban

October 30, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Anwar Iqbal and Masood Haider


Head of the Afghan Jirga delegation Abdullah Abdullah (L) and Head of the Pakistan Jirga delegation Owais Ahmed Ghani talk during a news conference in Islamabad October 28, 2008. Pakistan and Afghanistan agreed on Tuesday to establish contacts jointly with Taliban militants through tribal leaders after two days of talks over how to end bloodshed in both countries.

REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood    (PAKISTAN)

Washington/New York, Oct 28: The US is willing to hold direct talks with elements of the Taliban in an effort to quell unrest in Afghanistan, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday, citing unidentified Bush administration officials.

The Washington Post reported that Taliban leader Mullah Omar had shown openness to the idea of repudiating Al Qaeda, which encouraged the Bush administration to explore the possibility of holding direct talks with the militia.

Jane’s Defence Weekly reported that the Taliban had conveyed this message to representatives of the Afghan government during a meeting in Saudi Arabia last month.

Amid these reports of a possible breakthrough in the search for a peaceful solution to the Afghan conflict, Christian Science Monitor noted that on Monday the Taliban militia showed “a new potency” in the fight against coalition forces, bringing down a US military helicopter near Kabul, while a suicide bomber struck and killed two Americans in northern Afghanistan.

The Los Angeles Times on Tuesday highlighted the significance of the attack, noting that “choppers are a crucial mode of transport for troops and supplies” in Afghanistan.

Speculations about a possible breakthrough in the talks with the Taliban follow a series of meetings last month in Saudi Arabia between representatives of the Afghan government and the militia.

But even before the Saudis initiated the talks, the Karzai government had been putting out feelers to the Taliban for negotiating an end to its insurgency in exchange for some sort of power-sharing deal.

Though the US has so far been on the sidelines but at a recent news conference Gen David McKiernan, the commander of US troops in Afghanistan, grudgingly said he would support the Afghan government if it chose to go down the path of negotiations.

And now the Wall Street Journal is reporting that the US might get involved in those negotiations directly. “Senior White House and military officials believe that engaging some levels of the Taliban — while excluding top leaders — could help reverse a pronounced downward spiral in Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan,” the report said.

Both countries have been destabilised by a recent wave of violence.

Senior Bush administration officials told the Journal that the outreach was a draft recommendation in a classified White House assessment of US strategy in Afghanistan. The officials said that the recommendation called for the talks to be led by the Afghan central government, but with the active participation of the US.

The US would be willing to pay moderate Taliban members to lay down their weapons and join the political process, the Journal cited an unidentified US official as saying. The Central Intelligence Agency has been mapping Afghanistan’s tribal areas in an attempt to understand the allegiances of clans and tribes, the report said.

WSJ noted that joining the talks would only be a first step as the Bush administration was still in the process of determining what substantial offer it could make to persuade the Taliban to abandon violence. “How much should (we) be willing to offer guys like this?” asked a senior Bush official while talking to the Journal.
Gen David Petraeus, who will assume responsibility this week for US military operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan as head of the Central Command, supports the proposed direct talks between the Taliban and the US, the WSJ said.

Gen Petraeus used a similar approach in Iraq where a US push to enlist Sunni tribes in the fight against Al Qaeda helped sharply reduce the country’s violence. Gen Petraeus earlier this month publicly endorsed talks with less extreme Taliban elements.

Gen Petraeus also indicated that he believed insurgencies rarely ended with complete victory by one or the other side.

“You have to talk to enemies,” said Gen Petraeus while pointing to Kabul’s efforts to negotiate a deal with the Taliban that would potentially bring some Taliban members back to power, saying that if they were “willing to reconcile” it would be “a positive step”.

US Afghan experts outside the Bush administration have also been urging the White House to try to end violence “by co-optation, integration and appeasement”, as one of them said.

They urge the Bush administration to give the Taliban a positive reason to stop fighting. This, they argue, would allow Washington to separate hardcore militants from others within the Taliban and would also expose the extremists before the Afghan people.