"Americans Who Tell the Truth" portrait of John Kiriakou by Robert Shetterley

Days before John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer convicted of a classified leak, is scheduled to be sentenced to thirty months in jail, support for him is growing.

Ralph Nader, consumer advocate and former presidential candidate, Joan Claybrook, a lawyer who once served as president of Public Citizen and Bruce Fein, lawyer active on civil liberties issues, have signed a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to pardon Kiriakou.

The letter explains Kiriakou pled “guilty to the crime of providing the name of a former colleague to an author who was writing a book and searching for former CIA officers to interview.” They find this is “an act which seems much less censorable than Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage’s disclosure” of CIA agent Valerie Plame’s identity “to reporter Robert Novak with impunity.”

…Mr. Kiriakou’s disclosure never was made publicly available, and occasioned no harm to the United States. Indeed, it assisted in ending waterboarding, the crime of torture as you and your Attorney General have acknowledged. In contrast, Mr. Armitage’s disclosure was shared to the world by Mr. Novak, and reportedly placed in danger persons who had associated with Ms. Plame. The reporter of Mr. Kiriakou’s information unilaterally shared the name with the American Civil Liberties Union…

The letter notes that Kiriakou, the father of five children, was motivated to plead guilty to “avoid the government’s threat of long-term devastation of his cherished family.”

It adds “commutation is appropriate” because Kiriakou is a “highly decorated, fourteen-year CIA counterterrorism veteran who has spent his entire adult life in public service, including two years as a senior aide to Senator John Kerry.” He’s “anti-torture” and spoke out about the nature of the program. “He never tortured anyone, yet he is the only individual to be prosecuted in relation to the torture program of the past decade. The interrogators who tortured prisoners, the officials who gave the orders, the attorneys who authored the torture memos, and the CIA officers who destroyed the interrogation tapes have not been held professionally accountable, much less charged with crimes.” And there is “precedent” for such “leniency.”

…In 2007, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby was granted a commutation after being found guilty of four felony counts – obstruction of justice, making a false statement, and two counts of perjury – related to the Valerie Plame affair. Mr. Libby did not spend one day in prison. Similarly, in 2001 President Clinton pardoned Samuel L. Morison, the only person ever convicted of espionage for leaking classified information to the press…

Journalist Dan Froomkin published a post where he outlined his support for a commutation of Kiriakou’s sentence.

…[S]omething very perverse is happening. Had John Kiriakou actually engaged in torture, he wouldn’t be in any trouble at all — he never even would have been investigated. But because he talked about torture with reporters, he’s going to prison.

President Obama, in his second term, no longer needs to worry about looking naive, or about taking a political hit, or about upsetting the intelligence community. And while he shows no signs of suddenly changing his mind about investigating torture, one has to wonder: Is he really prepared to stand by as his administration proclaims whistleblowing to be more of a threat to the nation than waterboarding?

Is he really OK staying silent about prosecutorial overreach, especially after his Justice Department evidently drove Aaron Swartz to suicide, and his Defense Department is treating Bradley Manning as if he were a terrorist?…

Col. Morris Davis, former chief prosecutor for the Guantanamo military commission, has said people should not go to jail for talking about torture. He’s indicated he will support Kiriakou on the day of his sentencing by making his Twitter profile picture an American flag in distress:

Over the weekend, MSNBC host Chris Hayes said on his show:

…[L]ook, if we want to have an accountability moment, the accountability should have been with all those people who crafted the policy in the Bush administration, who wrote the memo like John Yoo, who notoriously wrote the subsequently revoked OLC memo, right, that talked about organ failure, right? That is just morally odious in every possible way.

It`s the president of the United States, President Barack Obama, who made the choice that they were not going to face accountability. So it`s not just — here`s the president, January 11, 2009, basically making this argument about moving forward that`s become the kind of hallmark. Take a look…

Hayes played a clip of Obama talking about how nobody should be above the law:

OBAMA: I don’t believe that anybody is above the law. On the other hand, I also have a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards. And part of my job is to make sure that, for example, at the CIA, you`ve got extraordinarily talented people who are working very hard to keep Americans safe. I don’t want them to suddenly feel like they’ve got to spend all their time looking over their shoulders and lawyering.

Moving forward has become a hallmark except in the case of alleged leakers or whistleblowers. They are to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. There’s no moving forward with them.

As I wrote previously, Scooter Libby gets to move forward and continue to enjoy the fact that he is not in jail for his involvement in leaking Valerie Plame’s name because his sentence was commuted by President George W. Bush. Dick Cheney gets to move forward with the publication of a “memoir” about his heart (the organ and not what makes us capable of discerning right from wrong). Those who authorized and engaged in torture get to continue their upward trajectory on whatever career path in government they have chosen and retire handsomely. And, if you’re Jose Rodriguez, the former head of the CIA’s counterterrorism center, you can keep promoting your book while ensuring the public ignores how you had a role in the destruction of tapes of torture and harsh interrogations and still support waterboarding detainees, a war crime.

However, someone who had no intent to do any harm to any person or the United States, John Kiriakou, is being sentenced to more than two years in jail. All this does is send a message to other government employees in agencies and institutions that if they care about the effects and impact of certain policies enough to talk about them or engage in communications with reporters they may be condemned and not allowed to serve in government again.

The conviction and imminent sentence creates a chilling effect on people working in agencies of government. It encourages a culture of complacency, complicity and indifference to corruption. It enables refusals to address corruption because leaks and scandals could occur. And, most importantly, it pushes people to be tight-lipped and ignore reporters because, if the reporter isn’t a veteran journalist like David Sanger or doesn’t have a wide audience like “60 Minutes,” they may lose opportunities to move up the ranks in government and be fired.