In the midst of a thirty-month prison sentence at the federal correctional institution of Loretto Pennsylvania, former CIA officer and whistleblower John Kiriakou has written a letter where he reports that his children were told they had to leave the visitors room because it was “overcrowded.” Kiriakou immediately saw this as an act of retaliation for writing letters from prison.
Since August of last year, Firedoglake has been publishing “Letters from Loretto” by Kiriakou, who was the first member of the CIA to publicly acknowledge that torture was official US policy under President George W. Bush’s administration. He was convicted in October 2012 after he pled guilty to violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA) when he confirmed the name of an officer involved in the CIA’s Rendition, Detention and Interrogation program to a reporter, even though the reporter did not publish it. He was sentenced in January 2013, and reported to prison on February 28, 2013.
On Sunday April 13 his wife Heather, cousin Kip, and his “three younger children” drove 210 miles to visit him early in the morning just as his family has been doing on many weekends since he was incarcerated. They arrived at the visitors room at 8:30 am and Kiriakou was called to the visitors room at 8:45 am.
“At 11:15 am,” according to Kiriakou, “the prison ‘Facility Manager,’ a short, portly, mustachioed middle-manager whom I have never seen before in the visitation room and who usually spends his time checking IDs in the cafeteria, made an announcement that he was worried about overcrowding and he wanted volunteers to leave to make room for other people who may or may not be waiting to come in. Nobody volunteered.”
Kiriakou was then called into the “strip search room” fifteen minutes later and told by the facility manager that his family had to leave.
“You get lots of visits so I’m exercising my authority to end your visit,” the facility manager said. Kiriakou replied, “You’re throwing my family out.”
The facility manager denied that he was throwing his family out and said he was simply “telling them to leave.”
Kiriakou recalls, “I told him that the regulation said that a decision to ask a family to leave was based on the frequency of their visits and the distance of their travel. They visit once a month and drive 210 miles, leaving at 5:00 am. He said the regulation related to the frequency of all visits and they had to go.”
He told his family they were “being thrown out.” A CO that Kiriakou says he respects came over to try and stop the prison from making them leave. It was her belief, according to Kiriakou, that the regulation was not being interpreted correctly. But, a few minutes later she returned to tell him that she had been “overruled.”
“My cousin and the kids left. My 7-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son cried all the way out the door. My wife was able to stay. Of the four seats my family vacated, two were filled with new visitors. Within an hour, another two dozen visitors left, calling it a day.”
He had the option of complaining through the Administrative Remedy process, an appeal system he says he will be writing about in a future letter. That would not have helped him stop the prison from making his children leave early.
It was crowded in the visitors room, but Kiriakou maintains it was not crowded enough for the prison to do this to him. So, he believes this was retaliation for writing “Letters from Loretto.”
“There was no space problem in the visitation room. There were plenty of seats. There were even more an hour later. Only a “troublemaker” from Detroit and I were told that our families had to leave. We were the only ones. Coincidence? I think not.”
Jesselyn Radack, a Justice Department whistleblower and director of National Security & Human Rights division at the Government Accountability Project who advised Kiriakou while the government was prosecuting him, told Firedoglake it seems like the Bureau of Prisons is using his family against him in retaliation for writing letters.
She recalled that Kiriakou took a plea deal where he would only be sentenced for 30 months in prison because he wanted to “get back to his family as soon as possible.” This “shows how petty, bureaucratic and senseless the justice system” can be. If they were concerned the facility would be “overcrowded,” they could have told him before his family packed up early in the morning to come visit him. (The prison eavesdrops on all his phone calls so it would have been easy for them to figure out his family was visiting.)
Over the weekend, a film called Silenced, which tells the story of Kiriakou’s case—along with the stories of Radack and NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake’s cases—had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York.
“There are many things besides prosecution and conviction that the government can do to exert it’s power over people they don’t like, often in ways that can seem petty and even vindictive,” Silenced director James Spione reacted. “It’s a constant theme in my film Silenced. John’s sad treatment here unfortunately seems consistent with that pattern.”
Kiriakou wrote a statement that was read at the premiere of the film by his wife. He explained, “The worst part of this ordeal has been separation from Heather and our children and the toll that it has taken on them.
“Every night that I am not there for story time, birthdays, holiday or First Communion or when Heather tells me my absence is causing so much stress for my son, Max, that he has chronic nausea, it’s painful. It’s a painful reminder of the price I am paying for blowing the whistle on torture.”
“In the long term, I’m sure that history will be on my side. My children will understand, and they’ll be proud of me.”
Hello from the Federal “Correctional” Institution at Loretto, PA. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of a visit from my friends Jane Hamsher and Kevin Gosztola of Firedoglake. It was two hours of terrific conversation, including, obviously, about my most recent Letter from Loretto, in which I cam down hard on an officer here.
(As an aside, I want to tell you that three Correctional Officers (CO), independently of one another, have approached me in recent days to tell me how much they enjoyed that letter, saying it was the most “entertaining” and “fun” one yet.)
Today, my wife, my cousin, Kip, and my three younger children came to visit. Visitation is scheduled from 8:30 am to 2:15 pm. They arrived at 8:30 and I was called to the visitation room at 8:45. The room was crowded but not as crowded as it’s been on other days they’ve visited. Indeed, the row behind us had 12 empty seats .
At 11:15 am, the prison “Facility Manager,” a short, portly, mustachioed middle-manager whom I have never seen before in the visitation room and who usually spends his time checking IDs in the cafeteria, made an announcement that he was worried about overcrowding and he wanted volunteers to leave to make room for other people who may or may not be waiting to come in. Nobody volunteered.
Fifteen minutes later, he called me into the strip search room. My family had to leave, he said. “You get lots of visits so I’m exercising my authority to end your visit.” I said, “You’re throwing my family out.” “I’m not throwing them out,” he responded. “I’m telling them to leave.” Semantics: I told him that the regulation said that a decision to ask a family to leave was based on the frequency of their visits and the distance of their travel. They visi once a month and drive 210 miles, leaving at 5:00 am. He said the regulation related to the frequency of all visits and they had to go.
The Facility Manager said I could complain through the Administrative Remedy process, a joke of an appeal system that I’ll address in a future letter. I told him I would instead write a Letter from Loretto.
I went back to my family to tell him they were being thrown out. When they got up and went to the door, a CO whom I respect came over and told me to bring them back to their seats. She said she thought the Facility Manager had misinterpreted the regulation and she would speak to him. A few minutes later, she returned and said she had been “overruled.”
My cousin and the kids left. My 7-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son cried all the way out the door. My wife was able to stay. Of the four seats my family vacated, two were filled with new visitors. Within an hour, another two dozen visitors left, calling it a day.
I normally don’t complain about the petty daily inconveniences that are a normal part of life here. But I have to call this out for what it is: Retaliation for Letters from Loretto. There was no space problem in the visitation room. There were plenty of seats. There were even more an hour later. Only a “troublemaker” from Detroit and I were told that our families had to leave. We were the only ones. Coincidence? I think not.
This is yet another example of the power of the written word. A temporary inconvenience in the visitation room won’t stop Letters from Loretto. Nothing will. There’s a lot more truth to tell in the coming months.
In the meantime, to learn more about my case, please visit www.defendjohnk.com.