By: Brian Sonenstein Wednesday May 29, 2013 5:25 pm
Former CIA agent John Kiriakou, who blew the whistle on the US government’s use of torture under the Bush administration, is currently serving a 30 month sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution in Loretto, Pennsylvania.
Below is a letter he recently sent his attorney Jesselyn Radack, who shared it (with John’s permission) with Firedoglake based on a pre-existing arrangement. The letter details his life in prison, including an incident in which prison officials attempted setup a confrontation between Kiriakou and a Muslim prisoner, telling Kiriakou he was the uncle of the Times Square bomber, when in reality the imam was in prison for refusing to testify in the Lackawanna Six case. Prison officials also lied to the Muslim prisoner, telling him that Kiriakou had called Washington after they met and had been ordered to kill him.
This letter is the first part in a series inspired by dinner table discussions between Jane Hamsher, Jesselyn Radack and John Kiriakou (and others) before he went to prison. John wanted to have his letters published so that he could still communicate and share his story with the outside world.
If you haven’t already, please consider adding your name to our petition asking President Obama to pardon John Kiriakou.
“Letter From Loretto”
Greetings from the Federal Correctional Institution at Loretto, Pennsylvania. I arrived here on February 28, 2013 to serve a 30-month sentence for violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982. At least that’s what the government wants people to believe. In truth, this is my punishment for blowing the whistle on the CIA’s illegal torture program and for telling the public that torture was official U.S. government policy. But that’s a different story. The purpose of this letter is to tell you about prison life.
At my formal sentencing hearing in January, the judge, the prosecutors, and my attorneys all agreed that I would serve my sentence in Loretto’s Federal Work Camp. When I arrived, however, much to my surprise, the Corrections Officer (CO, or “hack”) who processed me said that the Justice Department Bureau of Prisons had deemed me a “threat to the public safety,” and so I would do serve the entire sentence in the actual prison, rather than the camp.
Processing took about an hour and included fingerprinting, a mug shot (my third after the FBI and the Marshals), my fourth DNA sample, and a quite comprehensive strip search. I was given a pair of baggy brown pants, two brown shirts, two pairs of underwear, two pairs of socks, and a pair of cheap sandals. My own clothes were boxed and mailed to my wife. The CO then led me to a steel bunk in “Central Unit” and walked away. I didn’t know what to do, so I took a nap.
My cell is more like a cubicle made out of concrete block. Built to hold four men, mine holds six. Most others hold eight. My cellmates include two Dominicans serving 24- and 20-year sentences for drugs, a Mexican serving 15 years for drugs, a Puerto Rican serving [7 ½ years ?] 7 ½ years for drug conspiracy, and the former auditor of Cuyahoga County, Ohio, who’s doing [unintelligible] years a long sentence for corruption. They’re all decent guys and we actually enjoy each other’s company.
The prison population is much like you might expect. Loretto has 1,369 prisoners. (I never call myself an “inmate.” I’m a prisoner.) About 50% are black, 30% are Hispanic, and 20% are white. Of the white prisoners, most are pedophiles with personal stories that would make you sick to your stomach. The rest of the whites prisoners are here for drugs, except for a dozen or so who ran Ponzi schemes. Of the 1,369 prisoners, 40 have college degrees and 6 of us have master’s degrees. The GED program is robust. (Bust when I volunteered to teach a class my “counsellor” [sic] shouted, “Dammit, Kiriakou! If I wanted you to teach a fucking class, I’d ask you to teach a fucking class!”) I’m a janitor in the chapel. I make $5.25 a month.
The cafeteria, or “chow hall” was the most difficult experience of my first few days. Where should I sit? On my first day, two Aryans, completed covered in tattoos, walked up to me and asked, “Are you a pedophile?” Nope, I said. “Are you a fag?” Nope. “Do you have good paper?” I didn’t know what this meant. I turned out that I had to get a copy of my formal sentencing documents to prove that I wasn’t a child molester. I did that, and was welcomed by the Aryans, who aren’t really Aryans, but more accurately self-important hillbillies.
The cafeteria is very formally divided. There is a table for the Aryans whites with good paper, a section of a table for the Native Americans, a section of a table for people belonging to a certain Italian-American stereotypical “subculture,” two tables for the Muslims, four tables for the pedophiles, and all the remaining tables for the blacks and Hispanics. We don’t all eat at the same time, but each table is more-or-less reserved as I’ve described.
Violence hasn’t been much of a problem since I arrived. There have been maybe a half-dozen fights, almost always over what television show to watch. The choices are pretty much set in stone between ESPN, MTV, VH1, BET and Univision. I haven’t watched TV since I got here. It’s just not worth the trouble. Otherwise, violence isn’t a problem. Most of the guys in here have worked their way down to a low-security prison from a medium or a maximum, and they don’t want to go back.
I’ve also had some luck in this regard. My reputation preceded me, and a rumor got started that I was a CIA hit man. The Aryans whispered that I was a “Muslim hunter,” but the Muslims, on the strength of my Arabic language skills and a well-timed statement of support from Louis Farrakhan have lauded me as a champion of Muslim human rights. Meanwhile, the Italians have taken a liking to me because I’m patriotic, as they are, and I have a visceral dislike of the FBI, which they do as well. I have good relations with the blacks because I’ve helped several of them write commutation appeals or letters to judges and I don’t charge anything for it. And the Hispanics respect me because my cellmates, who represent a myriad of Latin drug gangs, have told them to. So far, so good.
The only thing close to a problem that I’ve had has been from the Cos. When I first arrived, after about four days, I heard an announcement that I was to dread: “Kiriakou – report to the lieutenant’s office immediately.” Very quickly, I gave my wife’s phone number to a friend and asked him to call her if, for some reason, I was sent to the SHU (Special Housing Unit) more commonly known as the hole, or solitary confinement. I hadn’t done anything wrong, but this kind of thing happens all the time.
When I got to the lieutenant’s office, I was ushered into the office of SIS, the Special Investigative Service. This is the prison version of every police department’s Internal Affairs Division detective bureau. I saw on a desk a copy of my book, The Reluctant Spy, as well as DVD copies of all the documentaries I’ve been in. The CO showed me a picture of an Arab. “Do you know this guy,” he asked me. I responded that I had met him a day earlier, but our conversation was limited to “nice to meet you.” Well, the CO said, this was the uncle of the Times Square bomber, and after we had met, he called a number in Pakistan, reporting the meeting, and was told to kill me. I told the CO that I could kill the guy with my thumb. He’s about 5’4” and 125 pounds compared to my 6’1” and 250 pounds. The CO said they were looking to ship him out, so I should stay away from him. But the more I thought about it, the more this made no sense. Why would the uncle of the Times Square bomber be in a low-security prison? He should be in a maximum. So I asked my Muslim friends to check him out. It turns out that he’s an Iraqi Kurd from Buffalo, NY. He was the imam of a mosque there, which also happened to be the mosque where the “Lackawana [sic] 7” worshipped [sic]. (The Lackawana 7 were charged with conspiracy to commit terrorism.) The FBI pressured him to testify against his parishioners. He refused and got five years for obstruction of justice. The ACLU and several religious freedom groups have rallied to his defense. He had nothing to do with terrorism.
In the meantime, SIS told him that I had made a call to Washington after we met, and that I had been instructed to kill him! We both laughed at the ham-handedness by which SIS tried to get us to attack each other. If we had, we would have spent the rest of our sentences in the [unintelligible] SHU – solitary. Instead, we’re friendly, we exchange greetings in Arabic and English, and we chat.
The only other problem I’ve had with the COs was about two weeks after I arrived. I get a great deal of mail here in prison (and I answer ever letter I get.) Monday through Friday, prisoners gather in front of the unit CO’s office for mail call. One female CO butchers my name every time she says it. So when she does mail call, I hear “Kirkaow, Kiriloo, Teriyaki” and a million other variations. One day after mail call I passed her in the hall. She stopped me and said, “Are you the motherfucker whose name I can’t pronounce?” I responded “Ki-ri-AH-koo.” She said, “How about if I just call you Fuckface?” I just walked away and a friend I was walking with said, “Classy.” I said to him, “White trash is more like it.” And hour later, four COs descended on both of our cells, trashing all of our worldly possessions in my first “shake-down.” Lesson learned: COs can treat us like subhumans but we have to show them faux respect even when it’s not earned.
I’ll write about COs more next time. If you’d like to drop me a line, I can be reached at John Kiriakou 79637-083, P.O. Box 1000, FCI Loretto, Loretto, PA 15940.
Best regards from Loretto,
Friday, May 31, 2013
Monday, May 27, 2013
Sir Nicholas George Winton, MBE, (born 19 May 1909) is a British humanitarian who organized the rescue of 669 mostly Jewish children from German-occupied Czechoslovakia on the eve of the Second World War in an operation later known as the Czech Kindertransport. Winton found homes for them and arranged for their safe passage to Britain. The UK press has dubbed him the "British Schindler"
Just before Christmas 1938 Winton was about to travel to Switzerland for a skiing holiday, when he decided instead to travel to Prague, Czechoslovakia, to help a friend who was involved in Jewish refugee work, and had called him asking for his help. There he single-handedly established an organisation to aid children from Jewish families at risk from the Nazis. He set up an office at a dining room table in his hotel in Wenceslas Square. In November 1938, shortly after Kristallnacht, the House of Commons had approved a measure that would permit the entry of refugees younger than 17 years old into Britain, if they had a place to stay and a warranty of £50 was deposited for a ticket for their eventual return to their country of origin.
An important obstacle was getting official permission to cross into the Netherlands, as the children were destined to embark on the ferry at the Hook of Holland. After Kristallnacht on 9-10 November 1938, the Dutch government had officially closed its borders to any Jewish refugees, and the border guards (marechaussee) actively searched for them and returned their captives to Germany, despite the horrors of Kristallnacht being well known in the Low Countries, as, for instance, from the Dutch-German border the synagogue in Aix-la-Chappelle could be seen burning, only 3 miles away.
Winton nevertheless succeeded, thanks to the guarantees he had obtained from the British. After the first train, things went relatively well crossing the Netherlands. Also active in saving Jewish children – some 10,000, mostly from Vienna and Berlin and mostly also via the Hook - was the Dutchwoman Gertruida Wijsmuller-Meier, so the plight of Jewish children was well known in the Netherlands. It is not known whether Winton and 'Tante Truus' (auntie Truus), as she was commonly known, ever met. In 2012 a statue was erected on the quai at the Hook to commemorate all those who saved Jewish children.
Winton found homes for 669 children, many of whose parents perished in Auschwitz. Winton's mother also worked with him to place the children in homes, and later hostels. Throughout the summer he placed advertisements seeking families to take them in. The last group of 250, which was intended to leave Prague on 1 September 1939 did not reach safety; the Nazis had invaded Poland, marking the start of World War II, and the children later perished in the concentration camps.
With the coming of war, Winton sought registration as a conscientious objector and served with the Red Cross, but in 1940 he rescinded his objection to join the Royal Air Force, Administrative and Special Duties Branch. He was initially an airman, rising to sergeant by the time he was commissioned on 22 June 1944 as an acting pilot officer on probation . On 17 August 1944 he was promoted to pilot officer on probation. He was promoted to war substantive flying officer on 17 February 1945. He relinquished his commission on 19 May 1954, retaining the honorary rank of flight lieutenant.
Winton kept quiet about his humanitarian exploits for many years, until his wife Grete found a detailed scrapbook in their attic in 1988. It contained lists of the children, including their parents' names, and the names and addresses of the families that took them in. By sending letters to these addresses, 80 of "Winton's children" were found in Britain. The world found out about his work in 1988 during an episode of the BBC television programme That's Life! when he was invited as a member of the audience. At one point Winton's scrapbook was shown, and his achievements explained. The host of the programme, Esther Rantzen, asked whether any in the audience owed their lives to Winton, and, if so, to stand – more than two dozen people surrounding Winton rose and applauded.
In the 1983 Queen's Birthday Honours Winton was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for his work in establishing the Abbeyfield homes for the elderly in Britain, and in the 2002 New Year Honours, he was knighted in recognition of his work on the Czech Kindertransport. He met the Queen again during her state visit to Bratislava, Slovakia in October 2008. In 2003, Winton received the Pride of Britain Award for Lifetime Achievement.
Winton was awarded Order of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, Fourth Class, by the Czech President in 1998.In 2008, he was honoured by the Czech government in several ways. An elementary school in Kunžak is named after him, and he was awarded the Cross of Merit of the Minister of Defence, Grade I. He was also nominated by the Czech government for the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize.
The minor planet 19384 Winton was named in his honour by Czech astronomers Jana Tichá and Miloš Tichý.
Although Winton was baptised as Christian, his ancestry was considered entirely Jewish, which disqualified him from being declared a Righteous Gentile. In 2010, Winton was named a British Hero of the Holocaust by the British Government.
A statue in his honour was unveiled at Maidenhead railway station by Home Secretary and local MP for Maidenhead, Theresa May, in September 2010. Created by Lydia Karpinska, it depicts Winton relaxing on a bench whilst reading a book.
Another statue in his honour is on 'platform one' of the Praha hlavní nádraží railway station. It depicts Winton holding a child and standing next to another one. Created by Flor Kent, it was unveiled as part of a larger commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the last Kindertransport train, 1 September 2009
On 1 September 2009 a special "Winton Train" set off from the Prague Main railway station. The train, comprising an original locomotive and carriages used in the 1930s, headed to London via the original Kindertransport route. On board were several surviving "Winton children" and their descendants, who were welcomed by Winton in London. The occasion marked the 70th anniversary of the intended last Kindertransport, due to set off on 3 September 1939 but prevented by the outbreak of the Second WorldWar. At the train's departure, Winton's statue was unveiled at the railway station. The Winton Train passed through the Netherlands largely unnoticed.
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Zach Sobiech is 17 years old and diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer that takes the lives of a large percent of its childhood victims. Given only months to live, Zach turned to music to say goodbye. His song "Clouds" spread, and soon, Zach's message was heard across the country
Sunday, May 19, 2013
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Sunday, May 12, 2013
Saturday, May 11, 2013
Thursday, May 9, 2013
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
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