A joint interview : John Kiriakou and Jonathan Landay
An analysis of changes in American democracy
John Kiriakou is a whistleblower who revealed the torture program used by the CIA. Jonathan Landay wrote tirelessly, then, that the Bush Administration was creating a (false) narrative to justify the invasion of Iraq. What do they think about the evolution of their country?
John Kiriakou is a former CIA agent. He was the first to confirm the use of torture (waterboarding) by the agency in its fight against terrorism. Jonathan Landay and his colleague Warren Strobel were the only journalists to write that the Bush administration's story justifying the invasion of Iraq was a fabrication. A film was made about their story: Shock and Awe.
Jonathan, you disclosed before all your colleagues that some people in the Bush Administration were creating a narrative so the country could go to war against Iraq. John, you disclosed information about the CIA using torture to get information for the war against terror. Is there something wrong with democracy ? How did it come to this?
John Kiriakou : In the US context, this came about because of Barack Obama's nixonian obsession with national security leaks. It was at the urging of then-Deputy National Security Advisor (and later CIA Director) John Brennan that the Obama Administration prosecuted national security whistleblowers, including me. And these prosecutions were in keeping with Obama's neoliberal, pro-war ideology.
Jonathan Landay : In a democratic country, one of the key values is the freedom of speech. This freedom of speech can be used in a variety of ways. Positively or negatively. They were able to do it because we have freedom of speech here. It's a risk you accept when you embrace democracy, the misuse of this freedom. Also we had for the most part a media that did not look deeply into the truth behind what the administration was selling. I don't know why, whether it was sheer laziness, whether it was because they did not want to jeopardise their sources, their access to senior official by reporting what we did, or it was because we had 9/11 and there was this sense of nationalism here and the sense that you got to support the president. It could have been any of those reasons. You know in the case of the New York Times and Judith Miller, it was accepting what her sources told her without her checking the veracity of what they were telling her. You should never depend on sources who are invested in an issue politically. Because they will give you their viewpoint. The job of the reporter is to get behind that. Is this true ? And that was what Warren Strobel and I did because their initial narrative made nos sens what so ever. And that was that Saddam Hussein and Osama Ben Laden cooperated. And if you know anything about the region and about Al Qaida and Osama Ben Laden you knew that Saddam Hussein was exactly that kind of Arab despot they wanted removed...
After the Bush years, Obama's election was a time of great hope. Have these hopes become a reality ?
John Kiriakou : The hope of Obama's election faded quickly. In the end, there was no hope. Although Obama ended the torture program, he continued the rendition program and vastly increased the drone program. In terms of national security whistleblower prosecutions, Obama prosecuted three times as many people as all previous presidents combined.
Jonathan Landay : I did a lot of reporting on drones and I published two stories in particular where I got highly classified documents that showed two things: they were killing hundreds of people in the region of Pakistan without knowing exactly who they were and they were killing people for the Pakistani army from 2004 to 2008...
The 2016 election did not bring any particular hopes. The result seems to be a nightmare. How do you assess this presidency?
John Kiriakou : I agree that this presidency is a nightmare. But I would posit that the election of Hillary Clinton as president also would have been a nightmare. Clinton never saw a war that she didn't want to jump into with both feet, all the while, having no exit strategy.
Jonathan Landay : Editorially, I'm not allowed to make political comments about the presidency.
From the outside, similarities can be discerned in the designation of an "axis of evil" and in the construction of a narrative as soon as Trump comes to power to validate a war against Iran or North Korea. Why this obsession which comes back, like during the Bush Administration ?
John Kiriakou : Trump is very susceptible to the advice of whomever happens to be around him at any given time. His instinct to make peace with North Korea was a good one (and a surprising one). But his withdrawal from the JCPOA, his verbal attacks against Iran, and his support for the coup attempt in Venezuela, just to name a few, have long been a part of the neoconservative ideology of people like John Bolton and Mike Pompeo, who hold great sway over Trump.
Jonathan Landay : I can say that we have seen some parallels with the Bush administration's use of exaggerated information and misrepresentation at the time on Iraq and, in this case, Iran.
In recent years, it seems that there has been a reversal of meaning and reality. As if things that seemed obvious, true, were declared false by a large part of the population and leaders. While the false things were declared true. This trend has taken the name of "fake news". And everyone accuses themselves of broadcasting "fake news". What impact can this have on populations in the long term? How do you perceive this reversal of meaning ?
John Kiriakou : This is a very dangerous development. It seems, at least in the United States, that we have gotten to the point where many Americans only trust news outlets that tell them what they want to hear and which subscribe to their personal ideologies. As a result, the percentage of Americans who trust the media is at an all-time low, and the major news networks have become little more than mouthpieces for the two major political parties. It's bad for transparency.
Do you have any hope for the future ?
John Kiriakou : I do have hope for the future, but not for the immediate future. I think that politics tend to reset itself every few decades. The country is ready for, and in need of, a figure who can unite Americans, rather than further divide them.
Jonathan Landay : I'm an optimist. I've seen things go one way or the other. I don't make predictions. But what I can say is that it's going to be a very interesting year. Very unpredictable.