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CIA Whistleblower John Kiriakou Recounts How Prison Gave Him Wrong Medication in New Letter From Loretto

John Kiriakou

In a letter from CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou, who has been serving a prison sentence in a federal correctional facility in Loretto, Pennsylvania for over a year, he recounts how he had a medical emergency in the prison and received virtually none of the appropriate care or treatment that a person should typically receive. The medical emergency also apparently stemmed from a “Physician’s Assistant” (PA) prescribing him a medication for his diabetes that only made his condition worse.

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 the George W. Bush 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 (RDI) program to a reporter. He was sentenced in January 2013, and reported to prison on February 28, 2013.

According to the letter from Kiriakou written on September 3, he had a “routine quarterly blood test” in early August because he has Type 2 diabetes. He was never informed by any person in the prison of the results of the test, however, days later, he was called to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription with the pharmacist on duty.

Kiriakou recalls the following exchange:

“What is this?” I asked. “Glyburide,” he said, as though that should mean something to me. “What’s it for?” “Diabetes,” he said. Growing worried, I asked, “Do I have a problem?” “I don’t know,” he said. “Your PA called it in. He’ll put you on call-out.” Only insulin-dependent diabetics are allowed to have testing meters so I had no idea what my blood sugar numbers were. I took the pills back to my room.

Kiriakou understood he was to take one pill each day with food. Yet, on the second day, around 2:00 am, he “woke up covered in sweat.”

“I got down off my bunk, got my bearings, and then went to my locker for a cookie. I figured my blood sugar had dropped, and I felt better almost immediately. I drank some water and went back to bed,” he recalls.

He took his third Glyburide and slept the entire night, however, when he woke up in the morning around 7:00 am, he was soaked in sweat again and lowered himself from his bunk into a chair.

“For a minute, I thought I was going to throw up. It passed so I got up to wash my face. The bathroom is about 100 feet from my cubicle, and I started to make my way up there,” Kiriakou shares. “After a few steps, I started to get dizzy. I heard somebody say, ‘John! Are you okay?’ I mumbled, ‘I’m not sure what’s happening.’ A friend and fellow prisoner, Wahid, who was a pharmacist on the street, said, ‘Your blood sugar is crashing. Sit down.'”

Kiriakou says Wahid ran to get a Coke. He took two sips of the Coke and then “everything went gray.” He passed out on the floor.

When he woke up 15 minutes later, he was in a wheelchair in the medical unit. He was helped on to a table for examination and a nurse took his blood pressure, which was 88 over 60.

The nurse asked him what medications he was taking. Kiriakou told the nurse he was taking Glyburide and, according to Kiriakou, the nurse then suggested he was not taking it the way he was supposed to take it. Kiriakou insisted he was taking it properly and taken “three pills in three days.” The nurse continued and suggested he had passed out because he was dehydrated.

Kiriakou asked if he would get an IV. The nurse answered, “We don’t do that.” The nurse did an EKG to see if he had a heart attack. “The EKG was normal.”

Kiriakou continued to insist that what happened was caused by the Glyburide. His blood was tested, and it was at 135, when it should normally be between 70 and 100.

“I told him that I had had two sips of Coke, which would account for the higher level, but he went back to the dehydration diagnosis,” Kiriakou further recalls.

Ultimately, he was sent back to his unit and told to “take it easy for the day.” He did not see a doctor or a Physician’s Assistant and, three weeks later, he had yet to see a medical professional.

WebMD.com, a website where physicians and journalists provide health information, lists the side effects of Glyburide. One of them is “low blood sugar.”

“This may occur if you do not consume enough calories from food or if you do unusually heavy exercise,” WebMD.com indicates. “Symptoms of low blood sugar include sudden sweating, shaking, fast heartbeat, hunger, blurred vision, dizziness or tingling hands/feet,” which would seem to corroborate Kiriakou’s self-diagnosis.

Kiriakou spoke with his father-in-law, a physician and former pharmacist in Cincinnati. He told Kiriakou to stop taking the Glyburide. It is supposed to be a last resort before a diabetic goes on insulin. It also can apparently ruin the pancreas and can cause heart failure. So, Kiriakou threw out all of the Glyburide he had and stopped taking it before it wound up killing him.

Despite the “scare,” Kiriakou recognizes this is part of the “Bureau of Prisons experience.” It is a problem in federal prisons all over the country where prisons ignore prisoners’ medical problems hoping they will go away or that they will be released and their issues will become someone else’s problem.

From the letter:

This abominable denial of medical care has been largely ignored by the US media. It has not, however, been ignored by everybody. According to Prison Legal News, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) refused to extradite suspected terrorist Haroon Rashid Aswat from the United Kingdom to the United States “on the ground that his mental and physical health would face significant deterioration in the more hostile US prison system.” (Aswat v. United Kingodm, ECHR Case No. 17299/12.) The ECHR ruled that, “In light of the medical evidence before it, there was a real risk that Mr. Aswat’s extradition to the USA, a country to which he has no ties, and to a different, and potentially hostile prison environment, would result in a significant deterioration in his mental and physical health.” Most notably, the ECHR found that “such deterioration would be capable of amounting to treatment in breach of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits inhuman or degrading treatment.” I wish we had a court like that.

Kiriakou has less than 150 days until he is released from prison on February 3, 2015. One of the first things he plans to do is see a doctor, who is not only capable but also willing to provide him with proper medical care.


Hello again from the Federal “Correctional” Institution at Loretto, PA. I had a scare a few weeks ago that I wanted to tell you about because it’s so typical of the BOP experience. By way of background, I have Type 2 diabetes, although I’m not insulin dependent. A month ago, I had a routine quarterly blood test. I have no idea what, if anything, that blood test revealed, as my Physician’s Assistant (PA) never put me on call-out to inform me. (A “call-out” is a scheduled appointment.)

A few days later, I was put on call-out, but to the Pharmacy, not the PA. I went to the appointment and the pharmacist handed me a bottle of pills. “What is this?” I asked. “Glyburide,” he said, as though that should mean something to me. “What’s it for?” “Diabetes,” he said. Growing worried, I asked, “Do I have a problem?” “I don’t know,” he said. “Your PA called it in. He’ll put you on call-out.” Only insulin-dependent diabetics are allowed to have testing meters so I had no idea what my blood sugar numbers were. I took the pills back to my room.

The instructions on the bottle were to take a pill a day with food. That’s what I did. At 2:00 am on the second day, I woke up covered in sweat. I got down off my bunk, got my bearings, and then went to my locker for a cookie. I figured my blood sugar had dropped, and I felt better almost immediately. I drank some water and went back to bed.

I felt fine the next morning. That evening with dinner I took the third Glyburide. I went to bed at 11:00pm and slept through the night.

I woke up at 7:00am, again soaked in sweat, and lowered myself on to a chair. For a minute, I thought I was going to throw up. It passed so I got up to wash my face. The bathroom is about 100 feet from my cubicle, and I started to make my way up there. After a few steps, I started to get dizzy. I heard somebody say, “John! Are you okay?” I mumbled, “I’m not sure what’s happening.” A friend and fellow prisoner, Wahid, who was a pharmacist on the street, said, “Your blood sugar is crashing. Sit down.” I sat down on the concrete floor while Wahid ran and got a Coke. I took two sips then everything went gray and I passed out on the floor.

I woke up 15 minutes later in a wheelchair in the medical unit. A nurse helped me on to an examination table and took my blood pressure. 88 over 60. He took it a second time. 88 over 60. He asked what medications I was taking. I told him about the Glyburide. He suggested, rather directly, that “perhaps you’re not taking it the way you’re supposed to.” I assured him that I was and that I had only taken three pills in three days. The nurse then suggested that I passed out because I was dehydrated. “Okay,” I said. “Are you going to give me an IV?” “No,” he said. “We don’t do that here. Let’s do an EKG to make sure you didn’t have a heart attack.” The EKG was normal.

I told the nurse that I was a certain this was a case of low blood sugar because of the Glyburide. He tested my blood, which was 135. (Normal testing levels should be between 70 and 100.) I told him that I had had two sips of Coke, which would account for the higher level, but he went back to the dehydration diagnosis. He took my blood pressure twice more: 90 over 60 then 90 over 70.

The nurse told me to sit in a chair in the hall, and when the regularly-scheduled move was called at 8:25am, I should go back to my unit and “take it easy for the day.” I never saw a doctor. I never saw a PA. That was three weeks ago, and I still have not seen a medical professional.

I’ve mentioned before that my father-in-law is a highly-respected physician (and former pharmacist) in Cincinnati. I called him immediately. STOP THE GLYBURIDE, he said. Glyburide is a medication meant as a last resort before diabetics go on insulin. I’m not at that stage, he said. And, besides, Glyburide can ruin the pancreas. That’s why so many physicians refuse to prescribe it. He added if I continue the Glyburide I could expect to go into heart failure. I tossed it all. Interestingly, on the day I wrote this Letter from Loretto, I received an electronic message that my refill of Glyburide was ready.

I feel fine now. I use a friend’s blood sugar meter to test my blood each morning, and it’s been between “normal” and slightly elevated. What happened to me is minor compare to what happens to other prisoners, systematically, across the BOP.

Ask any federal prisoner anywhere in America about medical care and he’ll tell you the same thing: The BOP generally ignores prisoners’ medical problems, hoping they’ll either go away or that the prisoner will be released and will become someone else’s problem. This isn’t just John Kiriakou talking. This is a documented policy in every BOP facility in America.

I have a friend who was sentenced to two years in prison for having an illegal poker machine in his bar. He suffers from Hepatitis C, and, as soon as he got to Loretto, he told the medical unit about his condition. He said he needed treatment. “We’ll think about it” was the response. He asked repeatedly over the next 18 months for treatment. He was ignored. Finally, two WEEKS before his release, he was called to medical. They would give him the treatment, they said, if he would agree to forego his halfway house and home confinement time. In other words, “We’ll treat you, but you have to stay in prison.” He declined. (The BOP now can cover itself by saying that they wanted to treat him, but he refused.) They knew he would decline. That was the plan from the beginning. That night he called his wife to tell her what had happened. He was upset and angry, and his language reflected that. The next morning he was thrown into solitary, where he remained until his release.

Judy White is a contributor to OpEdNews, a fantastic website that frequently covers BOP malfeasance. Her husband, Gary White, is a former Jefferson County, Alabama commissioner, who was caught up in the Karl Rove-instigated political case involving former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. Gary White is serving 10 years in a federal prison in Forrest City, Arkansas. Judy White recently told OpEdNews about the experience of one of her husband’s friends at FCI Forrest City. Here’s what she said:

“Today we are very concerned about Dave, one of Gary’s fellow prisoners in Forrest City. Dave is 71 years old and should have already been released to a halfway house. For the past two years, Dave has sought medical treatment because of blood in his urine. As his condition has become dramatically worse and Dave has become much sicker, his medical needs and efforts to obtain treatment have been consistently ignored or denied by prison employees. The BOP routinely and purposely withholds treatment then releases sick prisoners to get whatever help they can get on their own. Dave’s medical needs became even more urgent when he began passing blood clots, along with lots of blood.”

“Dave understood that he was in serious trouble and that prison employees live by their unofficial motto: We Don’t Care! So he begged to be taken to the hospital. Denied, and told to go back to his housing unit, Dave had no choice but to take a stand. He told the prison employees he was not leaving medical and that he had to be taken to the hospital. Eventually, Dave was taken to the hospital, where it was quickly and easily determined that he had multiple tumors and needed emergency medical intervention and surgery. The emergency room physician told Dave that if he had ot gotten to the hospital he would have been in the newspaper. In the obituaries.

“Want to guess what happened next? Nothing. Dave was taken from the hospital back to the prison, where he remains today, without surgery and without a plan to save his life.”

This abominable denial of medical care has been largely ignored by the US media. It has not, however, been ignored by everybody. According to Prison Legal News, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) refused to extradite suspected terrorist Haroon Rashid Aswat from the United Kingdom to the United States “on the ground that his mental and physical health would face significant deterioration in the more hostile US prison system.” (Aswat v. United Kingodm, ECHR Case No. 17299/12.) The ECHR ruled that, “In light of the medical evidence before it, there was a real risk that Mr. Aswat’s extradition to the USA, a country to which he has no ties, and to a different, and potentially hostile prison environment, would result in a significant deterioration in his mental and physical health.” Most notably, the ECHR found that “such deterioration would be capable of amounting to treatment in breach of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits inhuman or degrading treatment.” I wish we had a court like that.

I have less than 150 days to go until my release February 3, 2015. The first thin I’m going to do is to go see my doctor. I’m one of the lucky ones.

An update: A new guy moved in across the hall from me last week. [WITHHELD] is a heroin dealer who sold tainted junk to a friend, resulting in the friend’s death. [WITHHELD] got 20 years in prison and was given a “Greatest Severity” security classification, the same as mine. [WITHHELD] appealed the classification, just like I did, arguing that he is not a threat to society and hsould be in a minimum-security camp. This week he won his appeal. His security classification was downgraded to “high” and he will be transferred to camp soon. Meanwhile, I am far more dangerous than a drug-dealing murderer, and I’ll remain behind the barbed wire fence. That’s how our “Justice” Department works.

To learn more about my case, please visit www.defendjohnk.com.

Best regards,

John

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."

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