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Imprisoned CIA Whistleblower John Kiriakou Reacts to How Loretto Handled a Prison Guard’s Suicide

CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou, who has been serving a prison sentence at the federal correctional institution in Loretto, Pennsylvania, has written a letter reporting that a correctional officer committed suicide in January. How the prison officials handled the death stood in stark contrast to the treatment prisoners experience when an inmate dies or an inmate needs to go to a funeral for an immediate family member.

For much of Kiriakou’s prison sentence, Firedoglake has published his “Letters from Loretto.” He was the first member of the CIA to publicly acknowledge that torture was official US policy under President George W. Bush’s administration. In October 2012, 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.

Kiriakou writes in the letter dated January 22, 2015, that he did not know the officer or ever “have any contact with him,” however, it is his understanding that the man was a “nice guy,” someone “friendly, reasonable and honest.” He feels very sorry for his family, but the response from staff was “fascinating.”

As a CIA officer, when he lost a colleague, a star would go up on the agency’s Wall of Honor. Everyone would move on. That is not how the prison chose to handle the death.

“Although the CO’s death occurred at home, the prison was ‘locked down.,'” Kiriakou recounts. “All prisoners had to return to their housing units, all work and classes were canceled and the recreation yard was closed. Today there is still no work, and all activities were canceled.”

The prison brought in “grief counselors” for staff. The 1200+ prisoners in the facility were left to sit around.

“This whole experience smacks of utter hypocrisy,” Kiriakou suggests. “Last night I was walking through a nearby housing unit when a CO walked into the TV room and announced, ‘Nobody better fuck with me tonight because tonight I can beat the shit out of anybody I want and get away with it!’ Is that grieving?”

Kiriakou describes how an inmate named Shaba died during the week from Stage 4 cancer. He did not get to be with family as he died from cancer but had to spend the final weeks of his life chained to a hospital bed with two COs “more interested in watching television than in comforting a dying man.”

“There were no grief counselors or work cancellations for Shaba. He was a prisoner, a non-person.”

Kiriakou also has lost close family members while imprisoned.

Three close family members of mine have died since I got to Loretto: my aunt, who played a major role in raising me and was like a second mother; my mother-in-law, who died suddenly and unexpectedly in November; and my cousin, who at 38 had a heart attack while pumping gas. In the cases of my mother-in-law and my cousin, nobody here even bothered to inform me of their deaths. And because I have a multi-day delay on my emails, I had no idea that they had died. (And when the chaplain told me that my aunt had died, he followed it up with an uncomfortable, “Well, now you can say you’ve had the complete prison experience.”)

Kiriakou asks, “Why are our lives and the lives of our loved ones worth less?”

Under Bureau of Prisons regulations, prisoners are supposed to be able to travel to funerals of “immediate family members.” Kiriakou states that this travel is “never permitted at Loretto.”

“I’ve lost count of the number of prisoners I’ve encountered in tears because they’d lost their wives, their parents or their children. The prison administration’s response is typical: Tough luck. Get over it. There are not grief counselors for us.”

Additionally, Kiriakou describes a racist meal served to inmates on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

I was taken aback last week when the prison (again) served an overtly racist meal for Martin Luther King Day: BBQ chicken, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, corn bread and bean pie. Last year it was worse: Fried chicken, collard greens, black-eyed peas and corn bread. I would venture to guess that the only reason we didn’t have watermelon was that it’s out of season.

Kiriakou has one more night in prison. He is scheduled to be released on February 3. He’ll check in to a halfway house and then serve the rest of his sentence on house arrest.



BEGIN LETTER

Hello from the Federal “Correctional” Institution at Loretto, PA. A Corrections Officer (CO) at Loretto committed suicide yesterday. I didn’t know him nor did I ever have any contact with him. But from all accounts he was a nice guy – friendly, reasonable, and honest. The response by staff to his death has been fascinating to me.

First some background. Over the course of my 14+ years at the CIA, several of my colleagues were killed in action. A star for them was then placed on the Wall of Honor at CIA Headquarters, eulogies were made and we got on with our mission. There was work to do.

Things are quite different here. Although the COs death occurred at home, the prison was “locked down.” All prisoners had to return to their housing units, all work and classes were canceled and the recreation yard was closed. Today there is still no work, and all activities were canceled. “Grief counselors” are in the building for staff members who need them. All 1200+ prisoners are just sitting around.

Again, I’ve heard that this CO was a nice guy, and I’m sorry for his wife and children. But this whole experience smacks of utter hypocrisy. Last night I was walking through a nearby housing unit when a CO walked into the TV room and announced, “Nobody better fuck with me tonight because tonight I can beat the shit out of anybody I want and get away with it!” Is that grieving?

An inmate also died this week. Shaba had told the medical unit for months that he wasn’t feeling well. It took a formal written complaint to force the prison to take him to a nearby hospital, where he was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. He suffered for weeks before dying, chained to a hospital bed surrounded not by his family but by two COs more interested in watching television than in comforting a dying man. He was to be released to a halfway house next month. There were no grief counselors or work cancellations for Shaba. He was a prisoner, a non-person.

Three close family members of mine have died since I got to Loretto: my aunt, who played a major role in raising me and was like a second mother; my mother-in-law, who died suddenly and unexpectedly in November; and my cousin, who at 38 had a heart attack while pumping gas. In the cases of my mother-in-law and my cousin, nobody here even bothered to inform me of their deaths. And because I have a multi-day delay on my emails, I had no idea that they had died. (And when the chaplain told me that my aunt had died, he followed it up with an uncomfortable, “Well, now you can say you’ve had the complete prison experience.”)

Why are our lives and the lives of our loved ones worth less? BOP regulations allow for prisoner travel to the funerals of immediate family members. But this travel is never permitted at Loretto. Never. I’ve lost count of the number of prisoners I’ve encountered in tears because they’d lost their wives, their parents or their children. The prison administration’s response is typical: Tough luck. Get over it. There are not grief counselors for us.

On another issue, I have 11 days to go in my sentence so I’m just biding my time. I was taken aback last week when the prison (again) served an overtly racist meal for Martin Luther King Day: BBQ chicken, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, corn bread and bean pie. Last year it was worse: Fried chicken, collard greens, black-eyed peas and corn bread. I would venture to guess that the only reason we didn’t have watermelon was that it’s out of season.

How are these decisions made? I wonder. The President of the United States, the Attorney General of the United States and the Director of the Bureau of Prisons are all African-Americans and STILL something as simple as a holiday meal reeks of racism. Is there a committee of white people sitting around a table asking, “What do they eat? I heard they like chicken.” My African-American friends here were appalled, and this was a topic of much discussion. But, sadly, they’re used to this kind of back-handed racism.

The Italians with whom I’m friendly, however, were angered. There’s a precedent here, so where’s the Italian food on Columbus Day? (We had tacos.) Last year in March I was asked to give a speech in the chapel to commemorate “Greek Heritage Month.” Where’s my Greek food? I’m tired of chicken and tacos. But I’ve been patient for two years. I can be patient for another 11 days.

In the meantime, please drop me an email at jkiriakou@me.com. I’d love to stay in touch

All the best,

John Kiriakou

END

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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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