JOHN KIRIAKOU: Those Torture Drawings in the NYT

In 2002, John Kiriakou captured the Guantanamo prisoner who drew those sickening pictures. Abu Zubaydah has a constitutional right to face his accusers in court, or be released, Kiriakou says.

Entrance to Camp 1 in Guantanamo Bay’s Camp Delta, 2005. (Kathleen T. Rhem. Wikimedia Commons)

By John Kiriakou
Special to Consortium News

The New York Times last week published shocking drawings by Guantanamo prisoner Abu Zubaydah showing in graphic detail the types of tortures he endured at the hands of CIA officers and contractors at secret prisons around the world.  The drawings were sickening.  With a child’s simplicity, they showed the irrational cruelty of the CIA’s torture program, which weakened our country, violated domestic and international law and ended up saying so much more about us, as Americans, than it did about the terrorists who wished us harm.

The Times did its duty of reminding us what monsters the CIA produced in the early years of its so-called war on terror, people introduced to most Americans in the Senate’s torture report.  These are people such as the CIA’s former Director George Tenet and Deputy Director John McLaughlin.  They include unapologetic torture proponents such as former Deputy Director for Operations Jose Rodriguez and current CIA Director Gina Haspel.  They are the creators of the torture program: psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen. And in the photos of Abu Zubaydah’s drawing that the Times ran, the CIA dutifully blacked out even the stick-figure sketches of the actual torturers, those CIA officers who sold their souls to break the law, all in honor of that false god called “national security.”

Woefully Inadequate Article

With that said, the Times article, although revelatory in terms of Abu Zubaydah’s personal story, was woefully inadequate.  It never mentioned, for example, how the Obama administration did literally nothing to make any of this right.  Remember former President Barack Obama’s decision to hold no one accountable for the torture program and instead “look forward, not backward?”  That didn’t serve justice.  It just protected the torturers and the criminals who supported them. Remember the promise to close Guantanamo?  It never happened. 

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And what about that Senate torture report?  We talk about “the Senate torture report” like we actually know what was in it.  We don’t. The 5,500-page report was never released.  Instead, after a battle royal with the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), Obama finally allowed only a heavily redacted version, less than 700 pages, of the report’s executive summary to see the light of day.  And all of that happened after then-CIA Director and Obama loyalist John Brennan ordered CIA officers to secretly hack into the SSCI’s computer system to see what committee investigators were up to.  Of course, no charges for that were ever filed. 

Guantanamo Bay prisoner Abu Zubaydah.

Abu Zubaydah has been in U.S. custody for a long time.  It’s already been nearly 18 years.  I know. I captured him on the night of March 22, 2002, in an al-Qaeda safe house in Faisalabad, Pakistan.  We were convinced at the time that he was the third-ranking person in al-Qaeda.  That was wrong. 

He was certainly a bad man.  He had founded both of al-Qaeda’s training camps in southern Afghanistan and he had also created an al-Qaeda safe house in Peshawar, Pakistan, called the “House of Martyrs.”  Want to go to Afghanistan to make jihad?  Call Abu Zubaydah.  Already in Afghanistan and you want to go home?  Call Abu Zubaydah.  But he was not the No. 3. He had never even joined al-Qaeda.  And he had never pledged fealty to Osama bin Laden.

A Pakistani policeman shot and severely wounded Abu Zubaydah on the night we captured him.  He was then transported to a secret CIA prison to recover and to be tortured.  As you can imagine, he confessed to a wide variety of terrorism-related crimes, whether he had actually committed them or not.  A torture victim will tell his torturer literally anything just to make the torture stop.  None of that information, because it was collected illegally, is admissible in a court of law. 

And so, Abu Zubaydah, like every other Guantanamo detainee with the dubious exception of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Muhammad, sits in solitary confinement year after year without ever having been charged with a crime.

There is only one way out of this national embarrassment.  Abu Zubaydah has a constitutional right to face his accusers in a court of law.  He has a right to be tried by a jury of his peers. If he is not charged — if he cannot be charged — with a crime, he must be released. That’s the law.  It’s the American way. 

Former President George W. Bush got us into this situation by allowing the likes of his Vice President Dick Cheney to run the country. Barack Obama did nothing to improve the situation.  Indeed, he sided with the CIA at every opportunity.  President Donald Trump (who has publicly supported torture), well…  it’s not even worth having that conversation.  But the bottom line is that what Abu Zubaydah and others have endured in secret prisons and at Guantanamo is not the American way.  It’s not constitutional.  It’s not legal. We have to correct this immediately.

John Kiriakou is a former CIA counterterrorism officer and a former senior investigator with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. John became the sixth whistleblower indicted by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act — a law designed to punish spies. He served 23 months in prison as a result of his attempts to oppose the Bush administration’s torture program.

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23 comments for “JOHN KIRIAKOU: Those Torture Drawings in the NYT

  1. December 16, 2019 at 13:51

    In a related matter … If Democrat Hunter Biden of Burisma Holdings is forced to testify in the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, – in the name of simple moral fairness and full transparency sufficient to match the historic magnitude of the situation, then Republican Cofer Black of Burisma Holdings must become forced to testify in the Senate trial as well. And may God bless America…


  2. Cornholio
    December 15, 2019 at 15:58

    Not only didn’t Obama close it, but he tried to hoodwink liberals/progressives/voters by “closing” it when all that would’ve happened is the prisoners would’ve been transferred to the states. Typical con man Obama.

  3. Brian James
    December 13, 2019 at 11:35

    Dec 13, 2019 Globalization is Dead. Long Live the New World Order!

    But don’t worry, there’s a New World Order waiting in the wings to take its place. Confused? Don’t be.

    See: the Corbett Report: Globalization is Dead. Long Live the New World Order!

  4. Robert Emmett
    December 13, 2019 at 07:01

    Nifty job, Mr. K., to reinforce the import of three recent events at once. Obama’s lame aspiring to centrism (seriously, what else is new?); graphic renderings from your perp; and, oh yes, refs. to The Report.

    Why not “encourage” Mitchell & Jessen to perform their concocted routine of “special sauce” on themselves, nightly, in the well of the Senate with C-span cameras (among others) keeping an aye on things, say, between midnight and 6am for a year? I mean they got paid well enough. How about some actual return on our public investment? Purely in the interest of science! We can’t expect a squeamish private equity owned national media to deliver the goods, can we? I mean they’re Exhibit A that there isn’t/hasn’t been any courage to purchase, only dumbfuck goonery.

    But why? Why is all this stuff coming out now? Maybe, as Mr. K. hints, when there’s such a massive rush to judgment public opinion is pulled in a certain (pre-ordained, it turns out) direction. That push creates a huge vacuum, mostly in USAins brains. And maybe, then, there really is no going back without widespread psychological damage. So now, years later, as reality seeps-in but with most of the evidence flushed down the media memory hole (see the Downing Street memo, the CIA torture tapes, also WaPo Afgan lies) does a preponderance of the people, swamped and gob smacked as we are, even notice or care? Maybe it’s another experiment, on us. Meanwhile, Apparatus gets rewarded with billions and billions more on the credit card and Complex-to-the-nth-Power carries on unswervingly.

    Reax to the photo at the top: if that’s where freedom lives, then someone’s been lying to us about that too (see King Geo the younger). Please let us now remember all those who dast not call it torture.

  5. bruce cochran
    December 13, 2019 at 05:11

    The consumer gets a choice. It’s truth and justice or the American way.

  6. robert e williamson jr
    December 12, 2019 at 23:37

    If you are one of those rational human beings that line up on the side the isn’t with the group Bush 43 referred to as Us in this now infamous quote, “You are either with us or against us . . .!” you will have one helluva time getting any justice from the likes of Bill Barr. Ever!

    Obama must have decided after being elected it was much safer for him to join all the liars at the Pentagon and CIA than stand up for truth justice and the American way. He could get by with it after delivering, depending on how you look at it, health insurance for the masses.

    But make no mistake if the democrats do not get their collective asses in gear the republic as we have known it may well be a thing of the past. Of course that would take some actual moderate democrats. Speaking of moderate democrats you might like get some education about moderate republicans of the Reagan era and how they measure up to self claimed moderate democrats of today so see. Beau of the fifth Column News “Let’s talk about the dangers fo being a moderate. ” runs 9:49 in length. Pretty spot on observations.

    We have a problem, The Patriot Act that the worthless Democrats continue to rubber stamp extensions for. The Afghanistan report comes out on the lies about the war there, the story will be worse for Iraq. Much worse and all you hear is some rambling about the impeachment of a president one would think would resign of embarrassment. No explanation, no questions , crickets and now those same incompetent liars want another $22 billion

    Fake news fake presidents fake government. Ever since the Adoption of the Patriot Act the state has become an increasingly authoritarian entity, assuming more and more legal powers as time and the county wander forward. Bush 43 and Bill Barr laid the foundation for his temple of power dedicated to protect the Imperial Presidency . They have us right where they want us. Barr obstructs the Constitution because of enablement by past cases, i,e, 1990’s pardons. Past actions of true suspicious origins and that bolster of the extended enforcement powers under the Patriot Act.

    “Bad things , very bad things! We need much more true moderation in this country. I’m of the mind that the true radicalized, extremist hysterical individuals who present a clear and present danger to themselves and others including this county and it’s Constitution are running the Washington D.C. Chapter of the Deep State from appointed office.

    Bill Barr and all his proponent followers seem to be drinking some serious cool-aid and he sure as hell is not speaking t0 any moderates. Yes, I do feel my comments here are related to the cause John’s work here addresses. It’s called justice. Something Bill Barr seems to Dogdamned little about.

    • robert e williamson jr
      December 14, 2019 at 20:24

      Thanks you to the folks at CN for your patience!

  7. TotalitarianGovernmentSupporter
    December 12, 2019 at 22:34

    …The New York Times last week published shocking drawings by Guantanamo prisoner Abu Zubaydah…

    What surprises me the most is that this was allowed to be published.

  8. Zhu
    December 12, 2019 at 22:16

    No one will be punished, certainly not Pres. Bush. :-(

  9. Sally Mitcheell
    December 12, 2019 at 22:15

    There is no real law the establishment breaks laws we follow and break laws . Dignity is dead honour is gone justice does not exist the abyss is here the world is cusping for leadership where is it going to come from us they say colonialism needs a full colonic and washed away forever let the technics take over they have the data to change the law in abidence with scientific truth

  10. dean 1000
    December 12, 2019 at 21:42

    Couldn’t agree more John. Abu Zaubaydah should be released or put on trial. You are the hero John Lamenzo said you were. You went against the grain and told the truth. Unfortunately Washington’s policy is “no good deed goes unpunished.”

    All that torture in Viet Nam didn’t win the war. Torture is as unlikely to win the so called war on terror as spying on people who are not terrorists. A terrorist who has critical information about an upcoming ‘event’ is very unlikely to be arrested or captured alive. They will be followed or accompanied by a person wearing a suicide vest or shoe bomb. When an arrest is made – boom no more terrorist, and maybe no more arrest team. It doesn’t take a genius counter-terror expert to know this. Those arrested or captured alive may know that the head terrorist drinks the un-cola or pigs out on 3-cheese pizza. Not much help. Pity those who try to preempt terror attacks.

    Abu Zaubaydah was waterboarded 83 times according to The business If waterboarding worked two or three times would have made him tell what he knew. ( but would still have been illegal and unconstitutional). A normal person would have stopped
    waterboarding at that point. It continued 80 more times. There are some very sick people in the CIA in my opinion.

    I disagreed with the late New York US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan on several important issues. He was right about the CIA. It should be disbanded and its intelligence functions transferred to the State Department.

  11. Brian James
    December 12, 2019 at 19:17

    July 8, 2005 Robin Cook, The struggle against terrorism cannot be won by military means

    Bin Laden was, though, a product of a monumental miscalculation by western security agencies. Throughout the 80s he was armed by the CIA and funded by the Saudis to wage jihad against the Russian occupation of Afghanistan.


    September 4, 2010 The Imperial Anatomy of Al-Qaeda. The CIA’s Drug-Running Terrorists and the “Arc of Crisis”

    Part 1 examines the origins of the intelligence network known as the Safari Club, which financed and organized an international conglomerate of terrorists, the CIA’s role in the global drug trade, the emergence of the Taliban and the origins of al-Qaeda.


  12. Jeff Harrison
    December 12, 2019 at 18:45

    Thank you, John. Somebody needs to tell these bozos in the USG that the Constitution of the United States is THE ultimate law of the land and it applies to everyone within the US’s jurisdiction. Violating it as we are, we put teeth into what Ben Franklin said… Yes, madam, you have your republic, if you can keep it. I’m afraid we can’t.

  13. ranney
    December 12, 2019 at 16:34

    I want to add my name to the list of people who thank you, John. We need more people like you, but I’m grateful for the ones we have. I hope you know that there are thousands, probably even millions, who would thank you if given the chance.

    Unfortunately I do agree with TimN, this is now the way of our country “just ask Julian Assange”.

  14. December 12, 2019 at 16:18

    As many others also say, thank you so much again John. You did the right thing by saying no to this barbarity, by informing us all, and by continuing to remind us of this ongoing nightmare. As you say, America is supposed to be against entities that perpetrate such hell, and even much less, instead …. ???

    I hope your retaliatory criminal record is expunged (!!) (more shame on Obama!) … We should be protesting the attempted silencing of and treatment against John and all truth-tellers and whistleblowers … Join me in Miami, or protest wherever you are…

    More horror on our soil – Absent Due Process Audacity of Evil Students Against Extrajudicial Killings: Rise of the Medical-Military Industrial An Introduction. Link to this book (no charge) at Thanks again John for the spot-on piece. The pictures alone say lot, but the back-story should push all Americans to demand a return to Our Constitution, and a return to Our Humanity. If we are not that Beacon, who would be?

  15. bardamu
    December 12, 2019 at 15:36

    With respect to John Kiriakou, who has stood for principles at cost, this raises another question. How do we draw the line between actions that must be responded to with violence and perhaps honest error–capturing a man who will be tortured and retained without trial indefinitely for concerns that are mostly fabricated? The rationale by which we Westerners make such judgments have become problematic, were they ever otherwise.

    I doubt that I have to itemize these. But to round them into families, we have

    * Defense, though only the ongoing Western attack is clear.
    * Form of government, though central agencies fail its vaunted form persistently, by policy.
    * Social tolerance, but exhibited by the imperial, torturing, attacking society

    Perhaps Western foreign policy is not evil per se. But given the deceipt, kidnapping, torture, summary and even random execution, and repeated and redundant wholesale destruction with no clear benefit, does it not seem that such characterization Evil could be at worst an understandable error?

    My thanks once again to Kiriakou and the few others who honestly grapple with such events.

  16. Linda J
    December 12, 2019 at 13:47

    Thank you, John. Keep trying to make our dastardly system own up to its inhumanity and correct their behavior.

  17. John Lamenzo
    December 12, 2019 at 12:58

    John Kiriakou speaks the truth to power…he is a true American hero!

  18. ElderD
    December 12, 2019 at 11:41

    John Kiriakou is the quintessential standup guy. When dictionaries define “character” and “integrity,” the entries should be illustrated with John’s picture.

    If our national security and justice systems all behaved as ethically as Kiriakou routinely does . . . they be much more deserving of our trust and confidence.

  19. Bob Van Noy
    December 12, 2019 at 10:24

    Many thanks John Kiriakou. I didn’t realize until this report that you were personally involved in this story. You are exactly right in exposing the profound injustice that every administration has been a part of since The Guantanamo Detention Center was opened. It will remain a blight on all of us up to and long after it is closed and universally condemned.

  20. AnneR
    December 12, 2019 at 07:47

    Thank you Mr Kiriakou for this piece on Mr Zubaydah.

    There is *no* excuse for torture, ever, and definitely not so-called “national security” as used by our governments past and present. We would be a lot more secure (in fact, the USA – with thousands of miles of ocean on both sides, is far more “secure” than most of the rest of the world) if we *left* other countries *alone.* Stopped bombing, destroying, devastating, killing, invading (illegally) other peoples and their lands (always to further the interests of both our ruling elites’ desire to always be *the* imperial power and their unending greed for profiting from the resources in those other lands). If we stopped (pretending) to be “trying” to install “democracy” (really governments that will do what we want) everywhere, minded our own bloody business. And then looked after our own needs within these borders.

    As for the USA or the CIA and torture – definitely *not* a new thing. Waterboarding was used by the US military during the US-Philippino war against those upstart Philippinos who fought against us. The CIA and its MK-ULTRA program began around the end of WWII, and employed chemists, biologist, psychologists, medical doctors to come up with ways to control, to – in effect – torture prisoners using chemicals and psychological means. Most such efforts, attempts were tried out on POWs and the like in Germany and Japan (thus not on US soil) and when the prisoners minds were destroyed their bodies were too. Various experiments were done in the US on psychiatric patients, drug addicts, unsuspecting people going about their daily lives and so on.

  21. TimN
    December 12, 2019 at 07:38

    It’s not the American way? It most certainly is at this point. Ask Julian Assange about that.

  22. Skip Scott
    December 12, 2019 at 06:08

    Unfortunately it has become “The American Way”. George W is quoted as saying the Constitution is only a piece of paper, and his Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, is quoted calling the Geneva Conventions “quaint”. When the head of the Department of Justice calls a signed treaty “quaint” instead of the “Supreme law of the land” and retains his job instead of going to prison, all hope is lost for “the American Way”. Today the “American Way” is “raw power” rules the day. There are no other considerations. The Rule of Law is dead. And we can thank our unaccountable so-called “intelligence” agencies for their part in making it so.

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