JOHN KIRIAKOU: Prosecutors

Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Kromberg went after Daniel Hale and leads the extradition case against Julian Assange. People should know what he and other prosecutors can really be like.

Statue of Blind Justice statue outside the Albert V. Bryan U.S. courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia. (Tim Evanson, Flickr)

By John Kiriakou
Special to Consortium News

For the past two weeks I’ve been ruminating about the prosecution of drone whistleblower Daniel Hale, who was sentenced on July 27 in the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Alexandria. He was given 45 months in prison.

With good behavior and drug and alcohol counseling, it’ll end up being closer to 18 months. 

I was in the courtroom and witnessed the sentencing and the vindictive behavior of the prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Kromberg, who acted as though Hale’s case was a personal slight. Kromberg is also the prosecutor who has feverishly led the extradition case against Julian Assange.

There is a myth about prosecutors fighting for justice. But people should know what prosecutors can really be like.

They are government employees.  They get promoted when they win convictions.  They get promoted when they win long sentences.  They don’t get ahead in their careers by not charging people with crimes.  They don’t get ahead by not seeking draconian sentences.

Collecting Trophies

It’s not about “justice.”  It’s about collecting trophies.  And remember, an inordinate number of them go on to be partners in major national law firms or become candidates for Congress or governor.

In Hale’s case, prosecutors were seeking nine years on just one espionage charge.  There were four remaining espionage charges for which he was awaiting trial.  In the end, the judge issued a sentence of 45 months and dismissed the remaining charges with prejudice, meaning that they could not be brought again.

Hale contended that prosecutors had withheld exculpatory information from the defense.  He argued that he blew the whistle on the drone program because he was morally outraged by it.  It had caused him, in his own mind, to be nothing more than the murderer of innocents.

“I am here because I stole something that was never mine to take — precious human life,” Hale told U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady at his sentencing. “I couldn’t keep living in a world in which people pretend that things weren’t happening that were. Please, your honor, forgive me for taking papers instead of human lives.”

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The prosecution’s “theory” was that Hale, a former Air Force intelligence analyst, “leaked” information about the program to The Intercept because he wanted to “ingratiate himself with journalists.”  The contention was absurd, and the judge wasn’t buying it.

Prosecutors are human beings, of course, just like anybody else.  They’re competitive.  They’re sometimes dishonest.  And sometimes they’re willing to break the law or violate legal ethics to get that conviction.  Just look at the case of former Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK).

The Case of Ted Stevens

Sen. Ted Stevens giving farewell address. (C-Span still)

Stevens was one of the most powerful and important senators in modern history.  He served in the U.S. Senate from 1968 to 2009, becoming president pro tempore of the Senate and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.  At the time of his retirement, he was the longest-serving Republican senator in U.S. history.

Near the end of that career, Stevens found himself afoul of the Justice Department.  Accused of failing to report official gifts and then lying to investigators about it, he was charged with seven felony counts of making a false statement.  Stevens was adamant that he had reported the gifts and had done nothing wrong.  He refused to take a plea and went to trial, where he was found guilty on all seven counts.

Stevens knew he was innocent and his attorney, the famed Brendan Sullivan, successfully petitioned the judge to open an inquiry into the Justice Department’s behavior in the case and its failure to turn over exculpatory evidence, including a handwritten note from Stevens to an oil company executive who paid for renovations to Stevens’s house saying, “Send me a bill.  We have to do this ethically.”

In 2009, a year before Stevens’s death in a plane crash, a federal judge vacated the conviction.  By then, Stevens had lost his senate seat and his reputation, all due to government misconduct.  Before he could be disciplined, prosecutor Nicholas Marsh committed suicide.

Prosecutorial misconduct is common.  Just ask anybody who’s been prosecuted.  But rarely does anything come of it.  What happened to Stevens after his “conviction” is exceedingly rare.  But every once in a while, there is justice.  Consider the Duke University lacrosse case, the Michael Morton murder trial, and the Eric McDavid eco-terrorism case as examples.

My Own Sentencing

During my own sentencing, the prosecutors said that I did not blow the whistle because I was opposed to torture. With the same line they tried to use against Hale, they said I was trying to ingratiate myself with the media and trying to build a consulting business. It was ludicrous.

When Judge Leonie Brinkema announced that she would accept my 11 C1c plea, which was written in stone, she said that she believed I was seeking wealth in consulting and added, “This sentence is way too short. I wish I could give you the maximum.”

When it was my turn to speak, I said that the government’s “theory” was made up because they couldn’t accept the fact that somebody had spoken publicly about crimes being committed by the government. All they had to do, I said, to see that their theory was bogus, was to look at my bank account, which had nothing in it.

But don’t take it from me about prosecutors. Listen to former Supreme Court justice and former Attorney General Robert Jackson, who said:

“The prosecutor has more control over life, liberty, and reputation than any other per son in America. His discretion is tremendous. He can have citizens investigated and, if he is that kind of person, he can have this done to the tune of public statements and veiled or unveiled intimations. Or the prosecutor may choose a more subtle course and simply have a citizen’s friends interviewed.

The prosecutor can order arrests, present cases to the grand jury in secret session, and on the basis of his one-sided presentation of the facts, can cause the citizen to be indicted and held for trial.

He may dismiss the case before trial, in which case the defense never has a chance to be heard. Or he may go on with a public trial. If he obtains a conviction, the prosecutor can still make recommendations as to sentence, as to whether the prisoner should get probation or a suspended sentence, and after he is put away, as to whether he is a fit subject for parole.

While the prosecutor at his best is one of the most beneficent forces in our society, when he acts from malice’ or other base motives, he is one of the worst.“

If not for a fair judge, Hale would have been the victim of that malice.

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.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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17 comments for “JOHN KIRIAKOU: Prosecutors

  1. August 11, 2021 at 13:09

    This is a bit disturbing to outsiders like myself.Who gives prosecutors all these powers and who benefits from it? Are those powers only known to the few who have no influence or way of solving it at the local,state or national level? Or it’s a known problem with no solution? A lot of questions can be asked here but,I hope the author of the article will find time to enlighten us again on this.

  2. August 11, 2021 at 11:50

    Gordon Kromberg is but the tip of the spear . He’s the blunt instrument of a sadistic cabal hell bent on destroying Assange, others like Assange, and their quest for governmental transparency. More needs to be reported about these people. They are traitors to the republic, what’s left of it.

  3. Rex Williams
    August 10, 2021 at 19:47

    With many similarities, the main one being public interest in criminal actions by governments, the Australian government engaged in the bugging of a building in East Timor, one of the poorest countries in the world, at a time when negotiations for an oil lease in the Timor Sea was at its peak. Australia, needless to say being in competition for that same lease. The lawyer representing the person who ‘blew the whistle’ on this act is still being hounded by this disgraceful government as is the “whistleblower” as well.

    The legal counsel’s name is Bernard Colliery from Canberra and he is justifiably viewed by decent citizens here as a man of principle, a man who believes in justice for all.
    The time for this vindictive action is nearing 16 years, the delays designed to cover up crimes committed by very senior ministers in previous Australian governments. Still being protected by the new breed, tarred with the same brush

    The matter and its legal progress is in the hands of a prosecutor, in this case the Attorney-General of Australia. Add to that, the lack of support by the same political party in government for yet amother Australian, Julian Assange.
    We have little to be proud of in this country.

    So, as you can see, prosecutions to reduce the exposure to and the airing of criminal government activities is an international disease, certainly not restricted to the USA.

    Well done, John Kiriakou. In anyone’s book, you’re a winner. More strength to you.

  4. Stephen Morrell
    August 10, 2021 at 17:18

    The textbook example of prosecutorial misconduct has been the railroading of Mumia Abu Jamal, with Steven Donziger’s persecution adding yet more legal precedents and ‘innovations’ to an already elaborate palette of sadistic barbarism forming the malignant core of a criminal system to which they have the gall to apply the adjective ‘justice’.

  5. August 10, 2021 at 13:18

    Kronberg also prosecuted Dr. Sami Al-Arian despite the plea agreement Al-Arian had signed. Brinkema was the judge. Kronberg’s condescension and contempt toward her were stunning to watch.


    Brinkema never issued a final ruling, the government dropped all charges, and Sami was deported to Turkey, where he is now head of the Center for Islam and Global Affairs at ?stanbul Sabahattin Zaim Üniversitesi.

  6. Alan Ross
    August 10, 2021 at 12:23

    “They get promoted when they win convictions. They get promoted when they win long sentences.”

    As a former prosecutor for ten years, I can only say Mr. Kiriakou is accurate about this.

    August 10, 2021 at 07:32

    It is interesting to note that while there is no public interest defense in Espionage Act cases, i.e., the accused cannot explain their motives for whistleblowing to the court, that prosecutors are allowed to tell the court what they think whistleblowers’ motives are.

  8. annie
    August 10, 2021 at 07:31

    Thanks for being a voice for humanity.
    We need more inspiring people like you,

  9. Andrew Peter Nichols
    August 10, 2021 at 04:29

    This is the sort of stuff our state friendly media excoriate Chinese and Russian judicial authorites for…..

  10. cjonsson1
    August 9, 2021 at 21:15

    I can’t tell you this on facebook John because I was sidelined for three days for suggesting that Obama and Mike Pompeo killed some folks.

    Happy Birthday my friend. I hope you had a good day.
    Thank you for standing up for us against a corrupt machine for years.
    We treasure rare whistleblowers like you. Take care of yourself.
    Christina Jonsson

    • John Kiriakou
      August 10, 2021 at 11:19

      God bless you, Christina! And thank you for your kind wishes!

    • robert e williamson jr
      August 11, 2021 at 17:03

      Christina a thought for you and all those who support John. What is it that keeps us from not changing this situation.

      Why do we all, of us continue to endure this B.S. and not change the situation. Fear is the answer. We fear speaking out and becoming a target of those on the dark side.

      I have become a pariah to those same idiots who “know not what they do”. I’m in my seventies and spend time and resources now to aid my youngest son who seems to be a “chip off the old block”.

      This fear I speak of serves it’s purpose and in the last four years it has become more intrusive and belligerent.

      I have believed my entire adult life the system can chew your ass but cannot eat you alive. I have obviously been seriously mistaken. For one reason, it all depends just how bad the system wants to destroy you. See the case of Mr. Assange and others like him.

      I don’t know about you John but I intend to fight these bastards till my last breath. Thank you for leading by example.

  11. Aaron
    August 9, 2021 at 20:08

    It’s really bizarre and absurd to claim any whistleblower is motivated just by profit, it’s pretty obvious that actually they are risking any material wealth they may have. And aside from all the b.s. about hidden agendas, the actual issues aren’t even addressed at the end of the day. That’s what really sucks about the way those things are handled. Like, if some atrocity comes to the attention of the public, one would hope that the exposed crime would be addressed and corrected and the evil-doers brought to justice, but instead, it becomes all about who the whistleblower may be, and why did they decide to expose this or that. It’s sad as hell man.

  12. Jeff Harrison
    August 9, 2021 at 17:25

    There is a reason, Mr. Kiriakou, why I refer to them as persecutors not prosecutors.

  13. Evan Jones
    August 9, 2021 at 17:21

    Another story of prosecutorial opportunism and sadism (with a compliant judge): the 2013-15 prosecution and incarceration of Alstom executive Frédéric Pierucci as blackmail to facilitate the dodgy GE takeover of the French Alstom Energy. Prosecutors David Novick and Daniel Kahn did well out of their sterling contribution to the cause.


  14. Jean Maria Arrigo
    August 9, 2021 at 16:47

    Ever grateful to you for informing us how government works from the inside.

  15. val
    August 9, 2021 at 15:46

    thank you for your insights

Comments are closed.