Former CIA officer John Kiriakou will receive one of the 2015 PEN First Amendment Awards, one of the most important literary awards in America. The ceremony will be held on November 16 in a ceremony in Beverly Hills.
Kiriakou resigned from the CIA in 2004 and came to public attention three years later in 2007 when he gave an interview to ABC News in which he acknowledged the CIA’s use of waterboarding as a method of torture. For several years leading up to Kiriakou’s big reveal, the CIA had managed to keep secret the scope of its abusive interrogations of Al Qaeda-affiliated prisoners, which had the formal approval of President George W. Bush.
In 2012, the federal government charged him with disclosing classified information and he ultimately served almost two years of a thirty-month sentence under a plea deal.
Following his release, Kiriakou said his case was not about leaking information but about exposing torture, continuing, “and I would do it all over again.”
“In accepting his plea deal, one of the things he was doing in accepting that was ensuring that the journalists were not forced to testify,” said Marvin Putnam, explaining the reason PEN Center USA wanted to honor Kiriakou. “That was just one of the things he was doing to make sure that First Amendment protections were not challenged to the point of breaking.”
In 2014 Silenced, a documentary by Academy Award nominated director James Spione featuring Kiriakou was released. The film explored the US government’s response to whistleblowers who disclosed covert violations of constitutional privacy and terrorism laws.
Kiriakou, whose grandparents emigrated from Greece had his first overseas posting as a CIA officer in Athens. He maintains a close relationship with the country and recently, with his probation judge’s permission, visited Greece to help the government of Alexis Tsipras draft laws protecting whistleblowers and those exposing criminal actions in government and the workplace.
The New Yorker, in a now famous profile piece on Kiriakou, described him as a small-town boy from Western Pennsylvania who belonged to a “clannish Greek family that encouraged education and ambition.” When he was young, he used to write letters to world leaders, expressing his opinions and views with them. The Shah of Iran actually sent him an autographed portrait.
A critic of years of austerity imposed by the European Union and Greece’s other creditors, he spent time in run down Athens neighborhoods— places he described as “where tourists don’t do,” learning first hand how the harsh measures have impacted average Greeks. He wrote in a piece on the Otherwords website that austerity is “wiping out Greece’s middle class,” adding that “the measures are simply draconian. They hurt society’s weakest and most at-risk people.”
“Greeks are suffering and dying because of the austerity measures imposed by their European creditors. The troika must take that into consideration before demanding more blood from the Greek stone.”