Just to recap the last 24 hours in the rule of law: if you order the massacre a village of Iraqis, you will get your charges reduced to “dereliction of duty” and get sentenced to no more than three months confinement. Furthermore, the rest of your colleagues that participated in the incident will not serve any jail time. By contrast, if you blow the whistle on the torture of a terrorist suspect, you will go to jail, at least if the government has its way.
The Justice Department on Monday charged a former Central Intelligence Agency officer with disclosing classified information to journalists about the capture and brutal interrogation of a suspected member of Al Qaeda, Abu Zubaydah — adding another chapter to the Obama administration’s crackdown on leaks.
In a criminal complaint filed on Monday, the Federal Bureau of Investigation accused John Kiriakou, the former C.I.A. officer, of disclosing the identity of a C.I.A. analyst who worked on a 2002 operation that located and interrogated Abu Zubaydah. The journalists included a New York Times reporter, the complaint alleged.
“Safeguarding classified information, including the identities of C.I.A. officers involved in sensitive operations, is critical to keeping our intelligence officers safe and protecting our national security,” said Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., in a statement.
Kiriakou is not exactly a sympathetic figure to those who will invariably end up defending him. He described waterboarding as torture but necessary in a 2007 interview to ABC News, and he actually lied about the extent of the use of the technique in the interview.
But there’s a larger point here. The Administration has reserved some of its most punitive uses of their prosecutorial discretion for government leakers and whistleblowers. Government information gets leaked all the time, of course, often by official sources doing so on behalf of the Administration for political reasons. But no Administration has prosecuted as many government officials for leaking as this one; in fact, the six criminal cases are more than all other Presidents combined. It has unquestionably had a chilling effect on other whistleblowers. The case against former NSA official Thomas Drake, which thankfully collapsed last year, is the most celebrated of these cases. But the inadequacy of that case has not stopped the Justice Department from continuing to wage war on leakers.
Frequently, the government over-classifies its secrets, shields information that the public has a right to know, and fetishizes classification of information, often to protect their own legal exposure. Whistleblowing is a time-honored tradition, and a necessary component of putting checks and balances on government power. The fact that this crackdown is happening at all damages the rule of law; the fact that it’s happening in an Administration that promised record transparency makes it even worse.