NEW YORK – John Kiriakou, who was sentenced to 30 months in Federal Correctional Institution in Loretto in Western Pennsylvania for violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, is learning that although prisoners in America do not lose the right to free speech, it comes with a price.
His Letters from Loretto, which contain his thoughts on various topics, including Edward Snowden, and also describe life in prison, are posted on firedoglake.com, one of the most influential political websites. They appear to have caused not only roadblocks to his quest to get closer to his family – his wife Heather and five children – but the danger uglier “on the road” scenarios.
In his most recent Letter, Kiriakou wrote: “A senior prison official told me months ago that there have been active discussions about putting me in “diesel therapy” for the rest of my sentence. Diesel therapy is when a prisoner is transferred from one prison to another all across the country via prison van, bus or ‘conair’ plane, never staying in any one prison long enough to receive telephone, email, mailing or visitation privileges.”
In other words, hell on wheels.
After Firedoglake editor-in-chief Jane Hamsher and writer Kevin Gosztola visited him recently, the later wrote that the letters “provided the prison with excuses for retaliating against him.” Kiriakou is “100 percent positive” that the prison sentence itself is payback for his public statements to ABC News in 2007 about the U.S. government’s use of waterboarding, which human rights groups consider torture.
Gosztola reported that “Kiriakou did not necessarily see himself as a political prisoner until recently.
Jim Gregorakis, a good friend of Kiriakou who is on his visitors’ list, told TNH “unfortunately there have been some developments this past week. The powers that be, specifically the warden, don’t like the fact that he keeps sending Letters from Loretto. They told him that the earliest he can be released in next February.” That means that instead of the nice months in a halfway house he requested and the six months he expected, he would receive only 86 days.
It appears that he is being singled out. “According to Kiriakou’s wife they recently released a guard who had assaulted a prisoner to a halfway house after serving only six months of his sentence,” Gosztola wrote.
Notwithstanding the courtesy experience by The National Herald when it visited him in January, prison officials seem to be not making things easy for the media.
When Hamsher and Gosztola arrived for their visit, their press visit arrangement was not in order, but they were able to see Kiriakou because they wer on his visitors list. When an official “noticed that Hamsher was wearing camouflage pants and told her she could not enter wearing them…she went into the bathroom and turned the pants inside out. (Kiriakou had never known or heard of such a rule.)”
Gosztola reported that “BBC News came to interview him at the prison one morning. They were supposed to talk to him at 8:30 am, but they were an hour late. He learned that the woman they had sent to do the interview was told she could not enter the prison in her skirt. She had to drive to the nearest town and buy a pair of pants.”
Hamsher and Gosztola learned from Kiriakou that “Recent weeks have been intense for him with officers ordering his roommate Dave comes down to talk to Special Investigative Service (SIS) to inform on Kiriakou. They wanted him to tell them how he was getting his letters out of the prison…An officer also tried to pull his desk out from the wall of his housing unit in order to “stop” him from writing letters from prison.”
THANK GOD FOR GOOD FRIENDS
Gregorakis told TNH Kiriakou is doing well, but he was feeling a little depressed. “I think it was due to the weather, but when you are separated from your family like that and you’re thrust into that situation, how can you not be depressed.”
He tries to visit Kiriakou as often as he can. “John’s been a dear friend for quite a few years,” he said. His roots are in Rhodes, like Kiriakou’s, and he is a musician – a bouzouki player with his own band, the Greek Company Orchestra based in Pittsburgh. Before that, he played in a band with John’s father Chris Kiriakou, whose uncle is from Canonsburg, PA, where Gregorakis lives.
Gregorakis first met Kiriakou at the memorial for his father, and they became friends. “I helped him publicize his book,” he said, getting him interviews with Pittsburgh radio stations, “and we became close through that. He turned out to be a very good friend. A very interesting man I might add.”
He paused and continued: “He’s done a lot for his country and unfortunately this is the thanks he gets from the political guys.”
His AHEPA chapter, number 156, had a meeting earlier in the week in Canonsburg. “I told them I am writing a letter to our congressman and I want you to sign it, and they agreed. The more signatures we get, the better off we are,” he said, and he encourages other chapters to write their own congressmen about John’s plight.
He also recently spoke to the local Pan Rhodian society and they also agreed to sign. “I told them we have all-but-forgotten this guy. He is a fellow Rhodian, he is in trouble, he is being wrongfully accused in something that is politically motivated and he is being scapegoated. They agreed and said they will do everything they can,” he said
“Our Metropolitan, Savas of Pittsburgh, is a good man and he has developed an interest in John’s case and plans to visit him sometime in March. Fr. Michael Kallaur of Holy Cross in Pittsburgh has been a regular visitor,” Gregorakis said.
During his January interview with TNH, Kiriakou expressed his appreciation for the people who visit and write him and help him financially.
“People really care…I get 40, 50 letters a day. That’s what kept me going.” Of Metropolitan Savas of Pittsburgh, he said, “he has been terrific…He emails me, prays for my family and he will visit me soon.” Metropolitan Savas acknowledged the spiritual and psychological value of visits for both the prisoner and the visitor, citing Christ’s declaration “I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” He added, “Truly everything we do for people in need is an offering to God.”
At press time, The National Herald is waiting for responses from several congressional offices and Greek-American organizations, including AHEPA that are interested in Kiriakou’s case.
Andy Manatos, the founder and president of the National Coordinated Effort of Hellenes told TNH “Our experience with John Kiriakou found him to be first rate. He is a bright, loyal and effective American patriot and public servant.”
Michael Hartigan, Communications Director for Representative Niki Tsongas, told TNH “The Congresswoman is aware of the case and finds the new allegations concerning, but does not have any additional knowledge outside of what has been reported in the media. She will continue to monitor the situation.”
Kiriakou urges Greek-Americans to appeal to their Congress members and ask them to contact the BOP and request that his term end with nine months at a halfway house near his family. Sample letters can be found on firedoglake.com.