Former Secretary of State and Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry told Politico this week that he is considering a run for president in 2020. Kerry didn’t come out and declare himself a candidate, but he did say that he wants to be “a part of the future of the Democratic Party and of the country.” I say, “No thanks.” Kerry is exactly the kind of failed neoliberal politician who pushed the Democratic Party to the right, tried to out-Republican the Republicans on foreign policy and, in the end, gave us Donald Trump.
I worked for John Kerry for two-and-a-half years during 2009-2011. Kerry was the senior senator from Massachusetts and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC). I was the committee’s senior investigator. Kerry had told me in early 2009, just after Barack Obama was elected president, but before the inauguration, that he wanted to recreate the SFRC’s investigative function, which had been phased out in the late 1970s. He said that he wanted deep, hard-hitting investigations that would expose waste, fraud, abuse, and illegality. He had followed my whistleblowing on the CIA’s torture program, and he thought I was the person for the job. I gladly accepted.
My first investigation was a gimme. I learned that all US passports were being made in Thailand using security chips that had been manufactured in China. Crazy, right? It stood to reason that the Chinese, if they had wanted to, could easily have hacked into a US passport and done with it what they wished. I wrote the report, sent it to the media, and the State Department announced that it would seek US vendors for future passports.
He’s a neoliberal interventionist who has long partnered with the military-industrial complex. It’s time for a change.
For the next two years, though, nothing was as easy as that. Shortly after joining the SFRC, I got a call from a noted human rights activist. He told me that he had spoken with a young man who had been a 12-year-old boy in 2001. The boy happened to be in Mazar e-Sharif, a city in northern Afghanistan, on the day the city fell to the US-backed Northern Alliance. On October 31 and November 1, 2001, more than 2000 Taliban fighters had given themselves up en masse to the Northern Alliance, which in turn asked US officials what to do. There certainly wasn’t a prison in Afghanistan big enough to hold all these prisoners at once. A decision was made to put them in containers and truck them out into the desert, where they would be held until they could be divided up and sent to small prisons and jails around the country. The problem was that the containers had no air holes, no ventilation, no food, and no water. The trip to the desert took more than eight hours. And when the trucks finished the trip, nearly every prisoner was dead. One of the 16 survivors told me that the bodies had fallen out of the trucks “like sardines out of a can” when the doors were finally opened. It became known as the Dasht e-Leili Massacre. More importantly, the boy said that he had seen two men at the site of the “box up” who were wearing jeans and black tee shirts, speaking English, and issuing orders. Only the CIA was in Dasht e-Leili at the time, and I wanted to get to the bottom of the story.
Crimes against humanity fell on deaf ears
When I told Kerry, and I reminded him that candidate Barack Obama had promised an investigation, he told me to hold it. He wanted the White House to take the lead. I waited a year and the White House did nothing. When I said again that I wanted to take up the investigation, Kerry killed it. He didn’t want to embarrass the president, he said. My entreaties that we were talking about crimes against humanity fell on deaf ears. The investigation was over and my report was never published.
Several months later, a journalist called me to say that he had a source who said that the CIA was violating a certain agreement that it had with the State Department. The CIA won’t let me say what the agreement was, but I can tell you that the point was to protect the identities of CIA officers who were complicit in the torture program. The agreement helped to ensure that no CIA officer would ever be brought to justice, either in the United States or abroad, for torturing prisoners. I wrote a letter to the CIA under Kerry’s signature asking for clarification. Six weeks passed. Finally, a colleague walked into my office and said, “The Agency sent a response to your letter.” I told him that I hadn’t seen any response and that I had just checked my mail a few minutes earlier. “They classified it Top Secret,” he said. My clearance at the time was only at the Secret level, so I asked what it said. “It said ‘Go fuck yourself’” was the response. I appealed to Kerry. We couldn’t let the CIA bully us, I told him. We were an oversight committee! He told me to drop the investigation. Embarrassing the CIA, he said, was the last thing he wanted to do.
I finally decided, against my better judgment, to self-censor. I would initiate an investigation that wasn’t controversial and that wouldn’t embarrass the White House. (More importantly, I couldn’t risk embarrassing Kerry, who wanted desperately to be Secretary of State. He talked about it constantly.) I decided to do an investigation of US policy toward Haiti. Most Haitians live in abject poverty. The country is the poorest in the western hemisphere and a long line of presidents have promised to help develop the Haitian economy, only to fail, one after the other.
Exploiting poorest of the poor
I learned that there are seven families that control the Haitian economy. Interestingly, all seven of those families are white, while almost everybody else in the country is black. The white families are largely involved in the production of textiles that are then exported to the US. They pay their employees pennies an hour, sell the clothing for market rates, and get rich on the backs of Haiti’s poor. How controversial a subject could that possibly be?
But again, Kerry killed the investigation. This time I was incredulous. “Why?” I asked. As it turned out, those seven white families were represented by Washington power lawyer and lobbyist Greg Craig. And Greg Craig is John Kerry’s best friend.
I remember also my first week on the job at SFRC. My wife asked me how it had gone and what I thought of Kerry. I remember telling her that “the American people would be shocked at how conservative he is.” I certainly was. Kerry was a supporter of the Iraq war and the subsequent US troop presence there. He supported the war in Afghanistan and the continued US troop presence there. He supported US military interventions in Syria, Libya, and elsewhere. He supported sanctions on North Korea, Russia, and China. What kind of progressive is that? Sure, he was good on Iran, Cuba, and climate change, but I’m hard-pressed to differentiate the Obama/Kerry foreign policy from any mainstream Republican foreign policy.
“Please do not ever attempt to contact me again.”
I will add one personal note. I was arrested in January 2012 after blowing the whistle on the CIA’s torture program. By February 2013, I had taken a plea to a lesser charge. I was more than $1 million in debt to my attorneys, my family was wrecked, and I simply couldn’t risk 45 years in prison after the government offered me 30 months to make the whole thing go away. By then Kerry was Secretary of State. I decided to send him a heartfelt appeal. I sent an email to his personal account and I begged him to weigh in with the president to commute my sentence. The conviction would still stand, I said, but I could remain home to work and support my family. Kerry sent me a response a few days later: “Please do not ever attempt to contact me again.”
Sure, I have a personal beef with John Kerry. But my political problems with him vastly outweigh the personal. John Kerry couldn’t beat George W. Bush. He’ll be 76 years old at the time of the 2020 election. He’s a neoliberal interventionist who has long partnered with the military-industrial complex. It’s time for a change. There are at least 20 Democrats currently considering a run for president. A lot of them are attractive candidates and I think would be great presidents. John Kerry isn’t one of them. It’s time for him to go back to his house in Boston (or Georgetown or Ketchum, Idaho, or Fox Chapel, Pennsylvania, or Martha’s Vineyard) and let the next generation of Democratic leaders have a shot. He had his chance. It’s time for him to go.
(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.)
(Illustration by Seth L. Taylor, 2018)
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