RSN Fundraising Banner
FB Share
Email This Page
add comment

Kiriakou writes: "The federal government's program to reduce prison sentences for thousands of federal offenders sentenced under draconian drug laws will fail to help almost anybody without the immediate intervention of the White House. In the meantime, thousands of federal drug offenders are stuck in a rut with no end in sight."

John Kiriakou in the documentary Silenced. (photo: AFI Docs)
John Kiriakou in the documentary Silenced. (photo: AFI Docs)

The Clemency Project, Another Obama Mirage?

By John Kiriakou, Reader Supported News

27 January 16


he federal government’s program to reduce prison sentences for thousands of federal offenders sentenced under draconian drug laws will fail to help almost anybody without the immediate intervention of the White House. In the meantime, thousands of federal drug offenders are stuck in a rut with no end in sight.

The Justice Department announced the Clemency Project in 2014 as a way for drug offenders to argue that their sentences are overly long, and that, if their crimes had been committed today, they would have been given significantly less time in prison. For many federal prisoners, this program is the only chance they have to have some semblance of a real life, to die outside prison walls, or to spend whatever time they may have left with family.

The way the program is supposed to operate is that any federal drug offender who meets a strict set of criteria can apply for a sentence reduction. If they meet these criteria, they are assigned an attorney, and that attorney can go before a federal judge and ask for resentencing.

The criteria are that the prisoner must be currently serving a federal sentence in prison and, by operation of law, likely would have received a substantially lower sentence if convicted of the same offense today; the prisoner must be a non-violent, low-level offender without significant ties to large-scale criminal organizations, gangs, or cartels; the prisoner must have served at least 10 years of his sentence; the prisoner must have no significant criminal history; he must have demonstrated good conduct in prison; and he must have no history of violence prior to or during his current incarceration.

I spent 23 months in prison after blowing the whistle on the CIA’s illegal and immoral torture program. During those 23 months, I made friends, many of whom were doing very long stretches for what seemed to me to be innocuous drug offenses. When the Clemency Project was first announced, it seemed too good to be true. I fear that as the end of the Obama administration nears, it may be.

Let me give you some examples of the people this program is supposed to help. My closest friend in prison was “Mark.” Mark is in his mid-40s and is from Philadelphia. Back in the 1990s, Mark’s stepfather taught him how to make high quality methamphetamine, which they and a group of cohorts then sold to a crime ring in the city. There were nine people in the conspiracy.

After about six months, Mark decided that this wasn’t the life for him, and he voluntarily left the operation. He was the only person to do so. Mark went on to open a successful small business that employed a half dozen people, he got engaged, and he started to build a life for himself. 

Years passed. Finally the FBI, DEA, and ATF swooped in and arrested everybody except Mark. He waited another year for the other shoe to drop and, finally, he was arrested, too.

Mark refused to testify against his co-defendants. He didn’t realize that they had all agreed to testify against him. Eight of the defendants took pleas and got sentences of five and a half years. Mark went to trial, where he was found guilty of conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine. 

Despite the fact that he was the only defendant to leave the conspiracy, and despite the fact that he had the least involvement in the conspiracy, he was given three consecutive sentences of life without parole. That was later reduced on appeal – to 30 years. This was for a first-time, nonviolent drug offender.

Mark has been in prison for more than 16 years. His record has been exemplary. He’s earned a variety of certifications, he has a loving and supportive family, and he’s never been in trouble. He can and should be a productive member of society. His only hope is the Clemency Project.

Mark’s case is not unusual. There are thousands of people in our prisons like him. And many are in even worse situations. The Huffington Post recently reported on the story of Carlos Tapia-Ponce, a 94-year-old serving a life sentence for managing a cocaine warehouse. He has been in prison for 26 years and has twice been denied compassionate release for chronic health problems. Even though he has also been denied release under the Clemency Project, his attorney is appealing the decision, and the application apparently will be reconsidered. If the Clemency Project is not for Carlos Tapia-Ponce, then who is it for? Is this 94-year-old man that much of a threat?

One question that the Justice Department – and sentencing judges – ought to ask themselves is, “Is society truly served by keeping these people in prison, in some cases for the rest of their lives?” I would posit that it is not. Society would be better served if these prisoners could work, pay taxes, tend to their families, and lead normal lives. Long sentences are punitive. They don’t help “society” in any way.

As for the President, addressing draconian drug sentences is a great idea, even if it doesn’t address the sentencing laws themselves. The Clemency Project has the potential to help thousands of people – indeed, thousands of families – rebuild their lives. But it will only work if the Justice Department can process the applications. And that hasn’t happened. A year after the program was announced, only two out of 30,000 prisoners had had their sentences shortened. By December 2015, the list of those whose sentences were commuted grew by only another 95

We need presidential action right now. Without it there will be no legacy of justice in drug sentencing. And there’s not a lot of time. 

John Kiriakou is an associate fellow with the Institute for Policy Studies. He is a former CIA counterterrorism officer and a former senior investigator with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News. your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+37 # reiverpacific 2016-01-27 14:14
He badly needs good medical treatment but they won't even let him out, supervised, for that, or parole him, i spite of being a "Model Prisoner" -bit of an oxymoron that phrase, innit?
As I've written and stated often before, US "Justice" is VERY selective and bendable.
+24 # susanlno 2016-01-27 14:38
Unfortunately, the "Justice" Department never stops to ask what's best for society or how anyone is helped by sentencing laws. They have chosen to concern themselves solely with the mechanism of the law, not with whether it is just.
+18 # RobertMStahl 2016-01-27 14:49


+4 # lorenbliss 2016-01-27 14:50
Q: When can you be certain Barack Obama is lying?

A: Whenever he promises anything that benefits the 99 Percent.
+4 # fletch1165 2016-01-27 15:23
B: A lie is anything the mainstream press says is absolutely true.
+2 # lorenbliss 2016-01-27 15:36
That too -- though their short-term weather reports (usually) pass the bullshit test.
+21 # economagic 2016-01-27 15:04
The American system of criminal justice is in reality a criminal system of "justice," but that is not news. In very few cases is it a "correctional" system, almost purely a system of punishment with the same purposes as that imagined by Orwell.
+19 # oakes721 2016-01-27 16:07
It is the American Private Profit Prison System and nothing to do with justice or the public interest.
+4 # Buddha 2016-01-27 18:27
This has been an entire Presidency of "transformative Presidency" mirages, or soaring Progressive rhetoric followed by the same old New Democrat neo-liberal screwjobs. Hillary will be more of the same.
+5 # RMDC 2016-01-27 19:19
The US justice system is broken. So is almost everything else in the US. The water is poisoned with lead. The bridges are falling down. The schools are failing. Wages are going down while working hours and productivity are going up. The stock market is crashing -- again.

There is too much to fix. It cannot be done. The US is now one huge (or as Trump says Uge) looting scramble. Everyone is looting the system.
+5 # PCPrincess 2016-01-28 00:22
I'm so absolutely frustrated at what appears to have been a complete loss of eight years that could have been filled with progressive achievements. Achievements that ENRICH, not destroy human lives. I'm so disappointed with Obama's presidency and at this point, if anyone other than Mr. Sanders is elected, I have NO hope whatsoever for this country and for a majority of human beings that inhabit it. I fear that the minority of us with the necessary empathy levels to concern ourselves with what is best for all will not be enough to keep this country stitched together. Already, many of this countries citizens have completely given in to lesser emotions and hatred and will be no help whatsoever in helping to get our #$*@ back on track.
+7 # Suzy 2016-01-28 01:55
Maybe if people like Michigan Gov. Snyder, crooked bankers, hedge fund managers, corporate evaders, etc., would spend some time as regular inmates in private prisons, they'd develop a zeal for prison reform.
0 # Art947 2016-01-28 19:22
There is an old musical whose title best summarizes candidate Barack Obama. That title is "Promises, Promises."

Pres. Obama talks a good game, however, he, and his appointees, seem to be much talk and little action.

End Citizens United. Where is that executive order requiring Federal contractors to divulge their campaign spending?

Overly harsh sentences. What takes so long for the Justice Department and the President to pardon those unjustly sentenced?

Citizens poisoned by the government of Michigan. How long will it take before Snyder and his henchmen and women are arrested and prosecuted?

Misuse of Federal property. Why is Cliven Bundy still free, grazing his cattle on our lands, and not paying for the privilege?

Shall I go on.....?

THE NEW STREAMLINED RSN LOGIN PROCESS: Register once, then login and you are ready to comment. All you need is a Username and a Password of your choosing and you are free to comment whenever you like! Welcome to the Reader Supported News community.