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Drone Whistleblower Daniel Hale Is a Truth-Teller in a Time of Systemic Deceit and Lethal Secrecy

by Jeremy Scahill, published on The Intercept, July 30, 2021

ince the arrest and indictment of Daniel Hale on charges that he leaked the documents that formed the basis for The Intercept’s series “The Drone Papers,” as well as documents about the government’s secret watchlisting system, I have wanted to speak publicly about this unjust prosecution. However, due to security concerns, legal advice, and a desire not to hinder, in any way, Hale’s defense or to aid the government in its disgraceful prosecution, I have been unable to do so. Now that the circumstances have changed, I am able to share some aspects of my thoughts. In doing so, I am speaking only for myself and not for The Intercept or anyone else.

Daniel Hale is a man of tremendous conscience, courage, and moral clarity. It is an abomination that this brave whistleblower has been sentenced to nearly four years in prison after being convicted of exposing the horrors of the U.S. drone assassination programs, the killing of civilians, and the Kafkaesque “terror” watchlisting system run by the government.

President Barack Obama’s Justice Department did not prosecute Hale, but the Trump administration dug up the case and threw the book at Hale in an obvious ploy to stanch leaks about President Donald Trump and his corrupt administration. The indictment Trump’s prosecutors crafted was a dishonest piece of political propaganda intended to criminalize Hale and attack the freedom of the press.

The initial threat of decades in prison against Hale was a cudgel deployed by prosecutors in an effort to break Hale’s spirit and to frighten other prospective whistleblowers. That President Joe Biden’s Justice Department continued this prosecution instead of dropping the Trump administration’s case serves as an ominous reminder that the war on whistleblowers is a permanent fixture of the U.S. system. The use of the Espionage Act by successive administrations to prosecute whistleblowers is an affront to basic liberties and the constitutional rights of the accused, as it prevents people of conscience from presenting a real defense before a judge or jury. Its use to target dissent, independent journalism, and whistleblowing is an authoritarian weapon masquerading as a law, and it should be abolished.

In 2013, Daniel Hale and I were separately invited to speak at a public forum alongside a Yemeni American activist in Washington, D.C., about drone strikes and the murderous U.S. war in Yemen. As I listened to Hale speak that day, he struck me as a deeply moral person who was profoundly grappling with the role he had played in a lethal global system of assassination. I found him to be a thoughtful, sincere, caring person with an inherent degree of selflessness and honesty rare in our society. Hale appeared to be viscerally struggling with the nature of the work that he had done on behalf of the U.S. government and the horrors he had witnessed.

The Trump Justice Department indictment against Hale was anemic in its “evidence” and replete with innuendo and circumstantial events dishonestly crafted and presented as a substitute for facts. The government spied on Hale and manipulated his communications to paint a grossly distorted picture of his character and motivations that served the prosecutors’ campaign to railroad him.

It has been particularly disheartening to see people purporting to support Hale repeating Trump Justice Department assertions as established fact. There have been a lot of lies told about what happened in this case — in the Trump Justice Department indictment, by the prosecutors, on social media, and, unfortunately, in some news reports. Contrary to what the judge and prosecutors in this case stated and implied, it is evident that Hale was not motivated by trying to impress a journalist or anyone else. Hale was motivated by love of his fellow humans and by a deep and abiding sense of duty — duty to protect the innocent and the defenseless, as well as dedication to a sense of morality none of his detractors come close to matching. He is a noble teller of truths in a time of systemic deceit and lethal secrecy.

Among the “crimes” that Hale was convicted of are the following: revealing that, at times, nearly nine out of 10 people killed in so-called targeted strikes by the U.S. are not the intended targets; exposing the complicity of top U.S. government officials in a secret kill chain that decides who should be assassinated by drone strike; exposing that the U.S. government officially labels unknown people it kills as “enemies killed in action” unless they are posthumously proven to have been civilians; and exposing the secret watchlisting rulebook used to label people, including U.S. citizens, as “known or suspected terrorists” without evidence that they did anything wrong.

Daniel Hale should be pardoned and released, and the government should pay him restitution for the trauma it has inflicted on him for daring to speak out, at great personal risk, for the victims of wars and extrajudicial assassinations funded by U.S. taxpayers. He deserves the gratitude of good people everywhere for his courage, bravery, and sacrifice. It is a grave injustice that a man who blew the whistle on the killing of civilians is in jail and that those who murder them receive medals or appear as pundits on cable news.


Jeremy Scahill is a Senior Correspondent and Editor-at-Large at The Intercept.  He is an investigative reporter, war correspondent, and author of the international best-selling books, “Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield” and “Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.”




Daniel Hale and the Soldier Conscripted as Executioner

by Judith Bello, published on Stop the Wars at Home and Abroad, July 31, 2021

On July 27th, Whistleblower Daniel Hale plead to one count of espionage and was sentenced to 45 months in prison. Five years after ransacking his home, confiscating his computer, phone other materials, the government charged Daniel with 5 counts under the espionage act. Following his plea, his bond was revoked and he was placed in solitary confinement for several months prior to sentencing. They are sending a message: ” if you tell the truth about our crimes, we will come after you and make you pay”. This is what the jailing of Chelsea Manning was about and what the Assange case is about. Whistleblowers have suffered increasingly harsh penalties and long prison sentences since the time of Obama, who put more whistleblowers in prison than all other presidents combined. It is an inversion of justice that Daniel should have to spend any time in prison. The treatment of all these courageous individuals is an outrage.

What was Daniel Hale’s crime? In 2015, he shared some classified documents about the system used by the US military to control a fleet of drones deployed around the globe to surveil and often to kill people. And he shared the truth about the consequences of those strikes for the, more often than not, innocent victims. Daniel shared information that he believed the people of the United States need to know to understand what our government is doing in our name, yet he was prosecuted under a law enacted to punish spies during the first World War. Like Chelsea Manning, John Kiriakou, Reality Winner and numerous other whistleblowers, including Julian Assange, Daniel was charged under the Espionage Act to ensure a maximal penalty.

Between 2009 and 20013, Daniel was deployed to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan where he participated in the drone program as an intelligence analyst, tracking cell phones associated with men targeted for drone assassination.  His experience there was deeply traumatic and left him with severe PTSD.   Seeing the men he located targeted and blown to pieces by missile strikes filled him with guilt and horror, as it should any sane person.

Drone warfare frames the experience of the soldier as executioner.  In a moving letter to judge O’Grady, who will be sentencing him, Daniel said:

“By the rules of engagement, it may have been permissible for me to have helped to kill those men—whose language I did not speak, customs I did not understand, and crimes I could not identify—in the gruesome manner that I did. Watch them die. But how could it be considered honorable of me to continuously have laid in wait for the next opportunity to kill unsuspecting persons, who, more often than not, are posing no danger to me or any other person at the time.”

Following his discharge from the Airforce in 2013, Daniel immersed himself in antiwar activism.    As he was preparing to return to school he was offered a lucrative, high tech desk job as a military contractor, and he took the job.   Like many soldiers returning from the United States dirty wars he wavered between guilt and depression, and denial.  He once again buried his guilt and confusion until, a few months on, while watching a video of a drone strike with friends at work, in his own words he “felt his heart break into pieces” and his “conscience, once held at bay, came roaring back to life“.  So he made the decision to share the information available to him with a reporter he had met during his period of antiwar, anti-drone warfare activism.

Daniel, who has out on bond awaiting sentencing,  was called in for a routine check-in on April 28th.  When he arrived at the court, he was arrested on a supposed bond violation, imprisoned and placed in solitary confinement to await his sentencing alone, with limited access to books and no mental health support.

The prosecution demanded an extremely high sentence.  They say he took the contract job as a plan to acquire the documents he later released to the public.  But  Daniel’s story of a deep struggle with guilt and denial is typical of soldiers suffering from severe  PTSD.   Daniel’s final choice to reveal the drone program in all its power and horror was the right one.   He is a hero.

The government’s decision to subject Daniel Hale to maximum punishment is the wrong one.  It is wrong because the government should be accountable to the people.   It is wrong because they should provide support for those who are harmed by their insistence on endless global wars.   It is wrong because it denies Daniel’s suffering and the suffering of tens of thousands of military veterans.  It is wrong because drone warfare, global policing and targeted assassination are bad policies; unjust, morally reprehensible policies of mechanized murder to rule by fear and mayhem.

Thousands of soldiers return from war suffering from deep trauma.   Some drink or use drugs.  Some commit violence against family members, other soldiers or even strangers.   Some commit suicide.   In this context, Daniel’s decision to tell the truth about what the military drone program is and how it operates is a sign of deep strength of character.  We cannot  abandon Daniel Hale.

In these days of increasing government corruption and concealment, reckless militarism, censorship and propaganda, truth-tellers are precious.

#StandWithDanielHale

#PardonDanielHale

#EndDroneWarfare

#BanKillerDrones

*Featured Image:  twitter.com/#FreeDanielHale


Judith Bello is Editor of this website as well as of the United National Antiwar Coalition blog, End the Wars at Home and Abroad.  She is a founding member of Upstate Drone Action and on the UNAC Administrative Committee.




Forty-five Months in Prison for Drone War Whistleblower Daniel Hale

Statement on The Nuclear Resistor

On July 27, Daniel Hale was sentenced to 45 months in prison, having pled guilty in April to one count of violating the Espionage Act.

The 33-year-old Air Force veteran first spoke out publicly against drone warfare in 2013, and later shared government documents that blew the whistle on secret watchlists, targeted drone killings, and other abuses in the “War on Terror.” The information Hale shared revealed gross human rights violations in the preparation of target lists for deadly attacks where 90% of the people killed were not the intended targets. In 2014, his home was raided by the FBI. Documents and electronic devices were seized, but he was not arrested until May, 2019. He was charged with five counts of violating the Espionage Act. Hale changed his plea last March, days before his scheduled trial.

Jesselyn Radack, an attorney who has advised Daniel Hale, told CovertAction Magazine that Hale changed his plea because he “would not have received a fair trial because the arcane Espionage Act does not allow for a public interest defense. Meaning, Hale’s motive of wanting to inform the public could not be raised as a defense to the charge of disclosure of information.”

Before his sentencing, Hale’s supporters released this 11-page hand-written letter to Judge Liam O’Grady. It is a moving, deeply personal account of how his conscience, “once held at bay, came roaring back to life,” leading to today’s sentencing.

Hale made a brief statement in court today before he was sentenced, saying: “I believe that it is wrong to kill, but it is especially wrong to kill the defenseless.” He said he shared what “was necessary to dispel the lie that drone warfare keeps us safe, that our lives are worth more than theirs.”

More information about Daniel Hale is at https://standwithdanielhale.org/.

SUPPORT DANIEL HALE

CodePink, which organized the 2013 conference on drone warfare where Daniel Hale first spoke out and apologized for his role in drone attacks, has launched a petition to President Biden to Pardon Daniel Hale. Sign here.

U.S. peace activists have held signs and banners in support of Daniel Hale at drone bases and elsewhere in the days leading up to sentencing, and other friends and supporters were present in the courtroom. People are invited to participate in a week of actions in solidarity with Daniel Hale from July 28 – August 3 (see announcement below).

While Hale will soon be moved to a federal prison, letters of support can now be sent to:

Daniel E. Hale
William G. Truesdale Adult Detention Center
2001 Mill Rd.
Alexandria, VA 22314

Correspondence must be in blue or black ink on white paper.

In 2014, Air Force veteran Daniel Hale blew the whistle on secret watchlists, targeted drone killings, and other abuses in the War on Terror.  The information Hale shared revealed gross human rights violations in the preparation of target lists for deadly attacks where 90% of the people killed were not the intended targets. He was charged under the Espionage Act and pled guilty to one count.

People throughout the U.S. went to federal buildings, drone bases, public squares and elsewhere in the week following his sentencing  with signs and banners expressing solidarity with and support for Daniel Hale.

Please take pictures and post them far and wide on social media using the hashtag #FreeDanielHale

Remember to let local media know of your plans, and send them a press release with photos afterwards.

* Whistleblowing is Not a Crime
* President Biden: Pardon Daniel Hale
* Free Daniel Hale – Exposed Killer Drone Crimes
* Thank You, Drone War Whistleblower Daniel Hale
* Exposing War Crimes is not a Crime
* Daniel Hale – Hero, not Criminal
* We Stand With Daniel Hale, Killer Drone Whistleblower
* Stop the Killing, Stop the Terror, Stop the Drones




Why was Daniel Hale Silenced? Daniel Hale Must be Pardoned!

Statement by Ban Killer Drones Coalition

We raise our voice in deep concern on the silencing and imprisonment of Daniel Hale. Daniel Hale did not commit a crime.

It is outrageous that Daniel Hale was charged, prosecuted and sentenced to 45 months in Federal prison for exposing a criminal program. Daniel Hale should be pardoned!

Daniel Hale leaked documents that revealed extremely high civilian death rates in U.S. drone attacks. The 33-year-old Air Force veteran first spoke out publicly against drone warfare in 2013. Daniel Hale’s whistleblowing also uncovered secret U.S. watch lists, Presidential drone kill lists, and other criminal and unethical aspects of the U.S. deployment of killer drones.

Since the Nuremberg Tribunal we have been taught that “just following orders” is not a defense. Soldiers, even in time of war, have a moral obligation to oppose illegal orders in every possible way, especially the killing, for any reason, of non-combatants.

Daniel Hale revealed that a U.S. government “kill chain” targeted its victims for extrajudicial execution based on minimal evidence and that, in one 5 month period in Afghanistan, 90% of the people killed in drone attacks were not the intended targets. NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden explained that that showed that the majority of those killed were “innocents, bystanders, or not the intended target. We couldn’t have established that without Daniel Hale’s voice.” Daniel Hale felt a responsibility to oppose these criminal acts.

With much publicity we are told that U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq are withdrawing. But attacks on defenseless civilians through U.S. drone wars and economic sanctions are intensifying.

Daniel Hale felt deeply that the people in the U.S. have a right to know the crimes committed in their names.

We also have a responsibility to raise our voices in opposition to these continuing wars and to the sentencing of Daniel Hale.

The war criminals who authorize the use of thousands of drone strikes and other criminal killings should be prosecuted.

Sign the Petition for a pardon for Daniel Hale:

https://www.codepink.org/danielhale

Initial signers of the above statement:

  • CODEPINK
  • Ban Killer Drones
  • International Action Center
  • Peace Action New York State
  • “Rising Together!”
  • Upstate NY Coalition to End the Wars and Ground the Drones
  • Wisconsin Coalition to End the Wars and Ground the Drones
  • Brandywine Peace Community, Philadelphia
  • Occupy Beale Air Force Base
  • The Nuclear Resister
  • Fellowship of Reconciliation USA
  • Veterans for Peace New York City Chapter 34
  • United National Antiwar Coalition

 




Drone Whistleblower Gets 45 Months in Prison for Revealing Ongoing US War Crimes

by Marjorie Cohn, published on Truthout, July 28, 2021

On July 27, a federal district court judge in Alexandria, Virginia, sentenced former U.S. Air Force intelligence analyst Daniel Hale to 45 months in prison for revealing evidence of U.S. war crimes.

In 2015, Hale, whose job involved identifying targets for drone strikes, provided journalist Jeremy Scahill with secret military documents and slides that exposed shocking details about the U.S. drone program. Hale’s revelations became the basis of “The Drone Papers,” which was published on October 15, 2015, by The Intercept.

Although the government admitted it had no evidence that direct harm resulted from Hale’s revelations, in 2019, the Trump administration charged Hale with four counts of violating the Espionage Act and one count of theft of government property. Facing up to 50 years in prison, Hale pled guilty to one count that carries a maximum sentence of 10 years.

The leaked documents disclosed the “kill chain” the Obama administration used to determine whom to target. Countless civilians were killed using “signals intelligence” in undeclared war zones: Targeting decisions were made by following cell phones that might not be carried by suspected terrorists. The Drone Papers divulged that half of the intelligence used to identify potential targets in Yemen and Somalia was based on signals intelligence.

During one five-month period during January 2012 to February 2013, nearly 90 percent of those killed by drone strikes were not the intended target, according to The Drone Papers. But civilian bystanders were nonetheless classified as “enemies killed in action” unless proven otherwise.

Hale said, “It’s stunning the number of instances when selectors [used to identify “terrorist” targets] are misattributed to certain people.” Calling a missile fired at a target in a group of people a “leap of faith,” he noted, “it’s a phenomenal gamble.” Hale added, “Anyone caught in the vicinity is guilty by association.”

The Drone Papers reveal that reliance on drones actually undermines U.S. intelligence gathering. Drones terrorize communities, breeding resentment against Americans and making the United States more vulnerable to violence. Indeed, Hale wrote in his 11-page pre-sentencing letter, “the war had very little to do with preventing terror from coming into the United States and a lot more to do with protecting the profits of weapons manufacturers and so-called defense contractors.”

Drone strikes shield U.S. military members from harm in order to minimize Americans’ opposition to war. But drone operators who make or carry out remote targeting decisions nevertheless suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

At his sentencing hearing, Hale told U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady, “I believe that it is wrong to kill, but it is especially wrong to kill the defenseless.” Hale said he revealed what “was necessary to dispel the lie that drone warfare keeps us safe, that our lives are worth more than theirs.

You had to kill part of your conscience to keep doing your job,” Hale added.

In November 2013, I participated in a panel on the illegality of drones and targeted killing at a drone summit in Washington, D.C. Hale also spoke on a panel at that conference. He described how he located a man riding a motorcycle in the mountains who then met up with four other people and they sat around a campfire, drinking tea. Hale relayed information that resulted in a drone strike, killing all five men. He said he realized that he “was no longer part of something moral or sane or rational.” He had heard someone say that “terrorists are cowards” because they used improvised explosive devices (IEDs). “What was different,” Hale asked, “between that and the little red joystick that pushes a button thousands of miles away?”

Hale told the sentencing judge about this incident in his pre-sentencing letter, writing,

“Despite having peacefully assembled, posing no threat, the fate of the now tea drinking men had all but been fulfilled. I could only look on as I sat by and watched through a computer monitor when a sudden, terrifying flurry of hellfire missiles came crashing down, splattering purple-colored crystal guts on the side of the morning mountain.”

Hale’s revelations did not pose a threat to national security, even by traditional interpretations. Harry P. Cooper, a former senior CIA official, wrote in a declaration in Hale’s case that

“the disclosure of [the Drone Papers], at the time they were disclosed and made public, did not present any substantial risk of harm to the United States or to national security.”

Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Joe Biden have used armed drones to drop bombs on other countries in violation of international law. All four administrations have killed and are still killing untold numbers of civilians.

It is estimated that U.S. military and CIA drone operations have killed 9,000 to 17,000 people since 2004, including 2,200 children and many U.S. citizens. But those numbers are likely low because the U.S. military labels all individuals killed in those operations as presumptive “enemies killed in action.”

Bush authorized about 50 drone strikes that killed 296 alleged “terrorists” and 195 civilians in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Obama vastly increased the number of people killed with drones.

Obama presided over 10 times more drone strikes than his predecessor. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, during his two terms in office, Obama carried out 563 strikes — largely with drones — in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, killing between 384 and 807 civilians.

Obama’s 18-page Presidential Policy Guidance (PPG) was made public after a Freedom of Information Act request by the ACLU and resulting court order. It purported to outline targeting procedures for the use of lethal force outside “areas of active hostilities.” The PPG required that a target pose a “continuing imminent threat.” But a secret 2011 Justice Department white paper leaked in 2013 permitted the killing of a U.S. citizen even without “clear evidence that a specific attack on US persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.” The bar was presumably lower for non-U.S. citizens.

Obama’s PPG also mandated that there be “near certainty that an identified HVT [high-value terrorist] or other lawful terror target” is present before lethal force could be used against him. But the Obama administration mounted “signature strikes” that didn’t necessarily target individuals, but rather men of military age who were present in an area of suspicious activity.

It was also necessary to have “near certainty that non-combatants [civilians] would not be injured or killed.” But the revelations of The Drone Papers call into question the Obama administration’s compliance with that requirement as well. Plus, activists have emphasized that “near certainty” is a dangerous barometer when it comes to the decision of whether to take a human life.

Trump lowered the bar even further for drone strikes. His administration reduced the requisite level of confidence that a target was present in a strike zone from “near certainty” to “reasonable certainty.” Under Trump, targets were not limited to “high-value terrorists” but could include foot soldiers. Whereas decisions about drone bombings had been made at the highest levels of government — with Obama having the final say about who would be targeted — Trump allowed commanders in the field to make targeting decisions. Trump gave increased authority to the Pentagon and CIA to conduct drone strikes. He weakened the targeting rules in large areas of Somalia and Yemen by designating them as “areas of active hostilities.” And Trump eliminated the government’s commitment to report on civilian casualties.

During his first two years in office, Trump launched 2,243 drone strikes, compared to 1,878 in Obama’s eight years in office.

Biden Continues Drone Bombings

In March, Biden secretly set temporary limits on drone strikes outside of recognized battlefields. He has ordered a comprehensive review of whether to keep Trump’s relaxed rules in place, or return to Obama-era rules, or impose some middle ground. In any event, it is doubtful that Biden would comply any better than Obama did with the tighter rules.

Meanwhile, the United States conducted a drone strike against Shabab “militants” in Somalia on July 20. The White House had rejected some requests by the U.S. military’s Africa Command to conduct drone strikes against Shabab targets in Somalia because they didn’t meet the new rules. However, White House approval was considered unnecessary here because the Africa Command has authority to carry out strikes in support of allied forces under what the military calls “collective self-defense.” But that does not constitute lawful collective self-defense under the United Nations Charter.

Although Biden is withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan, he is continuing to launch airstrikes, including drone strikes, there. “We’ve been doing it where and when feasible, and we’ll keep doing it where and when feasible,” an official involved in operational planning said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Gen. Kenneth E. McKenzie Jr., the top U.S. general in charge of Afghanistan, refused to say whether airstrikes would continue past the cutoff date of August 31.

The Air Force is requesting $10 billion to perpetuate the U.S. imperial footprint in South Asia and the Middle East.

On June 30, 113 organizations, including Veterans for Peace, wrote a letter to Biden, “to demand an end to the unlawful program of lethal strikes outside any recognized battlefield, including through the use of drones.”

Drone Strikes Violate International Law

The UN Charter requires that international disputes be settled peacefully. It allows a country to use military force only in self-defense after an armed attack or with the consent of the UN Security Council. Neither the U.S. war in Iraq nor in Afghanistan complied with the Charter’s mandates.

Outside the context of active hostilities, the use of drones or other means for targeted killing is almost never likely to be legal,” Agnès Callamard, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, tweeted. She added that “intentionally lethal or potentially lethal force can only be used where strictly necessary to protect against an imminent threat to life.” Thus, Callamard said, the United States would need to demonstrate that the target “constituted an imminent threat to others.”

Targeted or political assassinations — also known as extrajudicial executions — violate international law. Willful killing is a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions and is punishable as a war crime under the U.S. War Crimes Act. Civilians must never be the target of military strikes. A targeted killing is only lawful if it is deemed necessary to protect life, and no other means — including capture or nonlethal incapacitation — is available to protect life.

Yet the Obama, Trump and Biden administrations have all prosecuted whistleblowers for revealing evidence of U.S. war crimes. In addition to Hale, those courageous folks include Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange and John Kiriakou, who revealed that CIA officials used waterboarding, which constitutes the war crime of torture.

Misuse of the Espionage Act

The Espionage Act of 1917 was enacted to prosecute foreign spies. It was never intended for use against whistleblowers. Nevertheless, Obama charged eight whistleblowers with violating the act, more than all prior presidents combined.

But although Obama refrained from indicting Assange for publishing evidence of U.S. war crimes (for fear of setting a dangerous precedent), Trump indicted Assange for 17 charges under the Espionage Act. Assange now faces 175 years in prison. A British judge denied Trump’s request that Assange be extradited to the U.S. to stand trial for those charges. But Biden has continued Trump’s appeal of the denial of extradition, notwithstanding the grave threat Assange’s prosecution poses to the First Amendment right to freedom of the press.

Hale is the first person sentenced under the Espionage Act during the Biden administration and he probably won’t be the last.

Ironically, Hale told the sentencing judge that he was a descendent of Nathan Hale, who was executed by the British for spying during the Revolutionary War. “I have but this one life to give in service of my country,” Hale said, quoting his ancestor.

Copyright, Truthout.org. Reprinted with permission.


Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, and a member of the bureau of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers and the advisory board of Veterans for Peace. Her books include Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues




Daniel Hale’s Letter to the Judge

by Daniel Hale, published on the Sparrow Project, July 23, 2021

It is not a secret that I struggle to live with depression and post traumatic stress disorder. Both stem from my childhood experience growing up in a rural mountain community and were compounded by exposure to combat during military service. Depression is a constant. Though stress, particularly stress caused by war, can manifest itself at different times and in different ways. The tell-tale signs of a person afflicted by PTSD and depression can often be outwardly observed and are practically universally recognizable. Hard lines about the face and jaw. Eyes, once bright and wide, now deepset and fearful. And an inexplicably sudden loss of interest in things that used to spark joy. These are the noticeable changes in my demeanor marked by those who knew me before and after military service. To say that the period of my life spent serving in the United States Air Force had an impression on me would be an understatement. It is more accurate to say that it irreversibly transformed my identity as an American. Having forever altered the thread of my life’s story, weaved into the fabric of our nation’s history. To better appreciate the significance of how this came to pass, I would like to explain my experience deployed to Afghanistan as it was in 2012 and how it is I came to violate the Espionage Act, as a result.

In my capacity as a signals intelligence analyst stationed at Bagram Airbase, I was made to track down the geographic location of handset cellphone devices believed to be in the possession of so-called enemy combatants. To accomplish this mission required access to a complex chain of globe-spanning satellites capable of maintaining an unbroken connection with remotely piloted aircraft, commonly referred to as drones. Once a steady connection is made and a targeted cell phone device is acquired, an imagery analyst in the U.S., in coordination with a drone pilot and camera operator, would take over using information I provided to surveil everything that occurred within the drone’s field of vision. This was done, most often, to document the day-to-day lives of suspected militants. Sometimes, under the right conditions, an attempt at capture would be made. Other times, a decision to strike and kill them where they stood would be weighed.

The first time that I witnessed a drone strike came within days of my arrival to Afghanistan. Early that morning, before dawn, a group of men had gathered together in the mountain ranges of Patika provence around a campfire carrying weapons and brewing tea. That they carried weapons with them would not have been considered out of the ordinary in the place I grew up, muchless within the virtually lawless tribal territories outside the control of the Afghan authorities. Except that among them was a suspected member of the Taliban, given away by the targeted cell phone device in his pocket. As for the remaining individuals, to be armed, of military age, and sitting in the presence of an alleged enemy combatant was enough evidence to place them under suspicion as well. Despite having peacefully assembled, posing no threat, the fate of the now tea drinking men had all but been fulfilled. I could only look on as I sat by and watched through a computer monitor when a sudden, terrifying flurry of hellfire missiles came crashing down, splattering purple-colored crystal guts on the side of the morning mountain.

Since that time and to this day, I continue to recall several such scenes of graphic violence carried out from the cold comfort of a computer chair. Not a day goes by that I don’t question the justification for my actions. By the rules of engagement, it may have been permissible for me to have helped to kill those men—whose language I did not speak, customs I did not understand, and crimes I could not identify—in the gruesome manner that I did. Watch them die. But how could it be considered honorable of me to continuously have laid in wait for the next opportunity to kill unsuspecting persons, who, more often than not, are posing no danger to me or any other person at the time. Nevermind honorable, how could it be that any thinking person continued to believe that it was necessary for the protection of the United States of America to be in Afghanistan and killing people, not one of whom present was responsible for the September 11th attacks on our nation. Notwithstanding, in 2012, a full year after the demise of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, I was a part of killing misguided young men who were but mere children on the day of 9/11.

Nevertheless, in spite of my better instincts, I continued to follow orders and obey my command for fear of repercussion. Yet, all the while, becoming increasingly aware that the war had very little to do with preventing terror from coming into the United States and a lot more to do with protecting the profits of weapons manufacturers and so-called defense contractors. The evidence of this fact was laid bare all around me. In the longest or most technologically advanced war in American history, contract mercenaries outnumbered uniform wearing soldiers 2 to 1 and earned as much as 10 times their salary. Meanwhile, it did not matter whether it was, as I had seen, an Afghan farmer blown in half, yet miraculously conscious and pointlessly trying to scoop his insides off the ground, or whether it was an American flag-draped coffin lowered into Arlington National Cemetery to the sound of a 21-gun salute. Bang, bang, bang. Both served to justify the easy flow of capital at the cost of blood—theirs and ours. When I think about this I am grief-stricken and ashamed of myself for the things I’ve done to support it.

The most harrowing day of my life came months into my deployment to Afghanistan when a routine surveillance mission turned into disaster. For weeks we had been tracking the movements of a ring of car bomb manufacturers living around Jalalabad. Car bombs directed at US bases had become an increasingly frequent and deadly problem that summer, so much effort was put into stopping them. It was a windy and clouded afternoon when one of the suspects had been discovered headed eastbound, driving at a high rate of speed. This alarmed my superiors who believe he might be attempting to escape across the border into Pakistan.

A drone strike was our only chance and already it began lining up to take the shot. But the less advanced predator drone found it difficult to see through clouds and compete against strong headwinds. The single payload MQ-1 failed to connect with its target, instead missing by a few meters. The vehicle, damaged, but still driveable, continued on ahead after narrowly avoiding destruction. Eventually, once the concern of another incoming missile subsided, the driver stopped, got out of the car, and checked himself as though he could not believe he was still alive. Out of the passenger side came a woman wearing an unmistakable burka. As astounding as it was to have just learned there had been a woman, possibly his wife, there with the man we intended to kill moments ago, I did not have the chance to see what happened next before the drone diverted its camera when she began frantically to pull out something from the back of the car.

A couple of days passed before I finally learned from a briefing by my commanding officer about what took place. There indeed had been the suspect’s wife with him in the car. And in the back were their two young daughters, ages 5 and 3 years old. A cadre of Afghan soldiers were sent to investigate where the car had stopped the following day. It was there they found them placed in the dumpster nearby. The eldest was found dead due to unspecified wounds caused by shrapnel that pierced her body. Her younger sister was alive but severely dehydrated. As my commanding officer relayed this information to us she seemed to express disgust, not for the fact that we had errantly fired on a man and his family, having killed one of his daughters; but for the suspected bomb maker having ordered his wife to dump the bodies of their daughters in the trash, so that the two of them could more quickly escape across the border. Now, whenever I encounter an individual who thinks that drone warfare is justified and reliably keeps America safe, I remember that time and ask myself how could I possibly continue to believe that I am a good person, deserving of my life and the right to pursue happiness.

One year later, at a farewell gathering for those of us who would soon be leaving military service, I sat alone, transfixed by the television, while others reminisced together. On television was breaking news of the president giving his first public remarks about the policy surrounding the use of drone technology in warfare. His remarks were made to reassure the public of reports scrutinizing the death of civilians in drone strikes and the targeting of American citizens. The president said that a high standard of “near certainty” needed to be met in order to ensure that no civilians were present. But from what I knew, of the instances where civilians plausibly could have been present, those killed were nearly always designated enemies killed in action unless proven otherwise. Nonetheless, I continued to heed his words as the president went on to explain how a drone could be used to eliminate someone who posed an “imminent threat” to the United States. Using the analogy of taking out a sniper, with his sights set on an unassuming crowd of people, the president likened the use of drones to prevent a would-be terrorist from carrying out his evil plot. But, as I understood it to be, the unassuming crowd had been those who lived in fear and the terror of drones in their skies and the sniper in this scenario had been me. I came to believe that the policy of drone assasination was being used to mislead the public that it keeps us safe, and when I finally left the military, still processing what I’d been a part of, I began to speak out, believing my participation in the drone program to have been deeply wrong.

I dedicated myself to anti-war activism, and was asked to partake in a peace conference in Washington, DC late November, 2013. People had come together from around the world to share experiences about what it is like living in the age of drones. Fazil bin Ali Jaber had journeyed from Yemen to tell us of what happened to his brother Salem bin Ali Jaber and their cousin Waleed. Waleed had been a policeman and Salem was a well-respected firebrand Imam, known for giving sermons to young men about the path towards destruction should they choose to take up violent jihad.

One day in August 2012, local members of Al Qaeda traveling through Fazil’s village in a car spotted Salem in the shade, pulled up towards him, and beckoned him to come over and speak to them. Not one to miss an opportunity to evangelize to the youth, Salem proceeded cautiously with Waleed by his side. Fazil and other villagers began looking on from afar. Farther still was an ever present reaper drone looking too.

As Fazil recounted what happened next, I felt myself transported back in time to where I had been on that day, 2012. Unbeknownst to Fazil and those of his village at the time was that they had not been the only watching Salem approach the jihadist in the car. From Afghanistan, I and everyone on duty paused their work to witness the carnage that was about to unfold. At the press of a button from thousands of miles away, two hellfire missiles screeched out of the sky, followed by two more. Showing no signs of remorse, I, and those around me, clapped and cheered triumphantly. In front of a speechless auditorium, Fazil wept.

About a week after the peace conference I received a lucrative job offer if I were to come back to work as a government contractor. I felt uneasy about the idea. Up to that point, my only plan post military separation had been to enroll in college to complete my degree. But the money I could make was by far more than I had ever made before; in fact, it was more than any of my college-educated friends were making. So, after giving it careful consideration, I delayed going to school for a semester and took the job.

For a long time I was uncomfortable with myself over the thought of taking advantage of my military background to land a cushy desk job. During that time I was still processing what I had been through and I was starting to wonder if I was contributing again to the problem of money and war by accepting to return as a defense contractor. Worse was my growing apprehension that everyone around me was also taking part in a collective delusion and denial that was used to justify our exorbitant salaries, for comparatively easy labor. The thing I feared most at the time was the temptation not to question it.

Then it came to be that one day after work I stuck around to socialize with a pair of co-workers whose talented work I had come to greatly admire. They made me feel welcomed, and I was happy to have earned their approval. But then, to my dismay, our brand-new friendship took an unexpectedly dark turn. They elected that we should take a moment and view together some archived footage of past drone strikes. Such bonding ceremonies around a computer to watch so-called “war porn” had not been new to me. I partook in them all the time while deployed to Afghanistan. But on that day, years after the fact, my new friends gaped and sneered, just as my old one’s had, at the sight of faceless men in the final moments of their lives. I sat by watching too; said nothing and felt my heart breaking into pieces.

Your Honor, the truest truism that I’ve come to understand about the nature of war is that war is trauma. I believe that any person either called-upon or coerced to participate in war against their fellow man is promised to be exposed to some form of trauma. In that way, no soldier blessed to have returned home from war does so uninjured. The crux of PTSD is that it is a moral conundrum that afflicts invisible wounds on the psyche of a person made to burden the weight of experience after surviving a traumatic event. How PTSD manifests depends on the circumstances of the event. So how is the drone operator to process this? The victorious rifleman, unquestioningly remorseful, at least keeps his honor intact by having faced off against his enemy on the battlefield. The determined fighter pilot has the luxury of not having to witness the gruesome aftermath. But what possibly could I have done to cope with the undeniable cruelties that I perpetuated?

My conscience, once held at bay, came roaring back to life. At first, I tried to ignore it. Wishing instead that someone, better placed than I, should come along to take this cup from me. But this too was folly. Left to decide whether to act, I only could do that which I ought to do before God and my own conscience. The answer came to me, that to stop the cycle of violence, I ought to sacrifice my own life and not that of another person.

So, I contacted an investigative reporter, with whom I had had an established prior relationship, and told him that I had something the American people needed to know.

Respectfully,
      Daniel Hale

 


Daniel Hale is an Airforce Veteran who served in Afghanistan as an intelligence analyst.   He became disillusioned with his work on seeing numerous videos of innocent civilians torn to pieces by drone strikes based on the information he provided.   After his discharge he provided information to a reporter with the Intercept on the technical  configuration of the US global drone system along with the truth about the efficacy and accuracy of drone killing which formed the basis of, a series of articles called “The Drone Papers”.




US Government Seeks Harshest Sentence Ever In Leak Case Against Drone Whistleblower

by Kevin Gosztola, published on The Dissenter, July 20, 2021

The United States government urged a federal court to sentence drone whistleblower Daniel Hale to at least nine years in prison for disclosing documents to a reporter.

Prosecutors maintained Hale joined the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA) to steal classified information so he could “ingratiate himself” with journalists. They even submitted secret evidence for the court alleging the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) “distributed” two of the documents in a “guidebook for its followers.”

“For those like Hale, who unilaterally decide to disclose classified information, the existence of criminal penalties that are theoretically harsh but practically lenient is not sufficient,” prosecutors declare in their sentencing memorandum [PDF]. “It is particularly important to deter those who, like Hale, might be tempted to gain access for the sole purpose of disclosing it. Such individuals must see that using positions in the intelligence community for self-aggrandizement will be harshly punished.”

“A significant sentence is necessary to demonstrate that the unauthorized disclosure of classified information is a serious crime with significant consequences,”

prosecutors add.

Hale was part of the drone program in the U.S. Air Force and later worked at the NGA. He pled guilty on March 31 to one charge of violating the Espionage Act, when he provided documents to Intercept co-founder Jeremy Scahill and anonymously wrote a chapter in Scahill’s book, The Assassination Complex: Inside the Government’s Secret Drone Warfare Program.

He was taken into custody and sent to the William G. Truesdale Detention Center in Alexandria, Virginia, on April 28. A therapist from pretrial and probation services named Michael violated patient confidentiality and shared details with the court related to his mental health.

Hale is scheduled to be sentenced in the Eastern District of Virginia on July 27, and the sentencing memorandum from the U.S. government reflects the vindictive posture of prosecutors, particularly since he pled guilty.

‘They Just Don’t Want To Play Ball’

Prosecutors refused to dismiss four additional charges but declined to request a trial on those charges. They left open the possibility of going to trial if they are unsatisfied with the harshness of the sentence. And they now manipulate Hale’s guilty plea in their argument for severe punishment in order to render it insignificant.

“[Hale] apparently does not accept that the documents that he provided to reporter had the potential to cause such ‘serious’ or ‘exceptionally grave’ damage to the national security,”

prosecutors contend.

“To trigger a reduction in offense level for acceptance of responsibility, a defendant must establish that he has accepted responsibility for all of the charged criminal conduct in the count of conviction (and, of course, all related conduct).”

Prosecutors indicate they would accept a sentence of seven years and 3 months if Hale admitted his whistleblowing risked “serious” or “exceptionally grave” damage to U.S. national security.

In other words, they do not believe Hale’s guilty plea is good enough to receive a sentence of five years or less, and they have trapped a conscientious and vulnerable individual in a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation.

Hale could try and withdraw his guilty plea and go to trial, but Judge Liam O’Grady may not allow it. Or he could plead guilty and accept the documents risked “serious” or “exceptionally grave” damage, even though he does not believe that is the truth of what happened.

Either way, Hale is likely to receive the most harsh sentence for an unauthorized disclosure of information ever issued against a former U.S. government employee or contractor.

CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou was targeted in the Eastern District of Virginia with an Espionage Act prosecution under President Barack Obama. He eventually pled guilty to violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act in order to ensure he only went to prison for 30 months.

“In every other case, including mine, part of the deal was you’ll take the plea to the one charge in exchange for all the other charges being dropped. That’s what everybody else does, except of course, for [CIA whistleblower] Jeffrey Sterling, who went to trial,”

Kiriakou contended.

“They just don’t want to play ball, and they’re placing the blame on Daniel.”

“That doesn’t make sense because he’s agreed to plead guilty to the most serious charge with the expectation that the other charges would be dismissed. And they’re not willing to negotiate in good faith,”

Kiriakou added.

‘This Makes Me Sick To My Stomach’

U.S. prosecutors submitted secret “evidence” to the judge, which they refuse to declassify for the public. The submission is part of an “internet compilation” that they claim was “designed to assist ISIS fighters avoid detection and targeting.” It allegedly included parts of two documents disclosed by Hale.

Hale never transferred or provided documents directly to any ISIS member or any person claiming to be associated with the militant group. Prosecutors are further criminalizing him because terrorists have access to the internet just like all citizens of the world do.

The sentencing memorandum invokes the cases of NSA whistleblower Reality Winner and FBI whistleblower Terry Albury, which both ended in plea agreements. Winner was sentenced to 63 months. Albury was sentenced to 48 months.

Like Hale, Winner disclosed information classified at the ‘Top Secret” level. Unlike Hale, Winner disclosed only a single document,” the memo states. “Albury was sentenced for retaining 50 classified documents and transmitting some of them to a reporter – but none of the documents Albury disclosed was classified above the ‘Secret’ level.”

Hale stole documents from NGA on at least seven different dates over a four-month period, and his thefts were the result of a plan premeditated long before that,” the memo argues.

Winner’s sentence was, at the time, the harshest sentence ever issued against a former government employee or contractor. To act like it was fair and should be a base line for leak prosecutions going forward is extraordinary.

Billie Winner-Davis, the mother of Reality Winner, reacted, “This makes me sick to my stomach to think that they are using Reality’s sentence to punish Daniel Hale even more severely.”

“Watching what the government did to my daughter and the way that they destroyed her life completely has shown me just how cruel our government can be. From what I know about Daniel’s case, he has also suffered so much already from this experience.”

“Through my experience with Reality, I’ve come to believe that only violent offenders and those who are a true danger to our society should be imprisoned,”

Winner-Davis shared.

“To imprison those who work to protect us and give us the truth is an injustice. I pray he does not get sentenced to prison.

“There are so many other ways that our government could work with him. [Daniel’s] already shown in the last five years that he is no threat to anyone.”

But the U.S. government seems to view Hale’s case as an opportunity to move away from sentences that are not cruel enough to make an example out of “leakers.”

“We recognize that sentences imposed in some past ‘leak’ cases were not commensurate with the government’s view of the seriousness of the defendants’ conduct, or nearly serious enough to deter others from engaging in similar conduct,”

prosecutors declare, referring to Sterling’s case.

“We cannot justify or explain such sentences, but only point out that a past court’s failure to recognize the significance of the need to deter similar behavior by other individuals should not induce this court to make the same mistake.”

Sketching A Caricature Of A Conscientious Young Veteran

The sentencing memorandum sketches a caricature of Hale as a young man who “jumped at the chance” to “fraternize” with Scahill and his colleagues. They take a chat message out of context and suggest he “looked up to [journalists] like rock stars” and wanted to become a journalist to “speak truth to power” while “hav[ing] great sex all the time and mak[ing] just enough to live but not too much that [he] [became] a part of the upper crust.”

To this idea that Hale “ingratiated himself” with journalists and wanted to become a rock star reporter, Noor Mir, one of his closest friends, replied,

“Anyone who knows Daniel knows that he puts himself last in every situation, focused entirely on helping those who are in need, have been silenced, or suffered insurmountable harms. This is a gross mischaracterization of his character to all those that know him to be humble and moral to a fault.”

It was difficult for Hale to speak in public, according to Mir. When he participated in a “drone summit” organized by CODEPINK, which Mir was involved in organizing, he “prepared for a long time and was very nervous. But he also knew that there were family members of victims of drone strikes in the audience from Yemen, who had witnessed the injustices of which he spoke.”

Media outlets, who did not know Hale’s identity, referred to Hale as the “second Snowden,” a nod to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The Oscar-winning documentary “Citizenfour” about Snowden featured a scene where journalist Glenn Greenwald revealed details about Hale to Snowden. Scahill spoke about Hale toward the end of the film.

If Hale wanted to be a “rock star” journalist, he could have used all of that as a springboard and fled the country to some place where he could speak out more.

Yet a recent feature story on Hale by New York magazine reporter Kerry Howley makes clear, “Nearly no one knew who Second Snowden was then or for years afterward.” He grew a “ZZ Top beard” during the COVID-19 pandemic (after his trial was delayed). He wore donated clothing, and friends “pressed him to go public with the story of how and why” he disclosed documents. “But Daniel maintained that in talking about himself he would be taking the spotlight from victims of the drone war.”

Even after an intervention was staged at a tavern in Washington, D.C. in November 2020, and his friends insisted he tell his story so the prosecution’s story did not go unchallenged, Hale still waited until early April to talk with a reporter.

Kiriakou said the thought that Hale wanted to “ingratiate himself” to journalists is so ridiculous that it’s laughable.

“They said the same thing about me. That I was trying to ingratiate myself with journalists and to seek a career as a commentator with ABC News,”

Kiriakou recalled.

“Nothing could have been further from the truth. I had a job that was paying me four times what ABC News offered me. I didn’t need a job from ABC News. I never sought a job at ABC News.”

All anybody had to do was look at Kiriakou’s bank account that was empty to see the prosecutors were pushing a false narrative, he added.

Like Kiriakou described, this has become fairly standard. The U.S. prosecutors try to “make the defendant look like a narcissist.” They maintain “it’s all about fame, and it’s all about the money. And they just ignore the facts.”

After Hale returned from his Air Force deployment in Afghanistan, Howley reported, “He wanted to go to school, and for this he needed money, and as an analyst with a security clearance, money was easily made.”

“Six months after meeting Scahill, Daniel had left the Air Force and started working for Leidos, a company that makes more than $10 billion a year in revenue by convincing the federal government of its utility. He said he would only do it for six months, a promise he kept.”

Hale did not work at the NGA to steal classified documents. He worked for the intelligence agency because he needed to pay for a college education.


 




We Gotta Stand with Daniel Hall, Drone Warfare Truth-Teller

On Saturday, July 17, 2021, activists representing many organizations, including the Ban Killer Drones campaign and Peace Action New York State, held a press conference in support of the whistleblower Daniel Hale, who revealed information about the U.S. drone warfare program.

Daniel Hale served in the Air Force as an intelligence analyst. His task was to identify targets for the US drone assassination program. Troubled by what he did and saw, after leaving the Air Force in 2013, Hale provided documents about the drone program to the media.  In 2019, four years after the documents were published, the Trump administration had him arrested and charged under the 1917 Espionage Act.  He is being held in prison in Alexandria, VA, and will be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison on July 27, 2021.

Incomplete reports about US drone attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen alone found 16,901 people killed and 3,922 wounded.  The use of drones is spreading. Drone attacks have been carried out by at least 12 nations, primarily by the USA, but also by other governments, including France, Israel, Turkey, and the UK.

“Some people call me a whistleblower or a patriot, but I was simply concerned with speaking the truth.”  — Daniel Hale

Video by Wilton Vought

To learn more about Daniel Hale’s case and how you can support him, go to standwithdanielhale.org.

 

 




Drone whistleblower Daniel Hale Needs Your Support

by StandWithDanielHale, published on CourageToResist, June 22, 2021

In May 2019, drone whistleblower Daniel Everette Hale was arrested and indicted on allegations that he disclosed classified documents about the U.S. military’s assassination program, believed to have been the source material for a series in The Intercept called “The Drone Papers”. On March 31, 2021, Hale pleaded guilty to a single count under the Espionage Act, carrying a maximum sentence of 10 years. Sentencing is currently scheduled for July 27, 2021.

How to help (write to Daniel, ask for a pardon from President Biden, donate, and more)

Hale is a veteran of the US Air Force. During his military service from 2009 to 2013, he participated in the US drone program, working with both the National Security Agency and the Joint Special Operations Task Force at the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. After leaving the Air Force, Hale became an outspoken opponent of the US targeted killings program, US foreign policy more generally, and a supporter of whistleblowers. He publicly spoke out at conferences, forums, and public panels. He was featured prominently in the award-winning documentary National Bird, a film about whistleblowers in the US drone program who suffered from moral injury and PTSD. Hale based his criticisms on his own participation in the drone program, which included helping to select targets based on faulty criteria and attacks on unarmed innocent civilians.

Daniel is facing up to 10 years in prison for contacting the press about a matter of extreme public importance that has been shrouded in secrecy. But the larger concern is not what Hale did or didn’t do but what our government has been doing. For almost two decades, they have used a veil of secrecy to deny the American public the basic right to informed debate and consent. Government officials have repeatedly lied about nature and the extent of drone assassinations. No one has ever been held accountable for these lies, or for the war crimes they have enabled.

Daniel is a whistleblower who has enriched the public’s knowledge about matters of grave civic concern. It is unconscionable to use a law supposedly aimed at actual spies and saboteurs, against individuals who act in good faith to bring government misconduct to the attention of the public.

How to help (write to Daniel, ask for a pardon from President Biden, donate, and more)




A “Traitor” to the American Death Machine Faces Years in Prison — While the Killing Goes On

By Chris Hedges, Published on Salon.com, July 13, 2021

Daniel Hale, an active-duty Air Force intelligence analyst, stood in the Occupy encampment in Zuccotti Park in October 2011 in his military uniform. He held up a sign that read “Free Bradley Manning,” who had not yet announced her transition. It was a singular act of conscience few in uniform had the strength to replicate. He had taken a week off from his job to join the protesters in the park. He was present at 6 a.m. on Oct. 14 when Mayor Michael Bloomberg made his first attempt to clear the park. He stood in solidarity with thousands of protesters, including many unionized transit workers, teachers, Teamsters and communications workers, who formed a ring around the park. He watched the police back down as the crowd erupted into cheers. But this act of defiance and moral courage was only the beginning.

At the time, Hale was stationed at Fort Bragg. A few months later he deployed to Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Force Base. He would later learn that that while he was in Zuccotti Park, Barack Obama ordered a drone strike some 12,000 miles away in Yemen that killed Abdulrahman Anwar al-Awlaki, the 16-year-old son of the radical cleric and U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, who had been killed by a drone strike two weeks earlier. The Obama administration claimed it was targeting the leader of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, Ibrahim al-Banna, who it believed, incorrectly, was with the boy and his cousins, all of whom were also killed in the attack. That massacre of innocents became public, but there were thousands more such attacks that wantonly killed noncombatants that only Hale and those with top-security clearances knew about.

Starting in 2013, Hale, while working as a private contractor, leaked some 17 classified documents about the drone program to investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill, although the reporter is not named in court documents. The leaked documents, published by The Intercept on Oct. 15, 2015, exposed that between January 2012 and February 2013, U.S. special operations airstrikes killed more than 200 people. Of those, only 35 were the intended targets. For one five-month period of the operation, according to the documents, nearly 90 percent of the people killed in airstrikes were not the intended targets. The civilian dead, usually innocent bystanders, were routinely classified as “enemies killed in action.”

Hale was coerced by President Biden’s Justice Department on March 31 to plead guilty to one count of violating the Espionage Act, a law passed in 1917 designed to prosecute those who passed on state secrets to a hostile power, not those who expose to the public government lies and crimes. Hale admitted as part of the plea deal to “retention and transmission of national security information” and leaking 11 classified documents to a journalist. He is being held in the Alexandria Adult Detention Center in Virginia, awaiting sentencing on July 27. If he had refused the plea deal, he could have spent 50 years in prison. He now faces up to a decade in prison.

Tragically, his case has not garnered the attention it should. When Nick Mottern, of the Ban Killer Drones campaign, accompanied artists projecting Hale’s image on downtown walls in Washington, he found that everyone he spoke to was unaware of Hale’s plight. Prominent human rights organizations, such as the ACLU and PEN, have largely remained silent and uninvolved. The group Stand with Daniel Hale has called on Biden to pardon Hale and end the use of the Espionage Act to punish whistleblowers, mounted a letter-writing campaign to the judge to request leniency and is collecting donations for Hale’s legal fund.

Daniel Hale is one of the most consequential whistleblowers,” Edward Snowden said on a May Day panel held at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst on the 50th anniversary of the release of the Pentagon Papers.

“He sacrificed everything — an incredibly courageous person — to tell us that the drone war, that, you know, is so obviously occurring to everyone else, but the government was still officially denying in so many ways, is here, it is happening, and 90 percent of the casualties in one five-month period were innocents or bystanders or not the target of the drone strike. We could not establish that, we could not prove that, without Daniel Hale’s voice.”

Speaking on Democracy Now! with host Amy Goodman a few weeks later, Daniel Ellsberg agreed that Hale “acted very admirably, in a way that very, very few officials have ever done in showing the moral courage to separate themselves from criminal activities and wrongful activities of their own administration, and resist them, as well as exposing them.”

Because Hale was charged under the Espionage Act, he, like other whistleblowers, including Chelsea Manning, Jeffrey Sterling, Thomas Drake and John Kiriakou, who spent two and a half years in prison for exposing the routine torture of suspects held in black sites, was not permitted to explain his motivations and intent to the court. Nor could he provide evidence to the court that the drone assassination program killed and wounded large numbers of noncombatants, including children. He faced trial in the Eastern District of Virginia, much of whose population has links to the military or intelligence community, and whose courts have become notorious for their harsh sentences on behalf of the government.

The 2012 Living Under Drones report by the Stanford International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic provides a detailed documentation of the human impact of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan. Drones often fire Hellfire missiles that are equipped with an explosive warhead of about 20 pounds. A Hellfire variant, known as the R9X, carries “an inert warhead,” The New York Times reported. Instead of exploding, it hurls about 100 pounds of metal through a vehicle. The missile’s other feature includes “six long blades tucked inside,” which deploy “seconds before impact to slice up anything in its path” — including, of course, people.

The numbers of civilian dead from U.S. drone strikes run into the thousands, if not tens of thousands. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ), an independent journalist organization, for example, reported that from June 2004 through mid-September 2012, drone strikes killed between 2,562 and 3,325 people in Pakistan, of whom an estimated 474 to 881 were civilians, including 176 children.

Drones hover 24 hours a day in the skies over Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria. Without warning, the drones, operated remotely from Air Force bases as far away as Nevada, fire ordinance that obliterates homes and vehicles or kills whole groups of people in fields or attending community gatherings, funerals and weddings. The leaked banter of the young drone operators, who often treat the killings as if they are an enhanced video game, exposes the callousness of the indiscriminate killings. Drone operators refer to child victims of drone attacks as “fun-sized terrorists.”

“Ever step on ants and never give it another thought?”

Michael Hass, a former drone operator for the Air Force, told The Guardian.

“That’s what you are made to think of the targets — as just black blobs on a screen. You start to do these psychological gymnastics to make it easier to do what you have to do — they deserved it, they chose their side. You had to kill part of your conscience to keep doing your job every day — and ignore those voices telling you this wasn’t right.”

The ubiquitous presence of drones in the skies, and the awareness that at any moment these drones can kill you and your family, induces feelings of helplessness, anxiety and constant fear.

“Their presence terrorizes men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities,”

the 2012 report reads of the drone war in Pakistan.

“Those living under drones have to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment and the knowledge that they are powerless to protect themselves. These fears have affected behavior. The U.S. practice of striking one area multiple times, and evidence that it has killed rescuers, makes both community members and humanitarian workers afraid or unwilling to assist injured victims. Some community members shy away from gathering in groups, including important tribal dispute-resolution bodies, out of fear that they may attract the attention of drone operators. Some parents choose to keep their children home, and children injured or traumatized by strikes have dropped out of school.”

Drones have become killing machines that mete out random death and usually permanently cripple those victims who survive.

“The missiles fired from drones kill or injure in several ways, including through incineration, shrapnel, and the release of powerful blast waves capable of crushing internal organs,”

the report reads.

“Those who do survive drone strikes often suffer disfiguring burns and shrapnel wounds, limb amputations, as well as vision and hearing loss.”

Hale, now 33, always had doubts about the war, but he enlisted in 2009 when Obama assumed office. He hoped that Obama would undo the excesses and lawlessness of the Bush administration. Instead, Obama, a few weeks after he took office, approved the deployment of an additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan, where 36,000 U.S. troops and 32,000 NATO troops were already deployed. By the end of the year, Obama increased troop levels in Afghanistan again by 30,000, doubling U.S. casualties. He also massively expanded the drone program, raising the number of drone strikes from several dozen the year before he took office to 117 by his second year in office.  By the time he left office Obama had presided over the killing of at least 3,000 suspected militants and hundreds of civilians. He authorized what are known as “signature strikes” allowing the CIA to carry out drone attacks against groups of suspected militants without getting positive identification. He spread the footprint of the drone war, establishing drone bases in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and other overseas locations to expand attacks to Syria and Yemen. The Obama administration also indicted eight whistleblowers under the Espionage Act, more than all previous administrations combined. The Biden administration, like the Trump and Obama administrations, continues to launch widespread global drone strikes.

“Before I joined the military, I was well aware that what I was about to enter was something I was against, that I disagreed with,”

Hale says in the 2016 documentary film National Bird.

“I joined anyway out of desperation. I was homeless. I was desperate. I had nowhere else to go. I was on my last leg. The Air Force was ready to accept me.”

In the film, Hale alludes to a difficult and chaotic childhood.

“It’s kind of funny, a little ironic too, because so far I’m the only adult male in my entire family, immediate and external, who had not been to prison so far,” he says. “I come from a long lineage of prisoners, actually, a very proud tradition of fuck-ups who get drunk and go driving, or sell pot, or carry a gun when they shouldn’t be carrying a gun, in the wrong place at the wrong time, a lot of that where I’m from.”

He was assigned to the Joint Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg and underwent language and intelligence training. He worked for the National Security Agency (NSA) in Afghanistan as an intelligence analyst identifying targets for the drone program. His Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information (TS/SCI) security clearance gave him access to the vast global drone war hidden from public view and Obama’s huge secret “kill lists.”

There are several such lists, used to target individuals for different reasons,” he wrote in an essay titled “Why I Leaked the Watchlist Documents,” originally published anonymously in the book “The Assassination Complex: Inside the Government’s Secret Drone Warfare Program” by Jeremy Scahill and the staff of The Intercept. The book is based on the leaked documents provided by Hale that first appeared as an eight-part series called “The Drone Papers” published by The Intercept.

“Some lists are closely kept; others span multiple intelligence and local law enforcement agencies,”

Hale writes in the essay.

“There are lists used to kill or capture supposed ‘high-value targets,’ and others intended to threaten, coerce, or simply monitor a person’s activity. However, all the lists, whether to kill or silence, originate from the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, and they are maintained by the Terrorist Screening Center at the National Counterterrorism Center. The existence of TIDE is unclassified, yet details about how it functions in our government are completely unknown to the public. In August 2013 the database reached a milestone of one million entries. Today it is thousands of entries larger and is growing faster than it has since its inception in 2003.”

The Terrorist Screening Center, he writes, not only stores names, dates of birth and other identifying information of potential targets, but also stores “medical records, transcripts, and passport data; license plate numbers, email, and cell-phone numbers (along with the phone’s International Mobile Subscriber Identity and International Mobile Station Equipment Identity numbers); your bank account numbers and purchases; and other sensitive information, including DNA and photographs capable of identifying you using facial recognition software.”

Data on suspects is collected and pooled by the intelligence agencies known as the Five Eyes, the intelligence alliance formed by Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States. Each person on the list is assigned a TIDE personal number, or TPN.

From Osama bin Laden (TPN 1063599) to Abdulrahman Awlaki (TPN 26350617), the American son of Anwar al Awlaki, anyone who has ever been the target of a covert operation was first assigned a TPN and closely monitored by all agencies who follow that TPN long before they were eventually put on a separate list and extrajudicially sentenced to death,”

 

Hale wrote.

He also exposed that the more than one million entries in the TIDE database include about 21,000 U.S. citizens.

After leaving the Air Force in July 2013, Hale was employed by the private defense contractor National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency as a political geography analyst between December 2013 and August 2014. He said he took the job, which paid $80,000 a year, because he was in desperate need of money and hoped to go to college. But by then he was disgusted with the drone program and determined to make the public aware of its abuses and lawlessness. Inspired by the peace activist David Dellinger, he, like Dellinger, had decided to become a traitor to “the American way of death.” He would make amends for his complicity in the killings, even at the cost of his own security and freedom.

“When the president gets up in front of the nation and says they are doing everything they can to ensure there is near certainty there will be no civilians killed, he is saying that because he can’t say otherwise, because anytime an action is taken to finish a target there is a certain amount of guesswork in that action,”

Hale says in the film.

“It’s only in the aftermath of any kind of ordinance being dropped that you know how much actual damage was done. Oftentimes, the intelligence community is reliant, the Joint Special Operations Command, the CIA included, is reliant on intelligence coming afterwards that confirms that who they were targeting was killed in the strike, or that they weren’t killed in that strike.”

“The people who defend drones and the way they are used say they protect American lives by not putting them in harm’s way,” he says. “What they really do is embolden decision makers, because there is no threat, there is no immediate consequence. They can do this strike. They can potentially kill this person they are so desperate to eliminate because of how potentially dangerous they could be to the U.S. But if it just so happens that they don’t kill that person, or some other people involved in the strike get killed as well, there are no consequences for it. When it comes to high-value targets, every mission you go after one person at a time, but anybody else killed in that strike is assumed to be an associate of the targeted individual. So as long as they can reasonably identify that all of the people in the field view of the camera are military-aged males, meaning anybody who is believed to be age 16 or older, they are a legitimate target under the rules of engagement. If that strike occurs and kills all of them, they just say they got them all.”

Drones, he warns, make remote killing “too easy, too convenient.”

On Aug. 8, 2014, the FBI raided Hale’s home. It was his last day of work for the private contractor. A male and female FBI agent shoved their badges in his face when he opened the door.

“Immediately behind them came about 20 agents, basically all of them with pistols drawn, some wearing body armor,”

he says in the film.

“At this point I was extremely scared. I did not understand what was going on. Altogether, there might have been at least 30 to 50 agents in and out of the house at different points throughout the evening taking photos of every room and everything, searching for different things.”

By the time they finished his house was stripped of all electronics, including his cell phone.

For the next five years he lived with the uncertainty of his fate. He struggled to find work, fought off depression and contemplated suicide. He was barred by law from speaking about his plight, even with a therapist. In 2019, the Trump administration indicted Hale on four counts of violating the Espionage Act and one count of theft of government property.

The thousands of targeted assassinations carried out by drones, often in countries that are not at war with the United States, are an egregious violation of international law. They are turning huge swaths of the planet against us. The secret kill lists, which include U.S. citizens, have transformed the executive branch into judge, jury and executioner, obliterating the right to due process. Those that commit these killings are unaccountable. Hale sacrificed his career and his freedom to warn us. He is not a danger to the country. The danger we face comes from the secret drone program, which is spiraling out of control and ominously being adopted by domestic law enforcement agencies. If left unchecked, the terror we impose on others we will soon impose on ourselves.

*Featured Image:Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Drone Attack (Getty Images/koto_feja)


Chris Hedges is the former Middle East bureau chief of the New York Times, a Pulitzer Prize winner, and a columnist at Scheerpost. He is the author of several books, including “America: The Farewell Tour,” “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America” and “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning.”