PICTURED: Daniel Hale. PC: Bob Hayes, AP.
Story at a glance…
The analyst who blew the whistle on Obama’s drone assassination program has received a 3 year 9 month prison sentence.
The judge ruled for a space in between the desired 9-year minimum of the prosecution and a 24-month maximum of the defense.
An 11-page written statement by the accused has been made available, recounting the details of his grizzly work, in which he describes 4 instances of civilians being killed.
ALEXANDRIA, Virginia. July 27th, 2021. In the first whistleblower prosecution of the Biden Administration, the Eastern District Court of Virginia ruled in the defense of former signals analyst Daniel Hale, who exposed the inner workings of President Obama’s top secret drone assassination program.
Wielding the Espionage Act, the prosecution was seeking a minimum of nine years in prison, referencing an earlier case, while the defense argued for 12-24 months, referencing two others.
Judge Liam O’Grady ruled for 3 years 9 months in prison after Hale pled guilty to one of five counts of espionage: for the “unauthorized disclosure” of “secret” and “top secret” information. Reports say the judge took Hale’s PTSD and moral injury suffered during military service into strong consideration when issuing the sentence.
In an 11-page written statement, Hale expressed how his PTSD developed after serving in Afghanistan in 2012 when he was deployed under the drone program to the Bagram Air Base and that it “irreversibly transformed [his] identity as an American”.
Describing supreme moral injury coming from witnessing the deliberate bombing of innocent civilians and the subsequent cover-ups, particularly a mix of statements and lies made by the president on television, Hale explained his decision to go to the press thusly…
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.
In his testimony, Hale recounted four stories of civilians killed as collateral damage, including a five-year old girl whose 3-year old sister was injured, a well-liked local police officer and imam in Yemen, a group of men drinking tea in rural Afghanistan, and a farmer, who remained “miraculously conscious” while “pointlessly trying to scoop his insides off the ground.”
“The victorious rifleman, unquestionably remorseful, at least keeps his honor intact by having faced off against his enemy in the battlefield,” Hale wrote. “But what possibly could I have done to cope with the undeniable cruelties that I perpetrated?”
Between January 2012 and February 2013, of the more than 200 people killed by drone strikes under the program in Afghanistan, only 35 were the intended target. The program involved collecting cell phone data on a global scale, and assigning “death sentences without notice, on a worldwide battlefield,” as Hale described to Jeremy Scahill at the Intercept, who published Hale’s leaks in 2014 under the name The Drone Papers.
In a recent interview, Kevin Gosztola writing at Shadowproof explained that while media sources were generally aware of the rampant drone bombing under Obama, the major revelation of Hale’s whistleblowing was that any unintended victim of a drone attack was immediately labeled an “enemy killed in action,” with a policy of reversing that designation exclusively under circumstances where program-approved inspectors confirmed otherwise with investigations on the ground, which nearly never happened.
“I came to believe that the policy of drone assassination was being used to mislead the public that it keeps us safe,” Hale told the court, “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”.
During the trial, prosecutors Gordon Kromberg and Alexander Berrang requested the court be cleared so that classified information could be shown to the judge which they alleged demonstrated Hale’s leaks created a severe threat to national security, as the confidential names, positions, and information could inform “the most vicious terrorists in the world,” to create plans to attack national security interests.
They refused to disclose anything shared during the clearance for transparency and fairness, which consisted of an internet compilation of Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) training manuals that allegedly contained information revealed in Hale’s leaks.
Their hope was to gain a harsher than nine-year sentence as part of a “deterrent” to employees “using positions in the intelligence community for self-aggrandizement”. However the judge ruled in favor of the defense which argued that any IS-affiliated entity treated the documents the way a hunter treats a deer skull rather than anything that might inform a tactical advantage in terrorist plots, given that online publication, and U.S. observation of it, would immediately remove any tactical advantage that the documents might otherwise have given.
The judge also determined that a deterrent sentence was no appropriate, as Hale acted on his conscience, and didn’t weigh material or other gains versus the potential for jail time.
The unofficial legal advisor to Hale and whistleblower convicted under the Espionage Act, John Kiriakou, was at the trial, and said in a radio interview with Antiwar Radio that with good behavior, time already served, substance abuse recovery programs, and a half-way house, Hale’s 45 months could look much more like 24 months, or even fewer.