This article was funded by paid subscribers of The Dissenter Newsletter. Become a monthly subscriber
Around two months ago, drone whistleblower Daniel Hale was sentenced to 45 months in prison after he stood before a federal judge and delivered a statement that demonstrated he was a person of conscience.
“I am here to answer for my own crimes and not that of another person. And it would appear that I am here today to answer for the crime of stealing papers for which I expect to spend some portion of my life in prison,” Hale declared. “But what I am really here for is having stolen something that was never mine to take: precious human life.”
Hale added, “I acted not for the sake of self-aggrandizement but [so] that I might some day humbly ask forgiveness.”
The Daniel Hale Support Team released Hale’s full statement from his sentencing on July 27.
Thomas Drake, a supporter and an NSA whistleblower who survived an Espionage Act prosecution, was in the courtroom. He said Hale’s statement was “extraordinary and remarkable testimony,” particularly because he stood before the judge having been detained at Alexandria Detention Center. “There was an almost full gallery.”
Hale was a signals intelligence analyst in the U.S. Air Force, who was deployed to Afghanistan and stationed at Bagram Air Base. He later worked as a contractor for a firm known as Leidos. His contracting job gave him access to documents on the drone program, and he shared copies with journalist Jeremy Scahill.
He pled guilty to one count of violating the Espionage Act on March 31.
After sentencing, Hale was transferred to Northern Neck Regional Jail, where he was to be held for two to three weeks until a bed opened at Federal Medical Center Butner in North Carolina. However, as of September 24, he is still at the jail.
The Daniel Hale Support Team told the Dissenter they have no idea why he is still at Northern Neck, but the Bureau of Prisons has apparently given Hale no date when he can expect a transfer to Butner. “He waits every week to be transferred” on a bus that comes around two times a week.
“He is in a dormitory-style housing unit at Northern Neck with about 60 other men,” the team added. “He feels paralyzed there, not knowing when he is going to be out and not wanting to settle in due to that reason.”
Until he is at Butner, Hale has asked supporters not to write to him because he is unlikely to receive their letters if he is ever transferred.
This is the first opportunity the world has had to read Hale’s statement in full, which had a profound impact on everyone in the courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia, including Judge Liam O’Grady and the prosecutors.
Hale compared his opposition to the “drone assassination program” to opposition to the death penalty and the rate at which people are exonerated after their executions.
“When it comes to the drone assassination program, the disparity between the guilty and the innocent killed is incalculably higher. In some cases, as many as nine out of 10 individuals killed are not identifiable,” Hale said, referring to one of the most noteworthy disclosures he made.
“The American-born son of a radical American imam was assigned a Terrorist Identities Datamark Environment or TIDE pin number, tracked, and killed in a drone strike along with eight members of his family while they ate lunch together a full two weeks after his father was killed,” Hale recalled. “Asked about why the 16 year-old Abdulrahman, 'TPN26350617,' needed to die, one White House official said he should have had a better father.”
According to Hale, this was the way of thinking he encountered time and time again during his deployment in Afghanistan. “Do you ever step on ants and never give it another thought? That’s what you’re made to think of the targets. They deserved it, they chose their side. You had to kill a part of your conscience to keep doing your job, ignoring the voice inside telling you this wasn’t right,” one drone operator told him.
No longer could Hale ignore that voice inside. He ran to the press to “dispel the demonstrable lie that said drone warfare kept us safe, that our lives are worth more than theirs, and that only more killing would bring about certain victory.”
“Simply put: It is wrong to kill. It is especially wrong to kill the defenseless. And it is an abdication of the Bill of Rights to kill without due process of law.”
Hale spoke profoundly about his family history. He is an ancestor of Nathaniel Hale, who was a Revolutionary War hero executed for spying on British troop movements to help General George Washington’s army.
The sentencing hearing was well before panic over the withdrawal of United States military forces reached a pitch point in the media. But the withdrawal date loomed, and Hale reflected on Afghanistan.
“What I remember best about Afghanistan is the enduring spirit of its people. I think of the farmers in their poppy fields whose daily harvest will gain them safe passage from the warlords, who will, in turn, trade it for weapons before it is synthesized, repackaged, and re-sold dozens of times before it finds its way into this country and into the broken veins of our nation’s next opioid victim.”
Hale continued, “I think of the women who, despite living their entire lives never once allowed to make so much as a choice for themselves, are treated as pawns in a ruthless game politicians play when they need a justification to further the killing of their sons and husbands. And I think of the children, whose bright-eyed, dirty faces look to the sky and hope to see clouds of gray, afraid of the clear blue days that beckon drones to come carrying eager death notes for their fathers.”
On August 29, a "death note" came for Zemerai Ahmadi, an aid worker and father.
The U.S. military responded to an attack on the Kabul airport that was claimed by ISIS-K and killed Ahmadi, his sons, Zamir, who was 20 years old, Faisal, who was 16 years old, and Farzad, who was 10 years old, and his two nephews, Benyamin and Arwin, who were six and seven years old, according to New York Times reporter Matthieu Aikins.
Three girls were also killed in the drone strike: Hayat, who was two years old, Somaya, who was three years old, and Malika, who was three years old.
The Pentagon immediately cast Ahmadi as an Islamic State militant while outlets like the Associate Press put out reporting that showed the U.S. massacred a family, which had “worked for Americans and were trying to gain visas to the United States, fearing for their lives under the Taliban.”
On September 17, Marine General Frank McKenzie, who is the head of U.S. Central Command, apologized to the victims and said that the strike was a “mistake.” General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, defended the strike, asserting there was a “dynamic high-threat environment, the commanders on the ground had appropriate authority, and had reasonable certainty that the target was valid.”
Yet as Afghanistan War whistleblower and retired colonel Daniel L. Davis wrote, this is plainly wrong. “The strike was an unforced, avoidable error.”
“Once a drone operator has the target in his sight, they can follow it indefinitely (handing off to another drone platform if fuel runs low). When the U.S. team identified the target vehicle with the suspected explosives park in a garage, all they had to do was watch and wait. If the vehicle were to leave and begin to close in on U.S. troops, then commanders would have more justification to launch the lethal missile,” Davis contended.
Hale would likely agree. If he were not in carceral limbo in a jail in Virginia, the world may have heard from him. He could have connected the tragic episode to what he had tried to warn us would continue to happen if we did not take the information he shared seriously.
According to his support team, Hale is saddled with debt from an Espionage Act prosecution that spanned seven years and must launch a GoFundMe. Money must be raised to pay for phone calls and commissary items while in prison. There are bills from loans and student debt that will likely be due while he is incarcerated, and his cat Leila needs safe housing and care.
Meanwhile, any of the military generals or political elites, who are responsible or complicit in the death caused by the drone program, are free to appear on CNN or at a university to justify the carnage that unfolds with no end in sight. In fact, they can expect to be paid well for their words.
Below is the full statement, which was shared by the Daniel Hale Support Team.
Your Honor, my surname, “Everette Hale”, was passed down to me by my father, to him by his father’s father, and so-on going back to the theologian writer “Edward Everet Hale.” Edward was a Massachusetts-born columnist for the Atlantic monthly newspaper writing about issues of abolition and slavery during the Pre-Civil War era.
He was the grand nephew of Revolutionary War Hero Captain Nathan Hale. Nathaniel, of course, is well-known for having been executed for his efforts to spy on the British troop movements in support of Gen. Washington’s rebel army as they fought to free the States of colonial rule. Denied clergy, he was given only the chance to speak his peace before left to hang three days in a public square as a warning to other would-be saboteurs. It bears mentioning that, under certain circumstances, an act of espionage is still punishable by death in this country today.
The day after I plead guilty to a violation of the Espionage Act I took a lonely bicycle ride towards the Capitol to clear my head, in search of the statue honoring Capt. Hale’s sacrifice. I wish I could say that I wasn’t surprised to find it located next to the John F. Kennedy Department of Justice building. But there it was, exactly where it belonged. I asked a reluctant security guard to take my photo with the statue of Nathan behind me, told him thank you, to which he responded with a shrug and went about his day. A short way from there I came to be at the Lincoln War Memorial Park.
The park was alive and bustling with people speaking different languages, coming to and fro, from across the country and around the world. Of the many awe-inspiring commemorative monuments surrounding the reflective pool, I believe the Vietnam War Memorial to be the most striking because of its straightforward simplicity. The more than 58,000 names of every American killed in action etched into a 400ft granite wall stands as a testament to the completion of the war and our nation's commitment to never forget the fallen. By contrast, were it also to include the names of every Viet person killed would require it to be another 4 miles long.
Curiously, there is still no monument to commemorate the formal end of the Iraq war. I often wonder how we’ll remember it. And with the withdrawal of troops in Afghanistan looming I wonder how we’ll remember it as well; or if we intend to at all. What I remember best about Afghanistan is the enduring spirit of its people. I think of the farmers in their poppy fields whose daily harvest will gain them safe passage from the warlords. Who will, in turn, trade it for weapons before it is synthesized, repackaged, and re-sold dozens of times before it finds its way into this country and into the broken veins of our nation’s next opioid victim. I think of the women who, despite living their entire lives never once allowed to make so much as a choice for themselves, are treated as pawns in a ruthless game politicians play when they need a justification to further the killing of their sons & husbands. And I think of the children, whose bright-eyed, dirty faces look to the sky and hope to see clouds of gray, afraid of the clear blue days that beckon drones to come carrying eager death notes for their fathers.
Your Honor, I oppose drone warfare for the same reasons I oppose the death penalty. I believe capital punishment to be an abomination and an all-out assault on common human decency. I believe that it is wrong to kill no matter the circumstances, yet I believe it is especially wrong to kill the defenseless. And, in spite of what the Supreme Court has ruled, I believe there is simply no way in which a person can be killed that is not cruel and unusual. If anyone here is still not convinced of this then they must ask themselves if they believe that the 4% of death row inmates exonerated after the fact is an acceptable price to pay. I don’t. No person should have to die for a crime that they did not commit. Just as no person should have to live with the burden of having taken a poor, defenseless innocent life. Not a soldier carrying out his duties nor a judge theirs.
When it comes to the drone assassination program the disparity between the guilty and the innocent killed is incalculably higher. In some cases as many as 9 out of 10 individuals killed are not identifiable. In one particular instance the American-born son of a radical American Imam was assigned a Terrorist Identities Datamark Environment or TIDE pin number, tracked and killed in a drone strike along with 8 members of his family while they ate lunch together a full 2 weeks after his father was killed. Asked about why the 16 year old Abdul Rahman, “TPN26350617” needed to die, one White House official said, “He should have had a better father.”
While deployed to Afghanistan I was exposed to similar ways of thinking to distract myself from the true nature of my actions. As one drone operator put it, “Do you ever step on ants and never give it another thought? That’s what you’re made to think of the targets. They deserved it, they chose their side. You had to kill a part of your conscience to keep doing your job - ignoring the voice inside telling you this wasn’t right.” I too ignored the voice inside as I continued walking blindly towards the edge of an abyss. And when I found myself at the brink, ready to give in, the voice said to me, “You who had been a hunter of men, are no longer. By the grace of God you’ve been saved. Now go forth and be a fisher of men so that others might know the truth.”
So I ran to the press with documents in hand, not one more nor one less than necessary, to dispel the demonstrable lie that said drone warfare kept us safe, that our lives are worth more than theirs, and that only more killing would bring about certain victory. Simply put: It is wrong to kill, it is especially wrong to kill the defenseless, and it is an abdication of the Bill of Rights to kill without due process of law.
Your Honor, much has been said about the potential that “serious” or “exceptionally grave” harm was brought about due to my actions. But since no evidence of this fact has materialized in all the years since my criminal investigation began, it might appear to an outsider looking in that such claims are yet another example of a “boy crying wolf.” But in wishing to settle the matter myself I might have uncovered one instance where my actions did contribute towards one of the most grave attacks in our Nation's history.
At 2 a.m. July 22nd 2016, a lone gunman entered an Orlando nightclub and proceeded to kill 49 people in what became the most deadly mass shooting in American history at the time. In a 911 call the gunman stated, “They need to stop the US airstrikes, ok? This went down because a lot of women & children are getting killed in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.” The gunman, Omar Mateen, was killed by police 3 hours after his bloody, homicidal rampage began. It goes without saying, Omar Mateen was a deranged homicidal lunatic who could in no way justify the killing of 49 innocent people that night.
Tragically, this is a story all too common in American life today: a maniac believes himself aggrieved and unheard, with easy access to a gun. What is unique to this case is the gunman’s stated motives. Though it in no way excuses his heinous crimes, it is impossible to deny that airstrikes in the middle east have often dismissed innocent people as “collateral damage.” When I consider my own participation in the drone program I worry that my past actions have given provocation to would-be terrorist Omar Mateen to carry out his vengeful fantasies.
In that sense, my actions have contributed greatly towards the potential harm, or to use the CIA’s term - “blowback.” I’m left to wonder if only I’d had the courage to come forward sooner with my disclosures could I have prevented such a tragic loss of life? Of course there’s no way to be absolutely certain of anything but I sometimes wonder if Omar Mateen had seen someone accept responsibility and show remorse for their part in the war, would it have reached the part of his heart that still held onto a shred of humanity? If so, maybe he and his 49 defenseless, innocent victims would be alive today. Best rule: to prevent terror on us we must stop the terror on them.
Nevertheless, I am here to answer for my own crimes and not that of another person. And it would appear that I am here today to answer for the crime of stealing papers. For which I expect to spend some portion of my life in prison. But what I am really here for is having stolen something that was never mine to take: precious human life. For which I was well-compensated and given a medal. I couldn’t keep living in a world in which people pretended things weren’t happening that were. My consequential decision to share classified information about the drone program with the public was a gesture not taken lightly, nor one I would have taken at all if I believed such a decision had the possibility of harming anyone but myself. I acted not for the sake of self-aggrandizement but that I might some day humbly ask forgiveness:
Please, I beg you, forgive me, your honor, for taking papers as opposed to the lives of others. I could not, God so help me, have done otherwise.