As Daniel Hale awaits sentencing, US military-industrial complex faces scrutiny

Hale and his supporters have argued that his actions were justified as it exposed atrocities committed through the US drone warfare, as he faces what could be the longest prison term for a whistleblower

July 25, 2021 by Anish R M

As former US intelligence analyst, Daniel Hale, awaits his sentencing in the coming week, his case has brought to light the crimes committed by the United States through its drone warfare. Hale is set to appear before a federal judge on Tuesday, July 27, where he will be sentenced for having pleaded guilty of one count of the Espionage Act. The 33-year-old admitted leaking confidential documents in 2015, before judge Liam O’Grady of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

The charge carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years, with federal prosecutors representing the US government seeking at least nine years in prison, which if followed through will be the longest imprisonment of a whistleblower in the country. He still faces four other charges under the Espionage Act, each carrying the same maximum prison sentence.

Hale was arrested and indicted with these charges by a grand jury in 2019, under the Donald Trump administration, and prosecution continued under the current Joe Biden administration. Hale admitting to his charges did not afford him a plea bargain with the prosecutors, and hence the prosecution is expected to continue with the other charges regardless of the sentencing he is to receive on Tuesday.

He had released a total of 17 documents, of which 11 were marked secret and top-secret, exposing that civilian casualties constituted over 90% of the drone strikes casualty and how under the Barack Obama administration the US began maintaining a list of individuals to be targeted in drone strikes. The documents also showed that the government targeted US citizens as well in Afghanistan and other countries.

Days ahead of his sentencing, on July 22, Hale released a 11-page handwritten letter he submitted to judge O’Grady detailing his motivations to leak classified information in 2015, saying that “Not a day goes by that I don’t question the justification for my actions.” Hale, who served in the NSA between 2009 and 2013 and was deployed to Afghanistan, wrote that he struggled with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Depression is a constant,” wrote Hale. “Stress, particularly stress caused by war, can manifest itself at different times and in different ways.” The letter detailed the harrowing scenes he witnessed in Afghanistan at the time of his deployment, which was also around the time when the then Barack Obama administration decided to adopt an extremely controversial method of counting civilian casualty, which essentially clubbed all “military-age males in a strike zone” as combatants.

Hale spoke of how this change in counting often justified striking at large groups of civilians, very often because they were in the vicinity of a suspected combatant under surveillance. The Obama administration had dramatically increased the number of strikes on other countries, outnumbering his predecessors by a long shot.

According to Bureau of Investigative Journalism, during the eight years of Obama administration, between 2009 and 2017, the US conducted 563 drone strikes in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen, killing between 384 and 807 civilians, depending on how civilians are defined outnumbering the Obama administration estimates of being between 67 and 116.

In his time in the NSA, Hale also noted how the number of defense contractors and their personnel also increased dramatically to facilitate this drone warfare, leading to “contract mercenaries” outnumbering soldiers by a factor of two to one.

“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,” Hale’s letter continued.

Hale also argued in his letter that the war in Afghanistan 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.” He also added that after leaving the military he began to speak out against the atrocities of drone warfare and came to the understanding that his role in it was “deeply wrong.”

Hale’s letter concluded with how he was ready to risk prosecution to bring the truth out. “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.”

Hale’s defense team have called for the court to show leniency in his case arguing that he exposed crimes of the government and the lack of harm caused by the leaks. They argued that he “committed the offense to bring attention to what he believed to be immoral government conduct committed under the cloak of secrecy and contrary to public statements of then-President Obama regarding the alleged precision of the United States military’s drone program.”

The defense team, along with Hale and his supporters have previously argued that the prosecution against Hale has far-reaching implications on constitutionally guaranteed rights of free expression and press, under the First Amendment. Civil society groups and anti-imperialist movements in the US have come out strongly against the Biden administration’s continued persecution of whistleblowers and publishers like Julian Assange, who exposed crimes of US wars in other nations.

In a rally held at New York City on July 17, Black Alliance for Peace (BAP) Coordinating Committee member Margaret Kimberley, stated that Daniel Hale “is being punished for doing what the attorney general and others (including the US Congress) failed to do: defend legal rights and expose government wrongdoing.”

Kimberley also called the Eastern District Court of Virginia, where Hale is due to receive his sentencing as the “notorious hanging court for whistleblowers”, which is where Assange is being indicted under multiple charges of the Espionage Act and which detained Chelsea Manning for refusing to testify against Assange. She also called out Barack Obama for criminalizing whistleblowers and using the previously discredited Espionage Act, a policy continued by both Trump and Biden until now. Kimberley has been one of the strongest advocates for the release of Hale.

Anti-war group, Codepink, is planning to hold a press conference and demonstration outside the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia, on Tuesday, addressing the sentencing and the prosecution so far. Codepink has also repeatedly advocated for the protection of whistleblowers and end of prosecutions against publishers. “We are hoping justice will prevail and this brave whistleblower will soon know peace,” they tweeted responding to Hale’s letter to the judge.