At a sentencing hearing Tuesday, whistleblower Daniel Hale faces at least nine years in prison for leaking classified information about the U.S. drone and targeted assassination program. During his time in the Air Force from 2009 to 2013, Hale worked with the National Security Agency and the Joint Special Operations Task Force at the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, where he helped identify targets for assassination. He later worked as a contractor for the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency. In March, Hale pleaded guilty to one count of violating the World War I-era Espionage Act for leaking documents exposing the drone program. “This has been an odyssey that has occupied most of the better part of his adult life for basically committing the truth,” says Jesselyn Radack, an attorney for Daniel Hale. “The U.S. has never contested any of Daniel’s disclosures,” Radack adds. We also speak with Noor Mir, Daniel Hale’s close friend and part of his support team, who describes him as a compassionate person willing to make sacrifices to do the right thing. “I know that when he’s out, he will remain committed to ending suffering in all forms,” Mir says.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman.
The Biden administration is urging a federal court to sentence drone whistleblower Daniel Hale to at least nine years in prison for leaking classified information about the U.S. drone and targeted assassination program. Hale was enlisted in the U.S. Air Force from 2009 to 2013, during which time he worked with the National Security Agency and JSOC, the Joint Special Operations Task Force, at the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, where he helped identify targets for assassination. He later worked as a contractor for the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency.
In March, Daniel Hale pleaded guilty to one count of violating the World War I-era Espionage Act for leaking documents exposing the drone program. He’ll be sentenced Tuesday. In a hand-written letter to Judge Liam O’Grady, Hale describes feeling immense guilt for his role in the U.S. assassination program. He wrote, quote, “Not a day goes by that I don’t question the justification for my actions.” Hale went on to write, “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’s more accurate to say that it irreversibly transformed my identity as an American.”
Daniel Hale’s lawyers are seeking a 12-to-18-month sentence. In a court filing, his lawyers state, quote, “The facts regarding Mr. Hale’s motive are clear. 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.”
Famed NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has voiced his support for Daniel Hale. I spoke to Ed Snowden in May.
EDWARD SNOWDEN: Daniel Hale is one of the most consequential whistleblowers. 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% 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.
AMY GOODMAN: In a moment, we’ll be joined by one of Daniel Hale’s close friends, as well as one of his lawyers. But first we turn to Daniel Hale in his own words, speaking in the documentary National Bird, a film by Sonia Kennebeck.
DANIEL HALE: The people who defend drones and defend the way that they’re used, they always say, you know, they protect American lives by not putting them in harm’s way. But what they really do is they just embolden commanders, they embolden decision-makers, because there is no threat, there is no immediate consequence. They can do the strike, and they can potentially kill this person that they are so desperate to get and to eliminate because of how dangerous, 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 are involved in the strike and get killed, as well, you know, there’s no consequence for it.
When it comes to high-value targeting, every mission is to go after one person at a time. But anybody else that’s killed in that strike is just blanketly 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 of view of the camera are military-aged males, meaning anybody who’s believed to be of age 16 or older, they are a legitimate target under the rules of engagement. If the strike occurs and kills all of them, they just say they got them all.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Daniel Hale, speaking in the documentary National Bird, a film by Sonia Kennebeck.
We’re joined now in Washington, D.C., by two guests. Jesselyn Radack is an attorney for Daiel Hale, directs the Whistleblower and Source Protection Program at ExposeFacts. And Noor Mir is with us. She’s a close friend of Daniel Hale. She is part of the Daniel Hale Support Team. She first met Hale in 2013 when doing anti-drone advocacy with CodePink.
Jesselyn Radack, let’s begin with you. Tuesday is the day of sentencing. Talk about what Daniel Hale has confessed to and what the defense — what you’re asking for and what you expect him to receive.
JESSELYN RADACK: Daniel has pled guilty to one count under the Espionage Act for an unauthorized disclosure to the media. So he is facing a sentence range that’s between one to 10 years for that infraction. However, part of his guilty plea, unlike the usual situation where you plead guilty for a certain amount of time that is definite, here the time has not been determined. So, at sentencing, a lot of different groups, Daniel himself, his supporters, people in civil liberties community and target groups of drone strikes and whistleblower groups, media groups are all arguing that he should be shown mercy, because he was tried under a very draconian law to which he could not raise a defense.
AMY GOODMAN: So, can you give us the chronology of what took place? I mean, The Intercept published “The Drone Papers” in 2015. Daniel Hale released this information, the documents that he got, to a journalist. Explain Daniel’s rationale, further than this extremely significant handwritten note he gave to the judge last week.
JESSELYN RADACK: Daniel’s rationale was that not only was information about drone strikes being denied, but it was also being lied about by people in power. The U.S. was consistently understating the amount of innocent civilians who were targeted, and using overbroad targeting lists. So Daniel ended up going to the press.
But his case has spanned a long time period. His house was searched in 2014, but he wasn’t indicted until 2019, and here we are in 2021 for his sentencing. So, this has been an odyssey that has occupied most of the better part of his adult life for basically committing the truth.
The U.S. has never contested any of Daniel’s disclosures. And when asked to do a statement about what kind of harm Daniel caused, it did not do a damage assessment and did not submit any kind of statement about harm, because there wasn’t any.
AMY GOODMAN: Noor Mir, you’re a close friend of Daniel Hale. Talk about how you met him, what’s happening, and then your understanding of what took place over the years.
NOOR MIR: Absolutely. So, I met Daniel Hale in 2013. He was beginning his journey in antiwar activism, and I was running a campaign with CodePink around lethal drone warfare. And it was hard at the time to get people to even believe the stories of survivors from places like Yemen and Pakistan and Somalia. And here we had a veteran who was — who not only believed these stories, but was able to talk about what he had witnessed.
Over the years, before Daniel moved to Tennessee, he was a vocal supporter of opposing wars around the world. And when he came back to D.C. to prepare for his sentencing and his trial, Daniel remained committed to opposing injustices. He, while working at different restaurants in D.C., also took to the streets last summer for Black Lives Matter. And the last time that I saw him was actually at the White House, where we showed up to support Yemeni — young Yemeni people that were hunger-striking to urge the Biden administration to stop supporting the Saudi blockade on Yemen. So, that is Daniel’s character. And I know that when he’s out, he will remain committed to ending suffering in all forms.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to when you met him. In November 2013, Daniel Hale spoke at a drone summit in Washington, D.C., organized by your group, CodePink. This is Daniel in his own words.
DANIEL HALE: Before I begin one last thing, I just would like to, in a way, say I’m sorry. I’m not up here for any good reasons. And to the people in the audience who are victims or who are families of victims or have families who live in countries where U.S. militarism, and specifically unmanned systems, are conducting kinetic strikes, I’m sorry, because I’m up here because I was, for a time, a short period of time during my military career as an analyst, working with unmanned systems and deployed to Afghanistan. And at the very least, you all deserve an apology.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Daniel in 2013, when you met him. I want to go just a little further, to January 2014, when he spoke at a rally outside the White House, as you described, calling for the closing of the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo.
DANIEL HALE: Good afternoon, everybody. My name is Daniel Hale. I was a veteran in the United States Air Force from 2009 until 2013. … Through my experience in my deployment to Afghanistan, where I was primarily tasked with pursuing high-value targets through the utilization of unmanned systems, or otherwise known as drones, I came to learn of the thousands of prisoners who remain at the prison in Bagram Air Force Base to this day, who are in similar situations to those that Guantánamo, who are continually held indefinitely for benign or otherwise petty offenses or reasons not given to them whatsoever.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that was Daniel Hale about six years ago. Noor Mir, if you can talk about what haunts Daniel the most about the assassination targeting he was doing in Afghanistan? And you, yourself, your family is from Pakistan. You’ve interviewed drone attack survivors. If you can talk about the impact on Daniel?
NOOR MIR: Yeah. Thank you for that question. And I would say the impact of everything that is happening and has happened in Daniel’s life, where I see it showing up the most is, he is hungry for people to care about the actual story of those people that were not intended targets. He wants people, when they are outraged about what’s happening to him as a whistleblower, to care equally about truth tellers that have traveled to the U.S. to demand justice — for people like Nabila, who was playing in a field as a 7-year-old in Pakistan and saw her grandmother blown into pieces; about Abdulrahman, who was a teenager, who was eating dinner with his cousins two weeks after his father was assassinated, and similarly was killed; about Faisal, who Daniel wrote about in his letter and was a speaker at the drone conference that I organized, who was actually denied an apology by Obama’s Department of Justice in exchange for offering to drop his lawsuit against them. I think that’s what haunts Daniel, is that those stories are not being centered. And that is the motive that he has explained for what — for his disclosures.
AMY GOODMAN: Noor, New York Magazine did a very powerful piece about Daniel called “The Drone Leaker.” And in it, they describe this intervention that you did, organizing all of his friends — he didn’t know this was going to happen — to be with him, to more defend himself than he was. Can you talk about that?
NOOR MIR: Yes, and I think a lot of this stems from his discomfort at being the center of the story. He said, “This isn’t about me. Why is this about me? This is about the people that were killed, that are still being killed.” And that discomfort, I think, ended up being paralyzing. He felt like he shouldn’t be the one that people are writing about, that he shouldn’t be taking away resources or attention. And we needed to have this intervention to say, “Hey, actually, what is happening to you will impact how future whistleblowers and truth tellers approach this. It might hold them back. It’s important for you to be able to talk about what’s going on. And we are here to support you.” So that intervention was needed. I’m sure it was uncomfortable. But we’re very grateful for all the friends that have come together to be able to support Daniel in this way.
AMY GOODMAN: And can you explain, knowing him as you do, he — when asked how he should be described, you know, as a whistleblower, he said, “No, as a traitor.” What does he mean?
NOOR MIR: That’s a really good question. I think that for Daniel, you know, that is what the government is calling him. And I think that I see it as an attempt to say, “You can call me that. You can call me a traitor, if that is how you want to paint me.” So, I believe that, you know, this is his way of saying, “You can call me what you want, but I did what I did, and I know that I did it for the right reasons.”
AMY GOODMAN: Before we end, I want to read more from Daniel Hale’s letter to the judge and get Jesselyn Radack’s final words. Daniel Hale wrote, in his own handwriting, “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.” Those are the words of Daniel Hale in a handwritten letter to the judge last week. Jesselyn Radack, you have 30 seconds. This is just 24 hours before the judge will rule on Daniel’s sentencing.
JESSELYN RADACK: Unfortunately, what you just read in that moving letter is not allowed in, had this case gone to trial. Dan has expressed sentiments similar to other drone clients, but under the Espionage Act, your intent, your pure motive, is irrelevant. And that is the cruelty that the government tried him under such a strenuous, draconian law, that he can’t raise any of what you just read as a defense to why he blew the whistle.
AMY GOODMAN: Jesselyn Radack, we want to thank you for being with us, one of the attorneys for Daniel Hale, director of the Whistleblower and Source Protection Program at ExposeFacts, and Noor Mir, close friend of Daniel Hale, part of his support team.
Next up, Bob Moses remembered, in his own words. Stay with us.