Whistleblower Daniel Hale was sentenced on July 27 to 45 months in prison for releasing documents about the U.S. drone war and targeted assassination program to Intercept investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill. Hale had pled guilty in March to one count of violating the World War I-era Espionage Act, where he faced a possible sentence of 11 years in prison.
The 32-year-old had served four years in the U.S. Air Force and later worked as a contractor identifying targets for assassination. As documents showed, the targets Hale and others intended were often not the victims of the drone strikes; rather, they were frequently innocent civilians, including children.
Hale clearly suffered from what is known as “moral injury” for his role in the drone program. But in seven years of activism after releasing the documents, he always kept the focus on the U.S. drone program’s victims and their families. Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Nick Mattern, co-coordinator of the group, BanKillerDrones.org, which advocated for no jail time for Hale and a pardon from President Biden for “committing the truth” about drone warfare. Mattern began by explaining why Daniel Hale isn’t a household name like Edward Snowden or Julian Assange.
NICK MOTTERN: I think part of it is that the information that was released by Julian Assange and also Chelsea Manning was much more widely ranged over U.S. political/military activities and in some respects much greater volume. The other part of this is that drone warfare has not been adequately covered by the press in the U.S. – more so in Germany. The extent of civilian trauma, casualties, dislocation has not been covered by the U.S press. There’s been much more willingness on the part of the press to accept government descriptions of the “precision” of drone attacks.
The fact that Daniel Hale released very important documents showing how the decision-making path followed from lower up to the president – the chain of command; how kill lists were formed of various individuals; the errors that are made using cell phone data for attacks and the very revealing study that was done by the Pentagon or the CIA: the documentation showed that nine out of ten people killed by US drones – 90 percent – were not those targeted. These were other people who got in the way.
So, drone warfare is really the way of warfare going forward. Automated warfare is the way of warfare going forward. So far, the U.S. government has been able to proceed with this under the color of “precision” and the notion that this is something that actually makes warfare safer for everyone, including those who have been attacked, which is just basically a lie, because there has been so much study showing that civilian populations and a community – let’s say one person has been killed by a drone – people in those communities are afraid to go out. It disrupts community life; it disrupts trust. This whole thing has been totally under-reported, and so Daniel’s revelations are sort of an anomaly in terms of what the president has been putting out about this. And the Congress, from the beginning, has basically refused to challenge the administrations of George Bush, Barack Obama, Trump, and Biden.
We know that historical of the use of the Espionage Act is to prevent whistleblowers and journalists from revealing these very important secrets about who the U.S. has chosen to kill, and why.
MELINDA TUHUS: You know, I think people do feel – and I know Obama felt this way – having a kill list and having drones go after individual people, supposedly – was a lot less bad than ground invasions. Well, it was less bad for the American side, I guess, but drone warfare is more likely to produce moral injury — that’s the word I’m thinking of — for the people who do it, not to mention the targets.
NICK MOTTERN: I think the U.S. government has a responsibility to bring forth the truth about its wars, about who’s being harmed – both in terms of those being attacked and for military people who experience moral injury. The U.S. government is doing exactly the opposite. Through the prosecution of Daniel Hale and other people, they’re suppressing information about who is being harmed by U.S. military policy, U.S. diplomatic policy. If we’re going to have a democracy, the public has to know what’s being done in its name, and the pattern of behavior on the part of the government has been more and more to try to prevent people from having this type of information when it comes to who is being killed, who is being harmed.
So, the whistleblowers are under pressure, obviously, to not say anything, and when it comes to those drone operators who are suffering PTSD and moral injury, it’s very, very difficult to get any information from the government about how many people those are, what’s being done to assist them, and what are the consequences to their lives.