In Pre-Sentencing Letter, Drone Whistleblower Daniel Hale Says Crisis of Conscience Motivated Leak

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by Brett Wilkins, Activist Post:

Attorneys for drone whistleblower Daniel Hale—who faces sentencing next week after pleading guilty earlier this year to violating the Espionage Act—on Thursday submitted a letter to Judge Liam O’Grady in which the former Air Force intelligence analyst says a crisis of conscience drove him to leak classified information about the U.S. targeted assassination program.

The 11-page handwritten letter (pdf) begins with a quote from U.S. Admiral Gene La Rocque, who said in 1995 that “we now kill people without ever seeing them. Now you push a button thousands of miles away… Since it’s all done by remote control, there’s no remorse.”

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“It is not a secret that I struggle to live with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder,” the 33-year-old Hale wrote in the letter. “Depression is a constant… Stress, particularly stress caused by war, can manifest itself at different times and in different ways.”

“The first time that I witnessed a drone strike came within days of my arrival to Afghanistan,” Hale recounted.

Early that morning, before dawn, a group of men had gathered together in the mountain ranges of Patika province around a campfire carrying weapons and brewing tea. That they carried weapons with them would not have been considered out of the ordinary in the place I grew up, much less within the virtually lawless tribal territories outside the control of the Afghan authorities.

“Except that among them was a suspected member of the Taliban, given away by the targeted cell phone device in his pocket,” he wrote. “As for the remaining individuals, to be armed, of military age, and sitting in the presence of an alleged enemy combatant was enough evidence to place them under suspicion as well.”

In 2012—the same year that Hale deployed to Afghanistan to support the U.S. Defense Department’s Joint Special Operations Task Force and was responsible for identifying, tracking, and targeting “high-value” terror suspects—the New York Times reported then-President Barack Obama, who dramatically increased U.S. drone strikes in the so-called War on Terror, “embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties” that effectively “counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants.”

Critics condemned the policy as an attempt by the administration to artificially lower the war’s civilian casualty figures—which by then already numbered in the hundreds of thousands, with most victims killed during former President George W. Bush’s tenure.

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