"Pardon Daniel Hale."
These words hung in the air on a recent Saturday evening, projected onto several buildings in Washington, D.C., above the face of a courageous whistleblower facing 10 years in prison.
The artists aimed to inform the U.S. public about Daniel E. Hale, a former Air Force analyst who blew the whistle on the consequences of drone warfare. Hale will appear for sentencing before Judge Liam O'Grady on July 27.
The U.S. Air Force had assigned Hale to work for the National Security Agency. At one point, he also served in Afghanistan at the Bagram Air Force Base.
"In this role as a signals analyst, Hale was involved in the identifying of targets for the U.S. drone program," says Chip Gibbons, policy director for Defending Rights and Dissent, in a lengthy article in Jacobin about Hale's case. "Hale would tell the filmmakers of the 2016 documentary National Bird that he was disturbed by 'the uncertainty if anyone I was involved in kill[ing] or captur[ing] was a civilian or not. There's no way of knowing.' "
Hale, 33, believed the public wasn't getting crucial information about the nature and extent of U.S. drone assassinations of civilians. Lacking that evidence, people in the United States couldn't make informed decisions. Moved by his conscience, he opted to become a truth-teller.
The U.S. government is treating him as a threat, a thief who stole documents, and an enemy. If ordinary people knew more about him, they might regard him as a hero.
Hale was charged under the Espionage Act for allegedly providing classified information to a reporter. The Espionage Act is an antiquated World War I era law, passed in 1917, designed for use against enemies of the U.S. accused of spying. The U.S. government has dusted it off, more recently, for use against whistleblowers.
Individuals charged under this law are not allowed to raise any issues regarding motivation or intent. They literally are not allowed to explain the basis for their actions.
One observer of whistleblowers' struggles with the courts was himself a whistleblower. Tried and convicted under the Espionage Act, John Kiriakou spent two and a half years in prison for exposing government wrongdoing. He says the U.S. government in these cases engages in "charge stacking" to ensure a lengthy prison term as well as "venue-shopping" to try them in the nation's most conservative districts.
Daniel Hale was facing trial in the Eastern District of Virginia, home to the Pentagon as well as many CIA and other federal government agents. He was facing up to 50 years in prison if found guilty on all counts.
On March 31, Hale pled guilty on one count of retention and transmission of national defense information. He now faces a maximum of 10 years in prison.
At no point has he been able to raise before a judge his concern about Pentagon claims that targeted drone assassination is precise and civilian deaths are minimal.
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