U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) issued a letter to President Joe Biden on Thursday asking him to pardon Daniel Hale, a former Air Force intelligence analyst, who leaked classified documents regarding U.S. drone strikes that were published by The Intercept in 2015.
The information leaked by Hale revealed that U.S. drone strikes conducted under the Obama administration killed civilian causalities at a rate far more prevalent than previously acknowledged.
Following the leak, the Obama administration’s Justice Department opened an investigation. It was not until the closing years of the Trump administration that Hale received formal charges, being hit with counts of disclosing intelligence information and theft of government property in 2019. In March of this year, he pleaded guilty to retaining and transmitting national defense information and was sentenced to 45 months in prison.
“The information, while politically embarrassing to some, has shone a vital light on the legal and moral problems of the drone program and informed the public debate on an issue that has for too many years remained in the shadows,” Omar wrote in her letter. “The legal question of Mr. Hale’s guilt is settled, but the moral question remains open. I strongly believe that a full pardon, or at least a commutation of his sentence, is warranted.”
In Obama’s first year, he conducted more drone strikes than that seen during the entire Bush presidency, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism writes. The organization estimates that the civilian death toll of strikes conducted in Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, and Afghanistan totaled somewhere between 910 to 2,200 casualties between 2004 to 2020, with Hale being party to the practice’s growth in frequency under Obama.
In a handwritten letter explaining his rationale for the leak, Hale wrote that witnessing the missiles rain down on suspecting people compounded his existing feelings of trauma and depression. He questioned his actions facilitating these strikes, saying “how could it be considered honorable for me to continuously have laid in wait for the next opportunity to kill unsuspecting persons.” He concluded that by “God and my own conscience” he had a moral obligation to “stop the cycle of violence.”
Omar focused on Hale’s moral reasoning for the leak and cited him taking “full responsibility” for his actions as reasons why he deserved a presidential pardon. She said the fact that he wasn’t indicted until 2019 under the Trump administration reflected that administration’s “chilling crackdown on whistleblowers,” adding that Hale’s sentencing appeared to serve as an open threat to other potential leakers.
“Acknowledging where we’ve gone wrong, and telling the truth about our shortcomings, is not only the right thing to do, but also an act of profound patriotism,” she said. “It is for precisely these cases, where the letter of the law does not capture the complex human judgments in difficult situations, that your pardon authority is at its most useful.”