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Ilhan Omar calls on Biden to pardon drone whistleblower Daniel Hale

US Congresswoman says Hale's case 'is exactly what the pardon power is for'
Congresswoman lhan Omar speaks during a press conference held outside of the US Capitol Building on 14 June 2022 in Washington.
Congresswoman lhan Omar speaks during a press conference held outside of the US Capitol Building, on 14 June 2022 in Washington (AFP)

US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar on Thursday called on the Biden administration to issue a pardon and end the prison sentence of Daniel Hale, a former military analyst who leaked government documents revealing the civilian toll of the US lethal drone programme.

"Daniel does not threaten anyone. He has taken responsibility for his actions, he did his country a service. And it is time we acknowledge that and repay him," Omar said during an online press conference on Thursday morning.

'I take the prohibition of revealing classified information extremely seriously. But what Daniel did was courageous... What he did was public service'

- Ilhan Omar

"Daniel's case is exactly what the pardon power is for," Omar said. "I take the prohibition of revealing classified information extremely seriously. But what Daniel did was courageous. What Daniel did was patriotic. What he did was public service."

The conference was hosted by the Daniel Hale Support Network, a coalition of organisations and friends of Hale working to advocate for his release.

Omar made a similar call in August 2021, sending a letter to the White House saying that Hale "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".

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Last year, Hale was sentenced to 45 months in prison, after pleading guilty to one charge out of five related to the dissemination of the documents, which exposed secrets about US drone warfare, including how often civilians were killed during strikes in Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Somalia. He was sentenced under the Espionage Act of 1917.

US drone whistleblower should be pardoned, Ilhan Omar tells Biden
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Hale served in the US military during the first term of the Obama administration, a period that saw a rise in the number of drone strikes conducted by American forces.

A total of 563 air strikes, mostly by drones, targeted Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen during Barack Obama's eight years in office, compared with 57 under his predecessor George W Bush, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

The Council of Foreign Relations (CFR) estimates that 3,797 people were killed in drone strikes during Obama's tenure, including 324 civilians, a number that is disputed.

The former Air Force intelligence analyst was one of at least eight alleged media sources to be criminally prosecuted - and the fifth to be charged under the Espionage Act - during the Trump administration. Hale was the first such case to be sentenced under the Biden administration.

In his sentencing hearing, Hale said: "I am here because I stole something that was never mine to take - precious human life. I couldn’t keep living in a world in which people pretend that things weren’t happening that were. Please, your honor, forgive me for taking papers instead of human lives."

During the press conference, Omar was joined by Hale's family, experts on the US military, and other whistleblowers including Daniel Ellsberg, a former military analyst who in 1971 released a top-secret study of the US's decision-making in the Vietnam War that came to be known as the Pentagon Papers.

"Daniel Hale is unmistakably one of my heroes. It just so happens that he faced trial for the same acts that I took 50 years ago in releasing the Pentagon Papers," Ellsberg said.

"And for much the same reason - an unconstitutional war going on not declared by Congress, committing endless crimes of war."

Omar and other US lawmakers have shown support for reforming the Espionage Act, which was passed more than 100 years ago during the First World War, and has for decades been used against whistleblowers.

Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib tried to include an amendment to the 2023 Pentagon spending bill, known as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), that would allow whistleblowers to defend themselves by arguing that their disclosures to the media were in the public interest.

But it is unclear whether the amendment will make it into the final version of the NDAA. Meanwhile, the Biden administration is fighting to extradite Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, so that he can also be tried under the Espionage Act.

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