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U.S. sends man to jail for leaking documents on drone strikes

A U.S. federal court in Virginia sentenced a former intelligence contractor and member of the U.S. Air Force, Daniel Hale, to almost four years in prison for leaking documents on the U.S.’s drone programme to a news outlet in 2014. The move was sharply criticized by freedom of press and civil liberties advocates as damaging to press freedoms and human rights.

Mr Hale, 33, who helped organize drone attacks from Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, was sentenced by a federal court in Virginia to 45 months in prison for leaking the documents to The Intercept, a news outlet, in 2014 (by which time he had left the Air Force and was a contractor for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency).

Mr Hale was charged in 2019 under the Espionage Act and pleaded earlier this year. Prosecutors argued that Mr Hale rather than contribute to a debate on drone warfare, aided terror groups, the Associated Press reported.

Non-government estimates of drone strikes during the Obama administration have exceeded official counts for this period . The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported at least 325 drone strikes while the official tally was just 64, according to the Washington Post.

“ At the press of a button from thousands of miles away, two hellfire missiles screeched out of the sky, followed by two more. Showing no signs of remorse, I, and those around me, clapped and cheered triumphantly,” Mr Hale wrote in a hand-written letter to the judge, parts of which were published by The Intercept.

“I believe that it is wrong to kill, but it is especially wrong to kill the defenseless,” Mr Hale said.

The judge, Liam O’ Grady, said he was not sentencing Mr Hale for his “ courageous and principled” position on drone warfare but on his leaking of documents. He said Mr Hale could have resigned from the military or told his superiors that he refused to participate in drone attacks.

“You could have been a whistleblower … without taking any of these documents,” he said as per a report in The Washington Post. The Post also reported that the leaked documents had revealed that 90% of those killed were not the intended targets in an Afghanistan operation that lasted five months.

“The court did reject the prosecution's extreme demands, but Hale‘s prison sentence is nonetheless another tragic example of how the government misuses the Espionage Act to punish alleged journalistic sources as spies, a practice that damages human rights, press freedom and democracy,” editor of The Intercept, Betsy Reed, said in a statement. The Intercept has not confirmed that Mr Hale was its source.

“Daniel Hale helped the public learn about a lethal program that never should have been kept secret. He should be thanked, not sentenced as a spy,” the American Civil Liberties Union said on Twitter, reacting to the sentence.

“He faces years in prison for following his conscience and serving as a source on incredibly newsworthy stories,” Freedom of the Press Foundation, a U.S. based non-profit, tweeted.


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Printable version | Sep 22, 2021 1:45:06 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/us-sends-man-to-jail-for-leaking-documents-on-drone-strikes/article35594015.ece

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