Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Today is the LAST DAY of this Mid-Year Campaign. This is our hour of need.
If you value independent journalism, please support Common Dreams.

TODAY is the last day to meet our goal -- Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year.

Rep. Ilhan Omar speaks at a press conference

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) speaks during a press conference in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota on April 20, 2021. (Photo: Kerem Yucel/AFP via Getty Images)

Ilhan Omar to Joe Biden: Pardon Drone Whistleblower Daniel Hale

The Minnesota Democrat argued that the information Hale leaked "has shone a vital light on the legal and moral problems of the drone program."

Jake Johnson

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar of Minnesota sent a letter Thursday calling on President Joe Biden to grant a full pardon to former Air Force intelligence analyst Daniel Hale, who was sentenced to nearly four years in prison last month for leaking classified documents that helped expose the horrors inflicted by the U.S. drone assassination program.

"I believe that the decision to prosecute Mr. Hale was motivated, at least in part, as a threat to other would-be whistleblowers."
—Rep. Ilhan Omar

Omar argued that "there are several aspects of Mr. Hale's case that marit a full pardon," including the fact that the trove of documents he leaked to a journalist—widely believed to be The Intercept's Jeremy Scahill—"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."

Among the many revelations from Hale's document leak were the details of one drone-strike operation in Afghanistan, a nation from which the U.S. is currently withdrawing troops after two decades of disastrous war and occupation. According to the documents, nearly 90% of the people killed during one five-month period of the operation were not the intended targets.

During a court appearance last month, Hale said the document leak "was necessary to dispel the lie that drone warfare keeps us safe, that our lives are worth more than theirs." In March, Hale pleaded guilty to one count of violating the Espionage Act, which has long been used by both Democratic and Republican administrations to target journalists and whistleblowers.

In her letter to Biden on Thursday, Omar noted that Hale "took full responsibility for his actions" and that "his motivation, as outlined in his deeply moving letter to the judge in his case, was profoundly moral."

Omar was referring to an 11-page handwritten letter Hale sent to the judge presiding over his case shortly before he was sentenced to 45 months in prison.

"How could it be considered honorable of me to continuously have laid in wait for the next opportunity to kill unsuspecting persons, who, more often than not, are posing no danger to me or any other person at the time?" Hale wrote. "How could it be that any thinking person continued to believe that it was necessary for the protection of the United States of America to be in Afghanistan and killing people, not one of whom present was responsible for the September 11th attacks on our nation?"

Omar's call for a presidential pardon for Hale comes just over a month after the Biden administration launched its first drone strike in Somalia, the Minnesota Democrat's home country.

"Although the investigation of Mr. Hale's leaks began under the Obama administration, the Obama Department of Justice declined to prosecute him," Omar wrote. "It wasn't until 2019, under President [Donald] Trump, that he was indicted."

"We are all well aware of the severe consequences of the Trump administration's chilling crackdown on whistleblowers and other public servants who they deemed insufficiently loyal," she continued. "I believe that the decision to prosecute Mr. Hale was motivated, at least in part, as a threat to other would-be whistleblowers."

"I strongly believe that a full pardon, or at least a commutation of his sentence, is warranted," Omar added. "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."

Read the full letter:

Dear President Biden:

I am writing to strongly encourage you to use your authority to pardon Daniel Everette Hale, who was sentenced to 45 months in prison on July 27, 2021, after pleading guilty to one count of violating the Espionage Act.

Mr. Hale served as an intelligence analyst in the Air Force, and after his service, became one of the most outspoken critics of the drone program in which he had participated. In doing so, he joined a proud American tradition of veterans advocating for peace after their service was complete.

I take extremely seriously the prohibition on leaking classified information, but I believe there are several aspects of Mr. Hale’s case that merit a full pardon.

Although the investigation of Mr. Hale's leaks began under the Obama administration, the Obama Department of Justice declined to prosecute him. It wasn't until 2019, under President Trump, that he was indicted. We are all well aware of the severe consequences of the Trump administration's chilling crackdown on whistleblowers and other public servants who they deemed insufficiently loyal. I believe that the decision to prosecute Mr. Hale was motivated, at least in part, as a threat to other would-be whistleblowers.

Mr. Hale's release of information related to the drone program did not put any individual in danger. 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. This information also provided concrete benefit to the legal efforts of Americans seeking to protect their Constitutional rights against secretive and arbitrary watchlisting practices.

Finally, Mr. Hale pled guilty and took full responsibility for his actions. His motivation, as outlined in his deeply moving letter to the judge in his case, was profoundly moral. As you frequently say, the United States should lead not just by the example of our power but by the power of our example. I implore you to read Mr. Hale's letter to the judge in full, and I believe you will agree that he was motivated by the same thing. 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.

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. 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.

I thank you for your consideration of this important matter, and I stand ready to continue the conversation. I look forward to your prompt response.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

TODAY is the last day of our crucial Mid-Year Campaign and we might not make it without your help.
Who funds our independent journalism? Readers like you who believe in our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. No corporate advertisers. No billionaire founder. Our non-partisan, nonprofit media model has only one source of revenue: The people who read and value this work and our mission. That's it.
And the model is simple: If everyone just gives whatever amount they can afford and think is reasonable—$3, $9, $29, or more—we can continue. If not enough do, we go dark.

All the small gifts add up to something otherwise impossible. Please join us today. Donate to Common Dreams. This is crunch time. We need you now.

Texas Supreme Court Allows Century-Old Abortion Ban to Take Effect

"Extremist politicians are on a crusade to force Texans into pregnancy and childbirth against their will, no matter how devastating the consequences."

Jake Johnson ·


'What's There to Even Discuss?' Omar Says Free, Universal School Meals Should Be Permanent

"We have an opportunity to prove that a government of the people, by the people, and for the people can still deliver big things. And we can feed tens of millions of hungry kids while we do it."

Jake Johnson ·


'Stark Betrayal': Biden Administration Floats New Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling

"This is the third time since November the Biden administration has announced new oil and gas leasing plans on the Friday before a holiday," said one climate advocate. "They're ashamed, and they should be."

Jake Johnson ·


As US Rolls Back Reproductive Rights, Sierra Leone Moves to Decriminalize Abortion

"I'm hopeful today's announcement gives activists in the U.S., and especially Black women given the shared history, a restored faith that change is possible and progress can be made."

Brett Wilkins ·


'Indefensible': Outrage as New Reporting Shines Light on Biden Deal With McConnell

The president has reportedly agreed to nominate an anti-abortion Republican to a lifetime judgeship. In exchange, McConnell has vowed to stop blocking two Biden picks for term-limited U.S. attorney posts.

Jake Johnson ·

Common Dreams Logo