Your Honor, my surname, “Everette Hale”, was passed down to me by my father, to him by his father’s father, and so-on going back to the theologian writer “Edward Everet Hale.” Edward was a Massachusetts-born columnist for the Atlantic monthly newspaper writing about issues of abolition and slavery during the Pre-Civil War era. He was the grand nephew of Revolutionary War Hero Captain Nathan Hale. Nathaniel, of course, is well-known for having been executed for his efforts to spy on the British troop movements in support of Gen. Washington’s rebel army as they fought to free the States of colonial rule. Denied clergy, he was given only the chance to speak his peace before left to hang three days in a public square as a warning to other would-be saboteurs. It bears mentioning that, under certain circumstances, an act of espionage is still punishable by death in this country today.
The day after I plead guilty to a violation of the Espionage Act I took a lonely bicycle ride towards the Capitol to clear my head, in search of the statue honoring Capt. Hale’s sacrifice. I wish I could say that I wasn’t surprised to find it located next to the John F. Kennedy Department of Justice building. But there it was, exactly where it belonged. I asked a reluctant security guard to take my photo with the statue of Nathan behind me, told him thank you, to which he responded with a shrug and went about his day. A short way from there I came to be at the Lincoln War Memorial Park. The park was alive and bustling with people speaking different languages, coming to and fro, from across the country and around the world. Of the many awe-inspiring commemorative monuments surrounding the reflective pool, I believe the Vietnam War Memorial to be the most striking because of its straightforward simplicity. The more than 58,000 names of every American killed in action etched into a 400ft granite wall stands as a testament to the completion of the war and our nation's commitment to never forget the fallen. By contrast, were it also to include the names of every Viet person killed would require it to be another 4 miles long. Curiously, there is still no monument to commemorate the formal end of the Iraq war. I often wonder how we’ll remember it. And with the withdrawal of troops in Afghanistan looming I wonder how we’ll remember it as well; or if we intend to at all. What I remember best about Afghanistan is the enduring spirit of its people. I think of the farmers in their poppy fields whose daily harvest will gain them safe passage from the warlords. Who will, in turn, trade it for weapons before it is synthesized, repackaged, and re-sold dozens of times before it finds its way into this country and into the broken veins of our nation’s next opioid victim. I think of the women who, despite living their entire lives never once allowed to make so much as a choice for themselves, are treated as pawns in a ruthless game politicians play when they need a justification to further the killing of their sons & husbands. And I think of the children, whose bright-eyed, dirty faces look to the sky and hope to see clouds of gray, afraid of the clear blue days that beckon drones to come carrying eager death notes for their fathers.
Your Honor, I oppose drone warfare for the same reasons I oppose the death penalty. I believe capital punishment to be an abomination and an all-out assault on common human decency. I believe that it is wrong to kill no matter the circumstances, yet I believe it is especially wrong to kill the defenseless. And, in spite of what the Supreme Court has ruled, I believe there is simply no way in which a person can be killed that is not cruel and unusual. If anyone here is still not convinced of this then they must ask themselves if they believe that the 4% of death row inmates exonerated after the fact is an acceptable price to pay. I don’t. No person should have to die for a crime that they did not commit. Just as no person should have to live with the burden of having taken a poor, defenseless innocent life. Not a soldier carrying out his duties nor a judge theirs.
When it comes to the drone assassination program the disparity between the guilty and the innocent killed is incalculably higher. In some cases as many as 9 out of 10 individuals killed are not identifiable. In one particular instance the American-born son of a radical American Imam was assigned a Terrorist Identities Datamark Environment or TIDE pin number, tracked and killed in a drone strike along with 8 members of his family while they ate lunch together a full 2 weeks after his father was killed. Asked about why the 16 year old Abdul Rahman, “TPN26350617” needed to die, one White House official said, “He should have had a better father.”
While deployed to Afghanistan I was exposed to similar ways of thinking to distract myself from the true nature of my actions. As one drone operator put it, “Do you ever step on ants and never give it another thought? That’s what you’re made to think of the targets. They deserved it, they chose their side. You had to kill a part of your conscience to keep doing your job - ignoring the voice inside telling you this wasn’t right.” I too ignored the voice inside as I continued walking blindly towards the edge of an abyss. And when I found myself at the brink, ready to give in, the voice said to me, “You who had been a hunter of men, are no longer. By the grace of God you’ve been saved. Now go forth and be a fisher of men so that others might know the truth.”
So I ran to the press with documents in hand, not one more nor one less than necessary, to dispel the demonstrable lie that said drone warfare kept us safe, that our lives are worth more than theirs, and that only more killing would bring about certain victory. Simply put: It is wrong to kill, it is especially wrong to kill the defenseless, and it is an abdication of the Bill of Rights to kill without due process of law.
Your Honor, much has been said about the potential that “serious” or “exceptionally grave” harm was brought about due to my actions. But since no evidence of this fact has materialized in all the years since my criminal investigation began, it might appear to an outsider looking in that such claims are yet another example of a “boy crying wolf.” But in wishing to settle the matter myself I might have uncovered one instance where my actions did contribute towards one of the most grave attacks in our Nation's history.
At 2 a.m. July 22nd 2016, a lone gunman entered an Orlando nightclub and proceeded to kill 49 people in what became the most deadly mass shooting in American history at the time. In a 911 call the gunman stated, “They need to stop the US airstrikes, ok? This went down because a lot of women & children are getting killed in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.” The gunman, Omar Mateen, was killed by police 3 hours after his bloody, homicidal rampage began. It goes without saying, Omar Mateen was a deranged homicidal lunatic who could in no way justify the killing of 49 innocent people that night. Tragically this is a story all too common in American life today: a maniac believes himself aggrieved and unheard, with easy access to a gun. What is unique to this case is the gunman’s stated motives. Though it in no way excuses his heinous crimes, it is impossible to deny that airstrikes in the middle east have often dismissed innocent people as “collateral damage.” When I consider my own participation in the drone program I worry that my past actions have given provocation to would-be terrorist Omar Mateen to carry out his vengeful fantasies. In that sense my actions have contributed greatly towards the potential harm, or to use the CIA’s term - “blowback.” I’m left to wonder if only I’d had the courage to come forward sooner with my disclosures could I have prevented such a tragic loss of life? Of course there’s no way to be absolutely certain of anything but I sometimes wonder if Omar Mateen had seen someone accept responsibility and show remorse for their part in the war, would it have reached the part of his heart that still held onto a shred of humanity? If so, maybe he and his 49 defenseless, innocent victims would be alive today. Best rule: to prevent terror on us we must stop the terror on them.
Nevertheless, I am here to answer for my own crimes and not that of another person. And it would appear that I am here today to answer for the crime of stealing papers. For which I expect to spend some portion of my life in prison. But what I am really here for is having stolen something that was never mine to take: precious human life. For which I was well-compensated and given a medal. I couldn’t keep living in a world in which people pretended things weren’t happening that were. My consequential decision to share classified information about the drone program with the public was a gesture not taken lightly, nor one I would have taken at all if I believed such a decision had the possibility of harming anyone but myself. I acted not for the sake of self-aggrandizement but that I might some day humbly ask forgiveness:
Please, I beg you, forgive me, your honor, for taking papers as opposed to the lives of others. I could not, God so help me, have done otherwise.