John Kiriakou Military Prisoners' Rights

John Kiriakou: Drone Whistleblower Thrown in Pen With Terrorists

Is society safer with Daniel Hale, who exposed U.S. drone civilian killings, being housed with some of the most dangerous prisoners in America?
[Backbone Campaign / CC BY 2.0]

By John Kiriakou / Consortium News

Editor’s note: Daniel Hale’s legal team was in touch with to make the following clarification: “Hale is in a maximum security prison, but he is not in solitary confinement. He has his own individual cell, but is able to leave his cell from 6 a.m. to 9:45 p.m. every day to go to the TV room, the recreation room, or an area to read/study. He’s not isolated from the 53 other inmates in the CMU (Communications Management Unit), but is isolated from the outside world, given the heavy restrictions and monitoring on any communications with the outside world. While his phone calls are extremely limited, he is able to receive letters and supporters can write to him using the guidelines here:

Drone whistleblower Daniel Hale was sent last week to the notorious Communications Management Unit (CMU) at the maximum-security U.S. Penitentiary (USP) at Marion, Illinois to serve a 45-month sentence, rather than to the low-security prison at Butner, North Carolina, where federal Judge Liam O’Grady had recommended he go. 

Butner is a prison hospital complex, and O’Grady was cognizant of Daniel’s need for psychological therapy to deal with post traumatic stress disorder from his time as a U.S. Air Force drone operator. 

USP Marion, on the other hand, is a former “Supermax” prison that was built in the early 1960s as a replacement for Alcatraz. It was converted into a CMU to keep terrorists from being in contact with the media. The Bureau of Prisons, which apparently knows better than a federal judge, decided that the American public must be protected from Daniel Hale’s dangerous ideas, like the notion that we shouldn’t murder innocent civilians with drones.

Hale today should be sitting in the TV room of a low-security housing unit in a prison in North Carolina awaiting drug and alcohol counseling or speaking with a therapist. That’s what the judge’s order was. Hale is emotionally fragile. He’s occasionally suicidal. He needs some help and support through this experience. Instead, he’s on 24-hour-a-day lockdown. He will likely spend his entire nearly 4-year sentence in solitary confinement with almost no human contact at great risk to his mental health. 

What is Daniel Hale’s day like? He is alone in a six-by-ten-foot concrete and steel cell. It has a steel bunk, a paper-thin mattress, a small steel sink, and a steel toilet. On the days that he’s allowed to exercise, which is two or three times per week, he is led into a six-by-ten-foot outdoor cage, where he can walk in circles for an hour. 

He is permitted two showers per week and one phone call per month, but only to his attorney. Visitors are carefully screened (NSA whistleblower Tom Drake and I, for example, are banned from visiting him because we have criminal convictions for blowing the whistle on warrantless wiretapping and CIA torture, respectively.) 

Even then, the few visitors he will have will be able to see him only through reinforced glass and with the use of an intercom. When Hale receives a letter, it will be scanned and then put on a monitor screen installed along the ceiling of his cell, where it will remain for five minutes while he reads it. At the end of five minutes, it will disappear permanently.

His Fellow Prisoners

There are only two full-fledged CMUs in America. One is at USP Marion and the other at USP Terre Haute, Indiana. Again, the purpose of a CMU is to keep the closest possible watch on a dangerous prisoner’s communication with the outside world. So who are some of the other prisoners in Marion’s CMU along with Hale? 

They include convicted al-Qaeda terrorist Muhammad Saleh, a follower of the late “blind sheikh” Omar Abdul Rahman; Muhammad Rashed al-Owhali, convicted of terrorism in the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya; Omar Rezaq, a member of the notorious Abu Nidal Organization and the last surviving hijacker of Egypt Air flight 648 in which 58 people were killed in 1985; and Victor Bout, the Russian arms dealer convicted of selling surface-to-air missiles to terrorist groups.

Does Daniel Hale belong with these people? Is society safer with him being housed with some of the most dangerous prisoners in America? Is solitary confinement in one of the most restrictive maximum-security penitentiaries in America what Judge O’Grady believed was “justice?” Is solitary confinement supposed to somehow “rehabilitate” Hale? 

The obvious answer is no. 

This is what the BOP does, however. The bureau’s leaders don’t care one whit what judges say at sentencing. I was supposed to be sentenced to a minimum-security work camp and instead was sent to a low-security prison—not an impossible situation, but still an honest-to-God prison. When I filed an internal appeal, I was told that the judge’s order was a “recommendation” that the BOP had chosen to ignore.

The situation is more serious with Hale, though. This isn’t just a case of the BOP ignoring a recommendation. There’s a huge difference between a low-security prison and a Supermax CMU. There’s a huge difference between a low-security prison and solitary confinement. And there’s a huge difference between a low-security prison and a complete lack of the medical and psychological support necessary to keep a prisoner alive. 

What happens if, God forbid, Daniel can’t make it through the sentence and he harms himself? A BOP apology isn’t going to cut it. A letter to Congress attributing the disaster to “human error” won’t help him. This issue has to be fixed right now. Daniel Hale must be transferred to Butner and he has to get the help he needs.

You can send letters to Hale directly at: Daniel Everette Hale, 26069-075, USP Marion, U.S. Penitentiary, P.O. Box 1000, Marion, IL 62959

John Kiriakou is a former CIA counterterrorism officer and a former senior investigator with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. John became the sixth whistleblower indicted by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act—a law designed to punish spies. He served 23 months in prison as a result of his attempts to oppose the Bush administration’s torture program.


  1. Will the prison give him the mail if his prisoner identification number isn’t on it?

  2. Oh my! I just read this article to my husband. We could have been in a zoom call to church this Sunday morning. Instead I am typing this post. It really is heart breaking that we can treat whistle blowers so badly. We grew up to believe that wrong needs to be reported. At what point are we going to treat whistle blowers as the heroes that they are.

  3. Freedom of speech in the U.S. is only allowed if you don’t challenge the establishment in any meaningful way. This is what they do to you if you expose them and their immoral behavior.

  4. Further evidence (as if we need any) that America is not a Democracy….It is a cruel Empire and has always been….Democratic theory is good just like that of Communist theory….The former had better PR and it is shocking that people still want to come here, thinking they will be given chance.

  5. OMG this is terrible. I will be praying for him, and hoping somehow that judges with more clout than the BOP review this and change the situation. Actually, no one should be in solitary confinement, it is a recipe for a psychotic break.

  6. Whistle blowing — not permitted — period. You will be crushed if you choose to. god bless america. No surprises here. Shameful . . . ruthless.

  7. It’s outrageous and unacceptable that President Trump would do this… Oh, wait…

  8. I thank John Kiriakou for this update, this appalling development. So against the judge’s recommendation, the BOP – for all intents and purposes and for a fact, The State – drops Daniel Hale into a Super Max. Misery Makers, Sadists.
    Contrast this with the pair of judges who made a mouse to their cats of Steven Donziger, breaking norms and rules to see to it that he suffers to the max – wielding the old hair-parting 2 x 4.
    This is how we’ve got conspiracy theory on the Deep State… when the powers want something or somebody, that something or somebody gets got. By whatever means, no matter how cruel, absurd, deviant, lawless, immoral…

    I see all this, and I’m feeling it, the evil, highly organized and apparently unchecked and scarcely opposed, extorting, coercing, manipulating, orchestrating, abusing, torturing, lying all up and down – the truth is never good enough, and, perhaps beyond reason, I’ve got to believe that somewhere, somehow, there’s got to be an ‘equal and opposite’ entity, power, authority.
    Can it be that we’re hopelessly trapped in a unipolar (is unipolar even possible?) world, universe, in which misery is the singular and ultimate end? Is there nothing to end it?
    If there weren’t a God, man had had to have invented Him, and the same goes for Hell. It’s the hope, the prayer, the Hail Mary that there’s an Eternal Justice and a Truth somewhere out there, because it damned well isn’t presenting here.

  9. “Communications Management Unit” — somewhere, somehow, George Orwell is applauding in awe.

  10. As the survivor of my 18 years as publisher of Toronto Street News I understand the real pressure of being a whistleblower.

    My three staff and informants were each burnt out of their homes and my car was blown up. Twice the same remote-controlled driverless red Mini tried to ram me at high speed on the 404 expressway.

    I suffered smears and threats during this time.

    — Victor Fletcher

    1. So you can see that on some level, this isn’t journalism or mere politics; it’s war. That’s why your property was attacked, I’m glad and you’re lucky that you weren’t next. Mess with the profits of the rich and they’ll kill you. It’s been that way since the beginning of civilization (which raises the question of whether civilization itself is the problem).

  11. Thanks for this info, John! I had written to you when you were incarcerated and have written to Daniel. Appreciate the info and appreciate your determined advancement of truth.

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