Robert Scheer SI Podcast SI: Reporting Abuse of Power

John Kiriakou on Daniel Hale and America’s Unending Persecution of Whistleblowers

John Kiriakou joins Robert Scheer to discuss the plight of the whistleblower, sentenced to 45 months in prison for revealing how often drone strikes kill civilians.
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“Fly my monkeys, fly” [Art by Mr. Fish]

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Struggling with the moral injury of taking part in America’s expanding drone wars, Daniel Hale took it as his civic duty to tell his fellow Americans the truth about what was being done in their name. In 2014, the former Air Force member and National Security Agency intelligence analyst leaked 17 documents to The Intercept that provided the basis for a series of articles detailing the full scope of the civilian deaths caused by U.S. drone strikes. 

Daniel Hale. []

Despite being billed by President Barack Obama, whose administration greatly expanded the drone wars, as “exceptionally surgical and precise,” what Hale’s leaks revealed was that not only was that not the case, but that what the U.S. was doing in the Middle East amounted to war crimes. In one such document about Afghanistan, it was recorded that over a five-month period, 90 percent of the people killed by the strikes–which are operated remotely, largely by young men on screens that have been likened to video games–were not death machine’s intended targets. 

The 33-year–old, rather than being hailed as a hero for blowing the whistle on the egregious U.S. operations, was charged in 2019 with “disclosing intelligence information and theft of government property” and sentenced in July 2021 to 45 months in prison–prosecutors had been seeking nine years–by U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady. Although O’Grady commended Hale’s position regarding the drone strikes as “courageous and principled,” he argued the whistleblower violated the Espionage Act by leaking documents to The Intercept. 

On this week’s installment of “Scheer Intelligence,” Robert Scheer is joined by CIA torture whistleblower John Kiriakouwho recently wrote a scathing piece about Hale’s case, to discuss Hale’s prison sentence and conditions. Listen to the full conversation between Kiriakou and Scheer as the two examine Hale’s case in detail as well as reflect on what the Department of Justice is aiming to accomplish by doling out punishment to whistleblowers. You can also read here about Rep. Ilhan Omar’s plea to President Joe Biden to pardon Hale.


Robert Scheer

Joshua Scheer

Natasha Hakimi Zapata 

Lucy Berbeo 

RS: Hi, this is Robert Scheer with another edition of Scheer Intelligence, and the intelligence comes from my guests. I always say that, but definitely John Kiriakou, who’s highly educated, fluent in Arabic, which is significant here, and Greek as well. Joined, was recruited into the CIA in January of 1990 and was there until the middle of 2005. 

And he is one of the great figures of American history. I think he will be remembered that way, because he is the leading person who exposed the U.S. torture program. While he was in the CIA, while he was involved with the capture of at that time the most significant alleged Al-Qaeda operative, he and his cohort from the FBI got all of the usable information. Turns out they had the wrong man, turns out that the use of torture on him did not produce anything. And at some point, John Kiriakou went public with what he knew about this program, and he is the only person–and I’ve interviewed him before–he is the only person that has actually served time in prison for the torture program. For revealing it, not for doing it. 

But we’re not here to talk about his specific case. We are here to use his expertise, again, about the War on Terror. Because as a result of this war, we have these drone attacks; we have the drone phenomenon, with the killing of drones, which seems almost bloodless. It’s sort of like watching a video game; you don’t have to have a draft. And Barack Obama, who by the way sent Kiriakou to jail, prison, was also a big fan of the drone program. Someone, another whistleblower, Daniel Hale, was working in that program. I’m going to let John tell all about it. And he is, again, the one person who revealed something about the drone program who also is now–he’s now serving time in prison, a 45-month sentence. 

And what makes this particularly onerous, he’s in a more severe prison circumstance than John Kiriakou experienced. And recently John Kiriakou wrote a very strong, very powerful article carried by a number of publications, and Consortium was one of them, attacking this imposition of this stiff, high-security, federal prison sentence. And it went against the advice of the judge, who said Daniel Hale needed treatment, would be suicidal, and so forth. 

John, I’m going to turn it over to you. Give us the big picture. I consider this one of the, really one of the more vicious, irresponsible acts of the American government toward its own citizen. It’s brutal. But take it away. 

JK: It is brutal. First I want to say that Daniel Hale is, in my view, a bona fide American hero. He had literally nothing to gain personally from his revelations. He did this for the benefit of the country; he did this because he believed, and I agree with him, that he was reporting a crime, a war crime, and that this was the right thing to do. 

So Daniel Hale in 2009 joined the U.S. Air Force. In 2013, he was assigned to the drone program in Afghanistan. And he was there initially to help identify targets for assassination. He sort of graduated to a role where he was operating the drones, and he was firing missiles at these targets. Well, he recognized relatively early on that many of the targets were mistakes. They were civilian targets, including children. And he objected to this. He developed very severe PTSD because of what he describes, you know, himself as the killing of children. And he left the Air Force in 2014. 

Later in that year, the FBI raided his home after an article appeared in The Intercept written by Jeremy Scahill, that included documents, classified documents related to the drone program. The Intercept also published an article that was bylined to “anonymous”–it was written by Daniel–about why he left the drone program and why he decided to go public. Well, he was charged with multiple counts of espionage, it was five or six counts of espionage, and they were specific to disclosing classified information and theft of government property. Now, the property was the information. And when you walk out of a government building with classified information in your head, with the purpose of disclosing it, they consider that to be theft. So they charged him with these half a dozen counts under the Espionage Act. And–

RS: This was the Trump administration.

JK: This was all during the Trump administration. The actual arrest and charges were done in 2019, so this was all Trump.

RS: But we should point out that the use of the Espionage Act really was given its most extensive usage by Barack Obama. And I believe you were the sixth person charged under it. How many were charged altogether, were you the last?

JK: Altogether under Obama, it was eight of us. And, listen, there was no president worse in American history in charging whistleblowers than Barack Obama. Between 1917 and 2009, three Americans were charged with espionage for speaking with the media. Just under Obama, eight of us were charged with espionage for speaking with the media.

RS: Three in all–how long a period of American history?

JK: From 1917 to 2009. 

RS: So from the act’s origination–

JK: Almost a century, mm-hmm.

RS: Ah, three.

JK: Yes, three.

RS: And then–was Daniel Ellsberg technically under that or a different–

JK: Ah, yeah, Ellsberg was also charged with espionage, and Ellsberg was facing something like 150 years in prison. Also, you know, Ellsberg had earned the ire of President Nixon himself. And so, had the Nixon administration not gone completely off the legal reservation to get Ellsberg, that poor guy may have died in prison otherwise.

RS: What you’re referring to is the Nixon administration ordered the judge sitting in in that case the job of being head of the FBI, and when that was learned, the [case] was thrown out; they never really adjudicated. But people forget, because Ellsberg legitimately is remembered as a heroic whistleblower by much of the media. At the time he was considered a dangerous traitor and was going to go, you know, never see freedom again. 

And in your case–but I just want to point that out. In a century of American history, only three cases. And when it came to you, and now–well, now it’s Trump. But under Barack Obama there were eight. And that included people like Drake, who you mentioned, who were really hard-working members of the NSA, went through channels, tried to call attention to the invasion of American privacy by the NSA and everything. And they get punished again, you know, basically on a technicality in Drake’s case, but it destroys his life. You went to prison, and that certainly has destroyed your economic well-being and everything else. 

We’re not going to make that the focus here, because the focus is really this fellow Daniel Hale, and a drone program which was really given its full-throated life under Barack Obama, and is now a reality of American foreign policy, is causing us to have enemies and disrepute all over the world, because they’re continuously killing innocent people and enraging lots of innocent people around the world, and maybe converting some of them to anti-American terrorists. And this fellow–tell us specifically what Daniel Hale revealed. Because he is really the main whistleblower on the drone program. 

JK: Absolutely. He’s the main whistleblower on the drone program. And you know, he did something very unusual in court. He had public defenders, federal public defenders, who were very, very good at what they did. They took his case very seriously. And they decided that their reading of the charges showed that they were duplicative. And so Daniel decided to plead guilty–

RS: The word you used was “duplicitous”?

JK: No, duplicative. They were duplicates. That’s OK. They told Daniel, or they recommended to Daniel that he plead guilty to one count, and then just cross his fingers that the judge would agree that these other charges were redundant. And so he took a plea, a guilty plea, without a deal on the table, to one count of espionage, and went to court in July. Now, this is the eastern district of Virginia, which normally is notoriously anti-whistleblower. But he was very fortunate in that he drew Judge Liam O’Grady–

RS: That’s July of this year? 

JK: July of this year, July 29th. 

RS: Wow.

JK: And every national security whistleblower and every national security journalist in Washington jammed the courtroom, along with Daniel’s family and friends and supporters; it was just packed. And so Judge O’Grady sentenced him, after the government was urging 14 years, sentenced him to 45 months in prison and allowed Daniel to make a statement that was as affirmative as any statement I’ve ever heard. I was not overreacting when I told Tom Drake that Daniel’s statement should be taught in American high school civics classes. That’s how profound it was, where he explained why he did what he did. And much to our surprise, the judge dismissed all of the other charges with prejudice. So instead of 75 years, which is what the government was seeking, he ended up with 45 months. Now, here’s the clincher. The judge recognized what Daniel was going through. Daniel has severe PTSD, from killing so many people, and killing children. And he asked the judge–

RS: Killing by acting as an agent of the U.S. government, helping direct the use of drones to kill children.

JK: Yes, and firing the missiles himself, as was his job.

RS: As if it’s a video game, though, right?

JK: As if it’s a video game, precisely. Precisely. And so the judge ordered that he be sent to the low-security prison at Butner, North Carolina. Now, the thing about Butner is that it’s the largest prison-hospital complex in America. It has a maximum-security penitentiary, two medium-security prisons, two low-security prisons, and a minimum-security work camp–but they’re all attached to hospitals. So if you’re a federal prisoner and you have cancer, you go there; if you need surgery, you go there; if you need mental health care, you go there. The judge ordered that Daniel be sent to Butner. So Daniel was in the Alexandria jail for a little while, and then he went to a regional jail in Virginia, just awaiting transportation, we all thought, to Butner. This was called the Northern Neck Regional Jail; it’s a godforsaken maximum-security penitentiary in Virginia. Instead, a week ago yesterday–a week ago Sunday–Daniel arrived at the supermax prison in Marion, Illinois. 

Now, this was the first supermax; it was built to replace Alcatraz when Alcatraz had its own problems in the early 1960s, and has been converted into something called a CMU, a communications management unit, which is just a fancy way of saying that you’re denied any access to the outside world. No news, no communication, no interviews, no access to the media; they can’t interview you, you can’t send letters to them. It’s a way of completely shutting people off. And usually CMUs are reserved for the most dangerous prisoners in America–that is, people convicted of terrorism charges, people convicted of conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction. We have Al-Qaeda prisoners there, we have hijackers there, we have the most dangerous neo-Nazi skinheads in America there. And then there’s Daniel.

RS: And Daniel, you point out in your column, which I’ll reprint–I already have printed it on Scheerpost–you point out he can’t get phone calls. I mean, just describe the conditions that he’s living under. 

JK: He’s allowed two showers a week; he’s allowed to exercise three days a week. And when I say “exercise,” you’re led into a six-by-ten-foot cage outside where he can walk in circles for an hour like a dog. You’re not allowed access to your mail, not physical access; it’s posted on a screen where you can read it and then it disappears. He’s allowed one phone call a month, but only to his attorney; he’s not even allowed to speak to family. And then visits are strictly controlled, I’ll use that word. Tom Drake and I, Daniel tried to put Tom Drake and me on his visitors list; we were both rejected. So we’re not allowed to visit him. He is allowed to have visits from family and from his attorneys, but that’s it. And those visits are, you know, through the thick glass that you see on TV or in movies, where you pick up what looks like a telephone, it’s an intercom, and then you’re allowed one hour to speak with somebody on the other side of the glass. 

So this is very onerous. Now, since I wrote that article, or that op-ed, Bob, I’ve heard from Daniel’s attorney that what we had originally feared hasn’t really come to pass. We feared that he would be in danger in this CMU, especially from these terrorists. And what has ended up happening is that the terrorists have welcomed him, because he’s the drone whistleblower. And it’s the terrorists who are protecting him from the skinheads and other neo-Nazis. So Daniel’s going to have a tough time, but at least he’s got some support on the inside. And then much to my surprise, too, the attorney told me that many of the guards in the CMU have been friendly to him, and have told him that they’re watching out for him, because they don’t believe that he did anything wrong–or even if he did, that he doesn’t belong in the CMU with the most dangerous prisoners in America.

RS: Well, let’s talk about what he did. Now, how long was he in the Air Force?

JK: He was in the Air Force from 2009 to 2014.

RS: OK, so he served his country. And, you know, we always hear about “thank you for your service,” and so forth. Now, here is a guy, like you–you were in the CIA 15 years, and you were trying to protect your country; you volunteered for this. And what happens here is you find–and I, you know, I’m an old guy. [Laughs] And I’m amazed when I hear shocking stuff. I covered Ellsberg’s trial; in fact, I was a defense witness. I had been to Vietnam, and I had written about it, and I was supposed to be an expert witness if the trial had occurred. So I know something about this. What they’ve done to this young man in this case, it’s atrocious. Atrocious, the extreme. It’s Orwellian, you know, depriving him of any contact. Ellsberg was out on bail during his trial, and you know–

JK: Right. That’s an important point.

RS: –had tremendous support. You know, where are the human rights organizations? I’ve raised this about Julian Assange and others. You know, and where are the–I’m sure there are a few letters here and there. Every time I make one of these criticisms I hear, oh no, back in the Trump administration we actually wrote, signed a letter and so forth. The fact is, this guy has been railroaded to this horrendous imprisonment. Imagine your exercise is walking around in a cage a couple of times a week. And you know, and people what, they go on with their breakfast, or they go on with their lives. 

And I want you to tell us very clearly what this guy did. In your case you told us about the torture program; that’s how you supposedly endangered our country, you actually talked to a journalist and gave him the name of a CIA person that already had identified himself, was out in the open, because that reporter wanted to know, who can I talk to who disagrees with you about the efficacy of the torture program, so you gave him a name. That was your great crime, as I understand it.  

JK: Yeah, that was my crime. That’s right. 

RS: That’s your crime–but you know, without you we wouldn’t have known, really, what the Feinstein committee–finally, with the CIA trying to subvert it–this intelligence committee finally revealed this atrocious program that didn’t accomplish anything in terms of making us more secure, but deeply, permanently damaged whatever this experiment in democracy we’re all about has been about. Tell us, what is the great crime of Daniel Hale? 

And this goes to, basically, First Amendment–I want everyone, all these human rights organizations to hear this. This is about journalism, it’s about freedom of the press, it’s about democracy. What did we learn from him? You know, the same question I always ask about Snowden or Assange or anybody, or John Kiriakou: What did we learn as the public? And did we have a right to know it–did we need to know it–for our democracy to function? Clearly, we needed to know we have a drone program that’s killing innocent people. What did we learn from Daniel Hale?

JK: What we learned from Daniel Hale was that the government was lying to us when they said that the drone program was this laser-focused, advanced program that just killed bad guys. You know, the government said that the killings of innocent civilians were so few and far between that you could count them on one hand. That wasn’t true. What Daniel Hale revealed was that at least 40% of the deaths by drone were of innocent civilians. And the government didn’t want us to know that. 

So that’s what it was that he really–and I think, frankly, not only do the American people deserve to hear information like that, but the Congressional oversight committees deserve to know information like that. Because they’re the ones who are supposed to be overseeing the program. And if you don’t have the truth, then how can you do your job as an oversight committee member? So I think we owe him a debt of gratitude.

RS: The argument that’s always raised–because I teach this stuff, and I write about it, and everything–you bring up, like, Edward Snowden, and they say well, why didn’t he go through the channels? We have channels, and he could have done that. In the case of Edward Snowden, Snowden said, I looked at what happened to Thomas Drake–who you mentioned earlier–they went through the channels, and Binney and the others; and so I knew that wasn’t going to work. What happened with Daniel Hale? Did he–give us the–introduce us to him. 

JK: Daniel Hale’s response–

RS: He’s sitting there, where, in Afghanistan?

JK: In Afghanistan–

RS: Where he’s [unclear] and other things.

JK: That’s right, exactly. And his response to that question was the same as mine–

RS: No, but set the stage. He’s sitting there in Afghanistan. Tell us what he’s doing, what his job is. You know, you’ve been inside this national security–you’re one of the people who captured one of the leading terrorists and interrogated him. So just tell us, where was this young man? What was he doing there for his six years?

JK: Yeah.

RS: You know, and what was his revelation? And what was his act? Let’s be very precise, but give us a feeling for what this was all about.

JK: He was stationed at Bagram air base, which was about 20 miles northwest of Kabul, Afghanistan. It’s where the drone operators were based. And his job was to take information from special forces out in the field and control the drones flying above those special forces. So as an example–and this is an example that Daniel cited in court during his sentencing–special forces on the ground radioed him and said, there’s a car rapidly approaching a U.S. roadblock; we want you to take it out. Meaning shoot a missile at it. So Daniel flew the drone over the car, and he could see in the car there was a man, a woman, and two little girls. He later learned that the girls were six and nine years old. And he said, there are children in the car. 

Now, we have a rule in the drone program that if there are children under the age of 14, that you can’t fire the rocket. He was ordered to fire the rocket because the car was approaching rapidly. It turned out that the father, the driver, was confused and didn’t realize that he was approaching a U.S. roadblock. So he was just driving normally, at whatever the normal speed was, 35 miles an hour or whatever it was, and Daniel was for a second time ordered to fire the rocket. And so, he said, against his better judgment, he did. The driver and his wife somehow survived, but the little girls were killed. Well, the parents panicked and were afraid that the special forces were going to come and take the daughters’ bodies, so the father dragged the two little girls’ bodies and threw them in a garbage dumpster in the village alongside where the rocket attack had taken place. Later it was determined that the father and the mother were innocent of any crimes; they were just confused; their daughters were killed for absolutely no reason. But Daniel said that was a normal part of the day. That our drone operators kill innocent people all the time. And the government just doesn’t want you to know about it. 

So he started having real second thoughts about what he was involved in. He decided that this was just wrong, and he decided that he was going to at least go semi-public. And when I say semi-public, I mean what he did was he took 17 classified documents out of his work area, and he scanned them and emailed them to The Intercept. And so The Intercept began a series of articles about the drone program. Then they ran an op-ed penned by Daniel, but attributed to “anonymous.” The FBI was able to figure out that it was him, and in 2014 they raided his house here in Virginia. But it didn’t dissuade him. He continued more and more publicly speaking out against the use of drones. And in 2016 he appeared in a documentary called National Bird, which was nominated for an Academy Award. And then National Bird is kind of what pushed him over the edge, in that he decided to go public, to use his name, to just accept the consequences, whatever they might be, and was soon after that arrested. 

RS: So how many people were in that program, would you estimate, that had this kind of knowledge that this was happening on a regular basis? 

JK: That’s a great question, but it’s impossible to say, because–

RS: You’ve been in the national security establishment, such as it is; you were in there for quite a chunk of time. What would be your educated guess as to how many people had the knowledge that Daniel Hale–this is always, to my mind–you know, I ask it about Daniel Ellsberg, I ask it about Edward Snowden, anybody inside the government, which Daniel Ellsberg was; he was in the Pentagon. I ask, how many other people knew what Daniel Hale knew, and did not tell us? How many, would you estimate?

JK: It would be several dozen. Several dozen people, and I’m not talking about the CIA drone program, because the CIA has never acknowledged its own drone program. I’m talking about the U.S. Air Force. There would be several dozen–just the operators. We’re not even talking about the chain of command. So it’s more than several dozen.

RS: If you put in the chain of command, you put in the people running this program, how many human beings know that Daniel Hale was telling us the truth? 

JK: Oh, hundreds.

RS: And it was a truth being withheld from the American public and from the voters. How many people?

JK: It’s hundreds of people. Several hundred.

RS: Several hundred people knew that we were, on a regular basis, committing hideous war crimes that were not enhancing our national security, probably endangering it by alienating people in the communities where we’re killing their children and so forth.

JK: Right.

RS: And so one young man reveals this to us, otherwise we wouldn’t have known it. 

JK: Exactly right.

RS: Instead of getting some kind of freedom, Congressional freedom award of some sort, he is now caged like a crazed dog and has to crawl around in an outdoor cage twice a week, is the closest he comes to freedom. This is–I mean, so people have to ponder this, have to consider this. You know, when I think of the use of Hollywood and Zero Dark Thirty, you know, in which the CIA swindled the director and the screenwriter into jusitifying torture, that’s how we got Bin Laden, which was a fraud. Which you know, because you were involved in all this. This is another example. What are people thinking? Why aren’t they making movies about this? I mean, you mentioned one. But really, where is the public education and the public outrage about this?  

JK: Yeah, where is the public outrage? And you know, there’s something that you alluded to a few minutes ago that I’d like to raise again, because I think this is very important. The Justice Department, in the sentencing hearing for Daniel Hale, raised my name repeatedly when it came to sentencing. The public defenders said Kiriakou got 30 months, and then the Justice Department said that in retrospect we were too easy on Kiriakou; he shouldn’t have gotten 30 months, that it set a bad precedent. And then the public defenders said, well, Jeffrey Sterling went to trial and was convicted and got Kiriakou–according to, this was the judge’s quote–Kiriakou plus 12 months. And they said, well, if we had Kiriakou to do all over again, we would have asked for 10 years. Now, I know that that’s true, because the judge said that when I was being sentenced. She said, I wish I could sentence you to 10 years. That’s what she told me. So what the Justice Department actually has been successful in doing is every time one of these cases comes up, they ask for a longer sentence. So I got 30 months; Sterling got 42 months–

RS: Sterling was a CIA–

JK: He was a CIA whistleblower. There was an FBI whistleblower, Terry Albury, that got four years. Reality Winner got five years, four months. And then it came time for Daniel Hale, and they asked for 14 years. So–

RS: And remind me–this is, now, when they’re asking it, this was this last July?

JK: Yes. 

RS: So this is the Biden administration.

JK: Oh, yes.

RS: Well, let’s not leave out that inconvenient truth. 

JK: That’s right.

RS: The inconvenient truth is the man that I voted for as, you know, I’ll say the lesser evil–I voted. I actually vote, and I’m going to blast my family members who put pressure on me, but they practically forced my vote, but I did. So I voted for a man–I voted for Joe Biden, and he’s a man that not only put Daniel Hale away and has him in a cage now, against the judge’s–right? 

JK: That’s right.

RS: Because you’ve got to take it to the president; the buck, as Harry Truman said, stops there. 

JK: That’s right.

RS: Joe Biden has this guy crawling around twice a week in a cage outdoors as his exercise, all right. And this is a guy his Justice Department, right–the blue state Justice Department, the Democratic Party Justice Department–would have liked to put away for, what, 10 years? Nine years? 

JK: Yeah, they wanted to put him away for 14 years.

RS: Fourteen years. OK. So that’s what every Democrat, everyone who voted for Joe Biden–OK, and there are lots of reasons to vote for Joe Biden against Donald Trump. But think about that. You voted for a president that just doesn’t give a damn, or maybe is happy, that this fellow Daniel Hale, who informed us about these atrocities, done in our name, is now crawling around like a mad dog in a cage. 

JK: Yes.

RS: OK. That’s what this all ends up being. Joe Biden, it’s your watch. You got this guy in a cage. And anyone who voted for you has got to ask themselves the question, what are they doing to get justice for Daniel Hale? What are they doing? Now, we’re calling out on public radio; this is not a partisan comment, you know; I’m not making a partisan comment. 

JK: That’s right.

RS: This man is in jail because of Donald Trump–yes, an atrocity. And Donald Trump followed on the lead of Barack Obama, using this horrible legislation from 1917 that was intended to get serious agents of the other side in wartime, right, the Espionage Act. OK, but here’s this fellow who did his duty killing children, right, thank you for your service, you killed children, that’s good. No one goes to jail for killing innocent children.

JK: No, no. You get a medal for that.

RS: You get a medal for killing innocent children, you know. But on the other hand, right, they’re going to throw the book at this guy. It’s incredible! People have got–

JK: It is, it’s sickening.

RS: Did I miss anything here, John? I don’t want to–

JK: No, no, you’re exactly right. It’s sickening. It’s sickening, and this is the system that we have. 

RS: All right, well, you got anything else to add? I don’t know–

JK: Yeah, let me add one other thing–

RS: Add as much as you want. You know, I’ve got to point out to people listening to this, I’ve done–you know, I’ve been a journalist now for over half a century, OK? Well over half a century; it’s amazing to me to think about my first interviews, ah, 60 years ago. No, actually even 65 years ago, OK? I was trying to get the truth about Vietnam, and went over there in 1964, OK? That’s a long time ago. And I worked on lots of other stories. You know, but I must say, this upsets me in some ways more than almost anything I’ve ever encountered.

JK: Oh, yeah. Yeah, I have to agree.

RS: I mean, really–and your case bothered me enormously, John Kirakou–

JK: Thank you.

RS: –check it out, everyone, it’s a terrible case. But you know, given what they’re doing to this young man, who has mental problems, serious, that should be treated, because of what he was asked to do by his government–ordered to do. Ordered to do, not asked to do.

JK: Yes, ordered to do, yes.

RS: Ordered to do: kill those children. Kill those children, is what his superiors ordered him to do. It’s like the My Lai massacre, only they don’t go to jail, nothing happens to them, right?

JK: Nothing. Nothing happens to them. There’s one little glimmer of hope here. And that is, immediately after his sentencing, Representative Ilhan Omar wrote a letter to President Biden, and then read the letter on the floor of the House, asking Biden to pardon Daniel Hale, and at the very least to consider him for a commutation of sentence. She said that he should be thanking him, not prosecuting and incarcerating him, and that we owe him a debt of gratitude. There was no response from the White House, but at least she’s on record as having called for his pardon. 

RS: Well, I mean, hopefully–I’ll dig those up, but send me that letter, send me the statement that Daniel Hale made, I’d love to post them or get them out there, and we’ll try to post them also with the introduction to this on our KCRW podcast. But I just want to close this by–and I’ll get back to you in the future, we’ll follow this case. But I want–you know, you’ve got enough problems. [Laughter] You’ve got the IRS hounding you, you’ve got, your pension was taken away from you, thank you for your service–

JK: It never ends.

RS: Yeah. It never ends, thank you for your service. You successfully interrogated, or were involved in the interrogation, of what was reputed to be the highest Al-Qaeda operative at the time, and then they botched it by using torture. You dared object to torture. But we see you–one would hope, oh, well, maybe they just made a mistake with John Kiriakou–no! No, they love this, intimidating people, they love this Orwellian–

JK: Oh, yeah. This is what they do.

RS: This is what they do. And so they think–you know, I didn’t even know that. They think they gave you an easy ride, right? 

JK: Right. Yeah, mine was too easy.

RS: OK, we got a few minutes. Tell us that–these are people from the Justice Department, right? This is now the Biden Justice Department. And what did they say? These are lawyers, these are educated people. And what did they say? They were too easy on you for telling us about the torture program?

JK: Yes, they were too easy on me. And you know, one of the things–I’ve been in lots and lots of courtrooms, Bob, over the years. Lots of courtrooms; I’ve seen lots of sentencing hearings. And Daniel Hale’s hearing was the first time I had ever seen prosecutors visibly angry. They were angry, they were raising their voices with the judge–they were objecting to the judge. Not objecting to Daniel’s positions on these issues. And they had to be slapped down by the judge. They were just beside themselves that the judge would give Daniel only 45 months instead of the 14 years they were seeking. They were furious. And I think we’re going to see more of that.

RS: These are career Justice Department, or they come in–

JK: Yeah, they’re career Justice Department. These are assistant U.S. attorneys, and then the senior assistant U.S. attorney. But keep in mind–and I don’t mean to sound cynical, but this is just a fact of life–these assistant U.S. attorneys all want to go on to bigger and better things. They all want to go on to A-list, you know, partner positions in law firms. They want to run for Congress, run for governor. This happens all the time. They don’t get promoted, they don’t get ahead in their careers by not prosecuting you, or by seeking a shorter sentence for you. They have to ask for the maximum possible time, because that’s how they succeed in their own careers. The system is broken. This isn’t justice. And you know, one of my own attorneys told me, when I had actually decided to turn down the two-and-a-half years that I was being offered, he said you know what your problem is? Your problem is you think this is about justice. And it’s not about justice, it’s about mitigating damage. And truer words have never been spoken.

RS: Truer words, coming from John Kiriakou, who had studied–you know, comes from a Greek American family. Studied the experience of Athenian democracy and so forth, which presumably was a model for our own system. Someone who is also fluent in Arabic, was invaluable in the CIA with his language skills, worked to make this a safer country. 

And here are people who have studied law. These are people who are working in something called the Justice Department, and they regret that they weren’t able to put John Kiriakou away for a longer time for the crime–the crime–of letting us know that we had a torture program that didn’t even work. The same thing the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded after, what was it, five years of research that the CIA tried to sabotage. When I talk about an Orwellian society, this is what Orwell was warning about. This was the fear of the enemy, secrecy, words mean nothing, lying, you know, everything distorted and all packaged as somehow being civil, civilized, reasonable. So to go to law school, evidently, to go into the Justice Department means you are able to sugar-coat what we have referred to here as atrocities: “They’re not atrocities!” 

And then you have this young man, Daniel Hale–mark that name. Anybody listening to this, anybody, you know, pass it around. If you don’t–let me pledge, myself. If you don’t do as I intend to do, follow this case closely, raise your voice about it–what is his crime? His crime was that he got distraught and developed all sorts of depression problems and everything else, because he was ordered to blow up children. To blow up children, who he knew there was no reason to think they were a menace to us; how could children be? And that he is now a caged animal, treated as a mad dog–you wouldn’t even treat an animal that way. Convinced, they drive him crazy and they’re going to treat him like a mad dog. 

This is a case–it’s amazing to me–I’m angry with myself. I’m angry with myself that I didn’t know more about it until I read John Kiriakou’s article, which originally was in Consortium News, and I’ve reprinted it, others have reprinted it; I did on Scheerpost. Not the mainstream media. You know, has Rachel Maddow talked about it? I don’t know.

JK: Not a word.

RS: Yeah. So, OK. I think, you know, we’re going to revisit this. And I’ll get back to you, John. I want to thank you–

JK: Thank you.

RS: You know, people say I interrupt too much and I talk too much, but this time, you know, I was moved to this by your really fine article. I hope you stay on top of it. You know, I think you’ll be more useful to American democracy as a writer than you were as a CIA agent. I guess by their standard you were pretty useful; they promoted you and honored you, until they jailed you. 

But that’s it for this issue of Scheer Intelligence. I want to thank Christopher Ho, our producer at KCRW, for posting these shows. Joshua Scheer, our executive producer who runs everything around here. Natasha Hakimi Zapata, who writes the excellent introductions. And Lucy Berbeo, who takes care of the transcription. And see you–oh, and I want to thank the JWK Foundation in memory of Jean Stein, a fiercely independent and terrific journalist, for helping fund these shows. That’s it for this edition of Scheer Intelligence. See you next week. Bye.

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