‘You don’t act like an American,’ An Essay by Matt DeHart

Published exclusively in The Gad About Town …

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The Courage Foundation supports the legal needs of individuals around the world who are faced with prosecution (and persecution) for whistle-blowing—funds go towards legal fees and the foundation organizes public campaigns on behalf of the whistle-blower.

As the Courage Foundation states in its materials, “Whistle-blowers become the public’s regulators of last resort. Without them, we would know far less about international diplomacy, offshore banking or the excesses of the War on Terror. Because whistleblowers are a vital link in the chain, they are also vulnerable.”

At present, the Courage Foundation supports seven individuals: Edward Snowden, Jeremy Hammond, Matt DeHart, Emin Huseynov, Barrett Brown, Lauri Love, and Chelsea Manning.

Matt DeHart, former U.S. Air National Guard intelligence analyst, is prisoner #06813-036 at the low-security federal correctional institution FCI Ashland in Ashland, Kentucky. The essay published below is one of the few public statements he has made.

On February 22, 2016, he was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison after he pleaded guilty to a charge of soliciting child pornography—files that documented conversations soliciting photos of two underage (at the time) boys were found on his computer; DeHart claims the documents were fabricated outright by the FBI. DeHart claims that FBI agents told him that they knew him to be innocent of the charges against him.

Further, a judge who was hearing his case in 2012, Aleta Trauger, expressed doubts about the FBI’s child pornography case on the record and in open court.

DeHart pleaded guilty in part because he no longer had access to his own computers or files to provide a defense. After his sentencing, he told the National Post of Toronto, “In light of the disappearance of nearly all exculpatory evidence in my case, including the Kangaroo Defender Elite encrypted thumb drive I brought with me to Canada, as well as the seizure or deletion of numerous email and social media accounts, my defense was completely emasculated.”

Upon his arrival at FCI Ashland, DeHart was informed that he was to be credited with time served (he spent three-and-a-half years in custody in both American and Canadian prisons), so his release date is now September 2018, although he will be subject to monitoring for more than a decade after that.

The FBI wanted every computer hard drive and USB thumb drive that DeHart may have ever had in his possession for reasons outside child pornography: DeHart was a member of Anonymous, and while he was working for the Air National Guard intelligence, an unprotected file appeared on a server he had access to. It was a report of an FBI investigation into the CIA. According to DeHart, he deleted the file but it later reappeared in an encrypted form on another server he had access to.

He took screenshots of the report. These remain unseen by the public. He states that, in the files, he saw a report that detailed CIA culpability in the 2001 anthrax attacks and another in which a prominent agrochemical company explained its role in the deaths of 13,000 individuals due to genetically modified organisms the company had developed.

The FBI questioned DeHart on three occasions in August 2010. Only one of those interviews is not classified. DeHart claims he was tortured while interrogated: drugged for one interview, and during another, while he was in prison, placed in restraints while naked. As Buzzfeed wrote about him in 2015: “Whatever happened to Matt behind bars, it produced valuable results. FBI records show that he signed over control of his email accounts, and provided agents with the accompanying passwords—a move that would have enabled the FBI to infiltrate the hacker underworld by impersonating Matthew DeHart. The unclassified FBI report includes a document, signed by Matt, authorizing the FBI to install a recording device on his phone for the purpose of taping any future calls he had with Deal and the two other airmen. At the bottom of the form are the words, printed in Matt’s own sloppy handwriting, ‘Statement Made Voluntarily,’ along with his initials.”

And so Matt DeHart sits in federal prison in Kentucky. He has offered this essay, in which he describes his time in prisons in both Canada and America, what it means to be an American, and—because he was locked up with others who were tagged with the label “terrorist”—what the term “American” means to some who live in parts of the world that are populated with those we refer to as terrorists. He also offers a piece of simple advice for any American who associates positive attributes to that term “American” and is proud to be an “American,” like me: “Nothing stops us from showing kindness even to those who we may deem undeserving.”

Today, the day that the new presidential administration introduced its revised travel ban against citizens of six Muslim-majority nations, perhaps DeHart’s voice is one worth listening to.

Matt DeHart’s article, “You Don’t Act Like an American” follows:

“You don’t act like an American.” I would hear that phrase several times over the course of my immigration detention in Canada. For much of the duration of my time in custody, I was the only American among mostly Africans, South Asians and Middle-Easterners. I felt particularly bitter, so I took the statement as a compliment.
I no longer feel that way because this is unfair to my American friends and family. Of course, many of them have also failed to fit the “American” stereotype when they meet foreigners. In my case, however, most of the individuals I met in custody were completely unaware of my activist politics so it was something else that differentiated me from their preconceptions. What could that have been?
Now, I’m not sure what kind of game Canadian authorities were playing at the time, but upon my May 2013 arrival at the Toronto West Detention Centre, I was placed in a two-man cell with a fairly high profiled Pakistani. This man, Ashad, was on an “Immigration Most Wanted” list for his alleged ties to a banned Islamist political party in his home country. We ended up getting along very well for the roughly three months we were confined together before my release.
When Toronto West was closed to immigration detainees in late 2013, Ashad was transferred to CECC in Lindsay, Ontario. After my re-arrest, I was sent to the same facility in 2014. Ashad had been released having won a court victory shortly before my arrival.
Oddly enough, the entire immigration unit of one hundred twenty plus people knew who I was. Apparently, Ashad had spoken to them about the “good American” who had encouraged him when he was worried about being deported to Pakistan. I don’t believe I treated him any differently than anyone else with whom I’ve been locked up.
I was really amazed how all of these detainees treated me with such kindness and respect with a level of inclusion not many white Americans experience. I became very good friends with an Ethiopian Muslim who watched out for me and got word to my parents during lockdowns letting them know I was okay. My other friends included an Iranian engineer who was deported and an Afghani man.
Ultimately, I discovered that at least ten of the Muslims in my unit were deported and many of the remaining detainees spoke positively about me even after I left.
They maintained a favourable view of an American because I showed a normal and typical level of kindness to someone we might label here as potential “terrorist.”
Now I realize my situation was unique and voluntarily meeting a crew like these guys would get you placed on any number of watch lists. It still begs the question; if even a moderate level of compassion can have such an oversized impact for good, why withhold it?
While we may never be able to effectively stop the collateral damage from bad policy, nothing stops us from showing kindness even to those who we may deem undeserving.
For all of us who are discouraged by the way things are going, remember, WE have not lost unless we lose OUR compassion.
Matthew Paul DeHart

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My thanks to Raymond Johansen, board member of Pirate Party International, a human rights and privacy activist, and a hacktivist who is heavily involved in whistle-blower support, for facilitating the publication of Matt DeHart’s essay.

My thanks to Leann DeHart and Paul DeHart, Matt’s parents, for their example of courage.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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