Published exclusively in The Gad About Town.
This is the fourth article in a series of prison essays by Matt DeHart. The first: “You don’t act like an American,” the second: “Hospitality in Mexico,” and Matt’s third: “Shattered.” It is a personal honor for me to publish his words from prison.
Matt DeHart’s voice is one worth listening to. In “Defining Dignity,” he challenges us all to put meaning—and action—behind that commandment that is so often expressed and so little heeded: “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” which of course is found in the Book of Matthew.
The essay published below is one of the few public statements he has made. It was sent to me by his mother, Leann DeHart, with the request that it is published as written.
How do we define dignity?
(Defining Dignity Initiative)
I’d like your help. Perhaps you’d be willing to assist me in doing something my government hasn’t. I want help with a definition. The word in question already exists in our dictionaries; which seem inadequate in describing the concept materially let alone metaphysically or spiritually. I’d like some help defining “dignity.”
In seeking to clearly if not concisely define dignity, I would like to relate why I think it is vital that we do so, hearkening back to my own experience. I will start with a concept Congress has defined and one our Executive Branch is familiar with: Torture.
The United States defines torture as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or her or a third person information or a confession, punishing him or her for an act he or she or a third person has committed, or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or her or a third person, for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”
I won’t discuss the torture I was put through and the pain on a number of levels that I still endure. I won’t complain that I’m still being held beyond my release date, considering all that happened prior. How could I have assumed otherwise? What good would it really do? All of this amounted to an attempt to deprive me of my dignity. I recognize this.
What I will discuss is that through this entire experience I have come to know people who are broken because they feel totally bereft of their dignity. This design to rob people of dignity is treacherous. It is promoted by prideful hypocrites who believe dignity is theirs to bestow or revoke at their whim and caprice. Neither dignity nor redemption lie within their dominion. No one has the authority to define another human being as less than human, though they insist otherwise. Those who founded this country, though far from flawless, at least paid lip service to this idea in the Declaration of Independence. These supposedly self-evident truths regarding our unalienable rights endowed by our Creator no longer seem so self-evident.
I was amazed to learn in 2012 that the same federal government which can regulate and define the way a dental appliance can be transported across state lines, whose body of regulations and laws dwarf most encyclopedias in volume, seems unable to define dignity. It speaks of the “dignity of court” and “dignity of office” in a hierarchical sense, never hinting at the spiritual or metaphysical dimensions. The closest Congress comes to defining dignity is in the “Crime Victim’s Act” and even there it never bothered to explain what a victim’s dignity entails.
This failure to define dignity is part of why the U.S. has failed to ratify the newest revision of the Convention Against Torture, the 2002 Optional Protocol. The language requires state parties to affirm human dignity. Could it be that defining then affirming dignity might require some substantial changes in how the U.S. treats prisoners? Could it potentially proscribe even more policy?
When one’s inherent value doesn’t derive from his or her place of birth or to whom one is born, it can’t be diminished by legislation, litigation, or executive fiat. If we can agree that dignity comes from “above,” whatever that means to each one of us, can we not also apply it to other elements of the creation to which we belong?
To this end, I hope to begin the Defining Dignity Initiative. I’d like to begin a discussion on how dignity should be defined and integrated into public policy and dare I say corporate ethics.
Inasmuch as we reside in a country that purports to have representative, republican (small R) government, we can insist that any law written should have its foundation in dignity. This means that policy must begin with the question: “Is this dignified?”
Is allowing our neighbors to suffer and perish for lack of adequate health care dignified?
Is locking up human beings in cages until they become hopeless, neurotic, or suicidal dignified?
Is blowing up mountains, fracturing the earth, and poisoning the air and water dignified?
Is abusing animals before they are slaughtered dignified?
Are endless wars killing millions dignified?
If we can’t or won’t define dignity, these questions are allowed to go unanswered. If we can’t say what something is, then how can we fight for it?
I’d like to hear your thoughts and ideas. #DefiningDignity
—Matthew Paul DeHart
Use the space below for comments.
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On February 22, 2016, Matt DeHart, a former U.S. Air National Guard drone team member and alleged WikiLeaks courier, 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 the alleged victim’s 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 May 2012, Aleta Trauger, expressed doubts about the FBI’s child pornography case on the record and in open court.
In May 2012, Judge Aleta A. Trauger of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee released Matt DeHart on bond. He had spent the previous twenty-one months in prison with two pornography indictments against him.
Judge Trauger had learned that computer materials seized from Matt’s home in Indiana, where he lived with his parents, had not been sent to Tennessee, the proper jurisdiction, but to FBI headquarters in Washington, DC. The judge finally learned from the U.S. Department of Justice that Matt DeHart had been “arrested for questioning in an espionage matter.”
Thus, what she said from the bench that day remains important:
I can easily understand why this defendant was much more focused on that [national security] investigation, much more afraid of that investigation, which was propelling his actions at that time. He thought that the search for child pornography was really a ruse to try to get the proof about his extracurricular national security issues. I found him very credible on that issue.
Obviously, child pornography charges are serious offences … [However,] I have learned several aspects of this case which, in the court’s mind, indicate the weight of the evidence is not as firm as I thought it was.—Judge Aleta Trauger, May 22, 2012
After the judge released DeHart on bond, he and his family fled to Canada to seek asylum. He was detained in Canada, his asylum request was denied, and he was deported back to America in March 2015, where he was promptly imprisoned pending trial.
DeHart pleaded guilty largely because he no longer had access to his own computers or files to provide a defense. (The FBI perhaps thought that possession of the evidence it collected was more important than the trial of the individual from whom it was collected, an action that is one more point in favor of Matt DeHart’s version of his remarkable story.)
After his sentencing hearing, DeHart 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.”
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 in 2009, while he was employed by 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. According to the Courage Foundation’s biography of Matt, “Whilst he deleted that file, there was also an encrypted file of the same size and name on another server that he says was headed for WikiLeaks.” It is for this reason that Matt DeHart is considered to be an “alleged WikiLeaks courier.”
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 and burned. 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.”
In 2017, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) informed DeHart that it had reversed its decision that the fourteen months he spent detained in a Canadian prison would be credited toward his sentence as time served. No hearing was held. His release date of September 2018 passed.
The decision was announced in a letter that neither acknowledged DeHart’s right to due process nor conceded that he was denied due process. “An inmate held pending a civil deportation determination is not being held in ‘official’ detention pending criminal charges,” the BOP letter reads. This reverses the stance the government took when it sentenced DeHart.
It is worth noting that the BOP employed the quotation marks around the word “official” in its letter to Matt DeHart. Bureaucratic coldness shadows this man’s story.
DeHart filed a habeas petition to contest the BOP’s unilateral decision to effectively extend his prison sentence by fourteen months in July 2017. Because individuals in U.S. custody are denied the right to protest prison policies in the court system, DeHart had to pursue administrative remedies within the prison system: each was denied.
The prison system treats such matters as paperwork; like all bureaucracies it appears to have assigned a set of rules that is unique for each piece of paper. Matt DeHart negotiated his way through what for others would be a disheartening, Kafkaesque, process:
In December 2017, DeHart was required to include with his appeal of the extension of his sentence a sheet that detailed the computation of his time served; it was to be stapled to the document. This is a page that the BOP already possesses as it is that department’s own computation. DeHart did not staple it; he sent it in a separate envelope with explanatory statements (i.e.: This is exhibit 14 that was not included in the earlier letter which states exhibit 14 will be forthcoming). The BOP did not accept the documents (which is an insidious method of rejecting an appeal) and returned them to DeHart.
His mother, Leann DeHart, wrote at the time, “Matt had 15 days to resubmit; but, the prison held on to it for 20 and gave it to him today. Matt has lost the opportunity to have his last remedy reviewed and a decision made.”
This was in January 2018. The most benign interpretation of the situation is that the prison did not know what the BOP had required of one of its prisoners (please return this in fifteen days), and the BOP did not know the prison would not deliver one prisoner’s mail in a timely manner. There are less benign interpretations, of course.
The habeas petition has not been replied to, and Matt DeHart’s release date of September 2018, which was thought to be set in a plea deal in 2015, passed months ago.
Matt DeHart, former U.S. Air National Guard intelligence analyst, is prisoner #06813-036 at the federal correctional institution FCI Ashland in Ashland, Kentucky.
The prison has restrictions regarding Matt DeHart’s communications: cards can not be in color and letters must be written on white paper and no longer than ten pages. He can receive books.
If you send Matt DeHart a card, it can't been in color anymore. It must be black and white, and letters on white paper 10 pages max. In addition, he can receive books https://t.co/J6Xufu6iQh #PrisonReform #FreeMattDeHart pic.twitter.com/Q3CNUe5q33
— TheAnonNetwork (@TheAnonNetwork) May 21, 2018
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: Edward Snowden, Jeremy Hammond, Matt DeHart, Barrett Brown, Lauri Love, Chelsea Manning, and WikiLeaks.
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My thanks to Leann DeHart and Paul DeHart, Matt’s parents, for their example of courage, and Matt DeHart for entrusting me with his words.
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