The reaction to the Wikileaks exposure of US war crimes – and Afghan corruption – has been quite interesting: the President responded by averring that there’s nothing new here, that "the fact is these documents do not reveal any issues that have not already informed our public debate on Afghanistan," but the facts are quite different, as anyone who peruses even a small sampling of the documents – such as is offered by the Guardian via a convenient interactive map – can readily ascertain.
After all, the public debate was certainly not informed of the existence of "Task Force 373," an American assassination squad that roams the Afghan countryside wreaking murder and mayhem at Washington’s direction – and that killed seven children, as revealed by the Wikileaks document dump, in a strike at a supposed terrorist compound. And the public was definitely not informed that US intelligence had picked up evidence of Osama bin Laden’s personal participation in a series of meetings on the Afghan-Pakistan border as late as 2006, as revealed in the documents. Certainly the public debate could have been better informed if Leon Panetta’s interlocutor could have asked him about that when the CIA director, in a recent televised interview, denied having received any new information as to bin Laden’s whereabouts "in years."
What President Obama really meant was that the "public debate" among government insiders in Washington – as opposed to ordinary mortals like ourselves – was not affected by one iota, and in that he is indubitably correct. Just after the "Afghan logs" were published and made available online, Congress renewed funding for the war, and the "mainstream" media took up the presidential line: move along, nothing to see here.
Ensconced in his Washington bubble, where government is the end all and be all of human knowledge and possibilities, our President smugly derides the significance of the biggest security leak in American history, to the hosannas and "amens" of his court pundits.
Outside the Washington Beltway, however, reality is beginning to intrude.
Even as Obama disdains the Wikileaks revelations as irrelevant due his glorious "new strategy," that strategy is being undermined by Bradley Manning’s gift to the American people. For if anything pulls the rug out from under the "nation-building" theories of the COIN-dista grand strategists behind the Afghan "surge," then surely it is the appalling incompetence and corruption of our Afghan "partners" in the government of President Hamid Karzai. Hundreds of Wikileaked documents detail gun battles between the Afghan "National" Army, the Border Police, and other "security forces" (i.e. gangs of armed thugs) whose "training" and daily bread are paid for by you and I. As the Border Police go into "battle" stoned on opium – courtesy of the long-suffering US taxpayers – the much vaunted credibility of our Washington technocrats appears to be crumbling.
Which is why they’re now beginning to bare their fangs, even as they bring Pfc Bradley Manning, the courageous 22-year-old intelligence analyst suspected to leaking the material, back to the states and prepare charges. Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, barked that
"Mr Assange can say whatever he likes about the greater good he thinks he and his source are doing. But the truth is they might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family."
Mullen furthermore admits "We don’t know how many more there are out there. It could be a substantial additional number of documents. And we have no idea what their content is, either." As the Guardian reports:
"He dismissed the idea of talking to Assange to learn more about further information that might be released. ‘I’m not sure why we would,’ he said. ‘Do you think he is going to tell us the truth?’"
What he fails to mention, however, is that Assange and Wikileaks sent the leaked material to the White House for them to vet in advance: they had every opportunity to scrub the released files of any information that could endanger, say, the lives of Afghan informants. If anyone’s blood is spilled as a result of the leak, it’s on their hands, not Assange’s or anyone else’s. So the question Mullen asked is turned on its head: Does anyone think the US military and the government that gives Mullen his marching orders is going to tell us the truth?
Of course not. Which is precisely why we need Wikileaks.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
I apologize for posting this column late: it usually comes out late Thursday night, but I was out of town for an appearance on Judge Napolitano’s new television show on Fox Business News, where the topic was the Wikileaks document dump and I had to face off against this jerk. The show, "Freedom Watch," will air on Saturday, as 10 am and 8 pm Eastern, and Sunday, at 7 pm and 11 pm Eastern.
And, yes, I’m still doing my daily duty at The Hill, so by all means go check it out. Oh, and don’t forget my montly column for Chronicles, the latest being here.