WikiLeaks releases documents, White House and media responds predictably

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Wikileaks, the famous whistleblower organization and website, just released documents leaked from the U.S. military and NATO on the War in Afghanistan.  Over 90,000 documents were released, and three media organizations – The New York Times, The Guardian (U.K.) and Der Spiegel (Germany) – were given the documents from WikiLeaks on the promise that they would not publish anything until July 25th.

I was skimming through the information Sunday night while feeding my online news binge.  Oddly enough, it was Der Spiegel’s website that I stumbled on first.  After browsing through its online news database, I searched for the War Logs story in the New York Times and began to scan the report.  After browsing through the Times sections, I was pleased with the in-depth coverage and the map database.  The reader can get a more realistic experience of the war itself by reading actual military reports and seeing the geographic location where a battle or altercation took place at any given time during the nine year long war.

After reading through details of these documents as presented by the Guardian and the Times, I was eager to see how the mainstream media would respond to the leaks.  If you have been too busy to read some of the reporting from either one of the three media sources, and/or have yet to browse through the documents on the WikiLeaks website, I will post a commentary on the War Logs in the near future.

For now, here are some highlights from all three media outlets that were privy to having the documents several weeks ahead of the WikiLeaks release date:

  1. Elements of the Pakistani military spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, may be working with Al-Qaeda and other Afghani insurgents.  It is believed that the ISI is playing both sides, appeasing U.S. forces on one hand and plotting against U.S. interests on the other hand.  Instances include the suicide bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul and assassination plots against Hamid Karzai.  According to the Guardian, “More than 180 intelligence files in the war logs, most of which cannot be confirmed, detail accusations that Pakistan’s premier spy agency has been supplying, arming and training the insurgency since at least 2004.”
  2. Although the Taliban and others (labeled insurgents) kill more civilians than U.S. and coalition forces, civilian casualties are fairly common (at least 144 have been reported so far) and the Taliban have successfully recruited new members by exploiting these civilian casualties.
  3. The use of Reaper drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan is increasing.  While drone attacks have been successful at times, there have also been substantial civilian casualties.  According to the reports, drones have a tendency to crash due to system errors and computer glitches.  At least 38 drones have crashed so far, and these drones cost between $3.7 to $5 million.  Insurgents have also captured U.S. drones, prompting risky missions to recover the weaponry before the insurgents can use it against U.S. forces.  Predator and Reaper drones are unmanned aircraft controlled via remote in U.S. facilities (Nevada and Virginia).
  4. The Taliban and other insurgents are increasingly relying on roadside explosives, or IEDs, which have caused the death of over 2,000 civilians and led to an increase in the amount of U.S. casualties in the last two years.

In fact, since 2005, U.S. and coalition casualties have steadily increased more than the previous year.  This year the number is all ready on pace to eclipse U.S. losses in 2009.  The German magazine Der Spiegel has a startling graph depicting the ever-growing number of fatalities from year to year.  If anything, these documents reveal that the war is getting more violent and, quite possibly, the insurgents are even stronger than they were at the onset of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Many news commentators on the major networks focused mainly on:

  1. The fact that these documents were leaked in the first place, not on the details of the leaked documents;
  2. The dangers that the WikiLeaks release poses to national security, not the dangers that our foreign policy poses to national security;
  3. The actions the government is going to take towards those responsible for the leaks as well as the messenger (WikiLeaks), not the actions the government should take in reviewing the situation in Afghanistan and Iraq, and whether these policies are truly beneficial to Americans hurting from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

The response from the Obama administration was fairly predictable.  On Monday, July 26th, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs took questions from journalists – questions that many major news commentators failed to ask.  Here are a few excerpts from the Press Briefing:

Q    Does the White House believe that the documents raise doubts about whether Pakistan is a reliable partner in fighting terrorism?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, let’s understand a few things about the documents.  Based on what we’ve seen, I don’t think that what is being reported hasn’t in many ways been publicly discussed either by you all or by representatives of the U.S. government for quite some time.  We have certainly known about safe havens in Pakistan; we have been concerned about civilian casualties for quite some time — and on both of those aspects we’ve taken steps to make improvements.

I think just the last time General Petreaus testified in front of the Senate there was a fairly robust discussion about the historical relationships that have been had between the Taliban and Pakistan’s intelligence services.

Members of Congress, such as Senator Jack Reed and Carl Levin, believe Pakistan is aiding insurgent groups.  Despite this, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has recently declared to aid Pakistan to the tune of $500 million, calling the U.S. and nuclear-armed Pakistan, “partners joined in common cause.”

The trouble is that if elements of Pakistan’s military or intelligence agency are helping the Afghani insurgent resistance, then we are funding the very enemy that we are fighting.  Could our government be funding both sides of this war?  That thought alone is troubling.

A short time later, another reporter called out Press Secretary Gibbs’ seemingly contradictory statements about the effect of the leaked documents:

Q    Robert back on WikiLeaks.  A couple of times now, you’ve said in the last couple of moments that a lot of this information is not really new, that named U.S. government officials have said some of this same information publicly.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I’m not saying it’s — yes, I said there weren’t any new revelations in the material.

Q    So how does it harm national security if we’ve known this already?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, because you’ve got — it’s not the content as much as it is their names, their operations, there’s logistics, there are sources — all of that information out in a public way has the potential, Ed, to do harm.  If somebody is cooperating with the federal government and their name is listed in an action report, I don’t think it’s a stretch to believe that that could potentially put a group or an individual at great personal risk.

Q    But is part of the concern as well that this is going to embarrass government officials because maybe the war in Afghanistan is a lot worse off than this administration and the previous administration let on?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, again, Ed, that’s why I would go back to my first point, which is in terms of broad revelations, there aren’t any that we see in these documents.  And let’s understand this — when you talk about the way the war is going in Afghanistan, the documents purportedly cover from I think January of 2004 to December 2009.

Finally, after discussing the changes in policy that Obama made after a comprehensive review of the war in Afghanistan, the questions began focusing on whether or not the policy itself is flawed and unachievable:

Q    But even after that painstaking review, these documents are suggesting that the Pakistani government has representatives of its spy agency essentially meeting representatives of the Taliban, plotting to attack American soldiers and Afghan officials.

MR. GIBBS:  Let me just make sure —

Q    How can that suggest the war is going well?

MR. GIBBS:  No, no — you’re conflating about seven issues into one question.  But let’s be clear, Ed.  I don’t think — let me finish, let me finish —

Q    If Pakistani officials are working with the Taliban, how can the war be going well?  That’s one question.

MR. GIBBS:  Again, Ed, I’m saying that the war — the direction of our relationship with Pakistan, based on steps that we’ve asked them to take, has improved that relationship — right?

Q    Okay, because last week Secretary Clinton said that the U.S. and Pakistan are “partners joined in common cause.”

MR. GIBBS:  Yes.

Q    Despite these documents, the U.S. and Pakistan are joined in common cause?

At a time when the only thing coming out of the mouths of Republicans are concerns about the deficit (thank you Bush!) and at a time when the Democratic White House is failing to make a case for our continued occupation in the Middle East, it is evident that both political parties have no idea what constitutes a threat to our national security.

So, Mr. Gibbs, I have a question to ask. In looking at the negative impact of Bush’s legacy, as measured by his costly foreign policy decisions and alleged human rights abuses, is following his neoconservative foreign policy wise?  Or, to put it another way, does our government believe that carrying out a misguided war is more important than saving the jobs of teachers, police officers and fire fighters, or creating new jobs to pull us out of this recession?

Next time, save us the charade about WikiLeaks threatening our national security.  The real threat to our national security is our government’s misguided policies, both at home and abroad.


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