Julian Assange Is Morally Wrong For Wikileaks Afghan War Documents Leak
WikiLeaks' founder, Australian Julian Assange (photo on the right) has figured out that on the Internet, being homeless is a good thing because you don't have to play by anybody's rules. Last week's disclosure of the Afghanistan war logs (called the Afghan War Diary) shows how WikiLeaks has emerged as a new type of media player, an information broker that collects secrets and negotiates how they will be revealed. The leak represents no less than a historic act of civil disobedience; consisting of 92,201 US military internal records, this is the largest leak of classified material in history.
WikiLeaks has cracked open governments and corporations without apparent repercussions because it has no headquarters, no printing press or transmission tower, no physical address. It's just a confederation of skilled volunteers and Web servers. Its hard to shut down somebody if there is no place to shut down.
So is this new media player good or bad for America?
Some argue there is a benefit from the scrutiny the military is likely to face as a result of the leaks. There are many problems with the way we are managing this war. Far too often, operations are conducted out of logistical convenience rather than necessity. For instance, troops avoid Taliban-controlled districts to limit civilian and military casualties. Because of the constant threats of homemade bombs, soldiers have to dress like Robocop while trying to interact with, and win the trust of, local leaders. And the rules of engagement are now so restrictive it’s amazing that any insurgents were killed in the last year.
The Guardian summarizes some the information in the leaks:
• Coalition forces have killed hundreds of civilians in unreported incidents.
• NATO commanders fear Pakistan and Iran are fuelling the insurgency.
• A secret "black" unit of special forces hunts down Taliban leaders for "kill or capture" without trial.
• The US covered up evidence that the Taliban have acquired deadly surface-to-air missiles.
• The coalition is increasingly using deadly Reaper drones to hunt and kill Taliban targets by remote control from a base in Nevada.
• The Taliban have caused growing carnage with a massive escalation of their roadside bombing campaign, which has killed more than 2,000 civilians to date.
Supporters argue that this information is filed as secret, not top secret. American officials from President Obama to Pentagon spokesmen have downplayed the leak. In his Rose Garden remarks on July 27, Obama observed he was "concerned about the disclosure," but went on to note the "documents don't reveal any issues that haven't already informed our public debate on Afghanistan.
So, in summary, supporters say more information made public is a good thing. The public can learn more about our failed policies that resulted in the removal of General McChrystal, our shaky ally Pakistan, and some underreported events, like the deaths of two Reuters reporters, that need further review. With the newly revealed information, perhaps we can formulate necessary changes in war strategy, or even make real commitments of leaving Afghanistan.
Others suggest that these leaks are a breach of national security and hamper our ability to succeed in Afghanistan. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, has lashed out at WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange saying he will have blood on his hands for his misguided leaks.
"It poses a very real and potential threat to those that are working hard every day to keep us safe," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said. Though there is nothing new in the documents released, Mr. Gibbs says the release is illegal and a breach of national security--
"What generally governs the classification of these documents are names, operations, personnel, people that are cooperating, all of which, if it's compromised, has a compromising effect on our security”.
More important; however, this information could threaten the Afghans who have provided valuable intelligence to the coalition forces. Already, reports are circulating that the Taliban is combing through all the released documents to discover the names of Taliban informants, and kill them (or at least their family members) in order to discourage cooperation with the Americans.
Julian Assange fires back at these allegations, claiming that he withheld such potentially dangerous intelligence.
What I Think
In many ways, I share the same opinions on this matter as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who says WikiLeaks is morally, if not legally wrong.
Due to the decentralized structure of the WikiLeaks organization, and that many of its bloggers, including Julian Assange, live outside the United States, it would be very difficult to prosecute WikiLeaks. However, we are apparently going to prosecute the American source of the leak to the fullest.
But Mr. Assange is morally in the wrong, as Mr. Gates suggests. Atrocities are an unfortunate part of war. American soldiers in Afghanistan have generally shown great restraint and put themselves in danger in order to minimize civilian casualties. The American soldiers are not a group of bloodthirsty pillagers. Compare this to the American bombing of Dresden in World War II, resulting in the complete destruction of the city and killing of thousands of innocent civilians. But alas, there was a lack of accurate wartime reporting in WWII (the press either censored themselves or subscribed to the whims of FDR’s Office of Censorship) and there was no WikiLeaks. Consequently, history portrays World War II as the noble, righteous struggle and Afghanistan is a war rife with so many atrocities.
I am concerned that America will lose Afghan cooperation in the war. I’m sure the Taliban is already propagandizing the affair-- “ Hey Mr. Afghan peasant, if you give any information to the foolish Americans, they show how much they appreciate your support and will post your name all over the internet. We’ll just look up your name, torture you and eventually kill you. Then we will rape your wife, and sell your children into slavery. So, who’s side are you on……”
I think we have just lost the war for the hearts and minds of the Afghan people.
Contact Erik Uliasz at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo of Julian Assange from http://axisoflogic.com