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Wikileaks reveals what the leaders debate didn’t

In last night’s puppet show, the topic of Afghanistan emerged only briefly but sufficiently long for both candidates to pledge ongoing war until the ‘job is done’. Courtesy of Wikileaks, we now have a much greater idea of what exactly that job is.

The whistleblower site has begun releasing a trove of new documents containing an almost blow-by-blow account of the Afghan conflict. Here’s what the Guardian says:

Behind the military jargon, the war logs are littered with accounts of civilian tragedies. The 144 entries in the logs recording some of these so-called “blue on white” events, cover a wide spectrum of day-by-day assaults on Afghans, with hundreds of casualties.

They range from the shootings of individual innocents to the often massive loss of life from air strikes, which eventually led President Hamid Karzai to protest publicly that the US was treating Afghan lives as “cheap”. When civilian family members are actually killed in Afghanistan, their relatives do, in fairness, get greater solatia payments than cans of beans and Hershey bars. The logs refer to sums paid of 100,000 Afghani per corpse, equivalent to about £1,500.

US and allied commanders frequently deny allegations of mass civilian casualties, claiming they are Taliban propaganda or ploys to get compensation, which are contradicted by facts known to the military.

But the logs demonstrate how much of the contemporaneous US internal reporting of air strikes is simply false.

There’s a ton of new material and it’s going to take a while for it all to shake out. One thing’s clear, however: if the digital revolution facilitates the kind of on-message media spin evidenced at the leaders’ debate, it also facilitates the remarkable revelations offered by Wikileaks. In other words, there’s no technological excuse for the shoddy journalism we’re so often served up.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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Jeff Sparrow is the former editor of Overland. He is the co-author (with Jill Sparrow) of Radical Melbourne: A Secret History and Radical Melbourne 2: The Enemy Within, the editor (with Antony Loewenstein) of Left Turn: Essays for the New Left and the author of Communism: a love story, Killing: Misadventures in violence, and Money Shot: A Journey into Censorship and Porn.  On Twitter, he's @Jeff_Sparrow.

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  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Wikileaks reveals what the leaders debate didn’t « Overland literary journal -- Topsy.com

  2. Puppet show is right, Jeff. The performance of the worm and its role in the infotainment of election campaiging was particularlt telling. The worm responds to key word cues, as was clearly in evidence last night. As a measure of the quality of an argument it is utterly useless and as a measure of public opinion it is fraudulent. The 7 network referred to it as ‘our polygraph’.

    On Afghanistan, perhaps the current Wikileaks document flow will result in some hard talk about the real reasons for the Australian presence there which have very little to do with protecting the Afghani people and a great deal to do with the regional strategic advantage of the ‘roof of the world’ and, as always, access to resources.

  3. Spencer Ackerman at Wired (I can’t believe they have the audacity to publish it, but anyway):

    Turns out, “Collateral Murder” was just a warm-up. WikiLeaks has just published a trove of over 90,000 U.S. military documents that details a strengthening Afghan insurgency with deep, deep ties to Pakistani intelligence.

    WikiLeaks’ release of a 2007 Apache gunship video sparked worldwide outrage, but little change in U.S. policy. This massive storehouse has the potential to be strategically significant, raising doubts about how and why America and her allies are conducting the war. It not only recounts 144 incidents in which coalition forces killed civilians over six years. But it shows just how deeply elements within the U.S.’ supposed ally, Pakistan, have nurtured the Afghan insurgency. In other words, 2010’s answer to the Pentagon Papers is a database you can open in Excel, brought to you by the now-reopened-for-business WikiLeaks.

    Now, obviously, it’s not news that the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligences has ties to the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani network and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e-Islami That’s something that pretty much every observer of the Afghanistan war and the Pakistani intelligence apparatus has known for the better part of a decade.

    But as the early-viewing New York Times reports, WikiLeaks presents a new depth of detail about how the U.S. military has seen, for six years, the depths of ISI facilitation of the Afghan insurgency. For instance: a three-star Pakistani general active during the 80s-era U.S.-Pakistani-Saudi sponsorship of the anti-Soviet insurgency, Hamid Gul, allegedly met with insurgent leaders in South Waziristan in January 2009 to plot vengeance for the drone-inflicted death of an al-Qaeda operative. (Gul called it “absolute nonsense” to the Times reporters.)

    Other reports, stretching back to 2004, offer chilling, granular detail about the Taliban’s return to potency after the U.S. and Afghan militias routed the religious-based movement in 2001. Some of them, as the Times notes, cast serious doubt on official U.S. and NATO accounts of how insurgents prosecute the war. Apparently, the insurgents have used “heat-seeking missiles against allied aircraft,” eerily reminiscent of the famous Stinger missiles that the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Pakistan provided to the mujahideen to down Soviet helicopters. One such missile downed a Chinook over Helmand in May 2007.

    Typically, NATO accounts of copter downings are vague — and I’ve never seen one that cited the Taliban’s use of a guided missile. This clearly isn’t just Koran, Kalashnikov and laptop anymore. And someone is selling the insurgents these missiles, after all. That someone just might be slated to receive $7.5 billion of U.S. aid over the next five years.

  4. I’ve been waiting for this Wikileaks leak, as Assange said several weeks ago when Manning was arrested that he wanted to release the next batch of docs ASAP. Teeing it up simultaneously with the Guardian, Der Spiegel, and the NYT was a fine idea – max coverage over various jurisdictions. Assange apparently had the call on the actual release date. Obviously though he had neglected to note that in Australia, the release would coincide with the Masterchef finale. The Fairfax media’s online coverage this morning of the War Logs – as the G and NYT refer to them – is exactly zero.
    The White House’s response so far has been, “but that all happened LAST YEAR!” and in spin emails from the WH Press Office to journalists to state that Wikileaks isn’t interested in transparency but is really just anti-US. That a tiny organisation like Wikileaks can do this with no resources to speak of – the G writes of Assange at their Brussels meeting sleeping on an office floor rather than the ‘expensive hotels’ his critics have alleged he preferred – speaks volumes about the incompetent, fatuous, compliant, politically stupid and insular Australian media.

    • Makes me think of Orwell, whom I was reading this morning:

      The atom bombs are piling up in the factories, the police are prowling through the cities, the lies are streaming from the loudspeakers, but the earth is still going round the sun.

      • Also, this is the latest from the aforementioned White House:

        Tommy Vietor, a White House assistant press secretary, e-mailed the following statement with the subject line “Thoughts on Wikileaks” to reporters on Sunday evening. In his memo, Mr. Vietor advised journalists on possible reporting tacks to take on the documents and pointed them to an excerpt from The Guardian newspaper’s report:

        You all should have received a written statement from General Jones [see update below] about the wikileaks release. Please let me know if you didn’t.

        A few thoughts about these stories on background:

        1) I don’t think anyone who follows this issue will find it surprising that there are concerns about ISI and safe havens in Pakistan. In fact, we’ve said as much repeatedly and on the record. Attached please find a document with some relevant quotes from senior USG officials.

        2) The period of time covered in these documents (January 2004-December 2009) is before the President announced his new strategy. Some of the disconcerting things reported are exactly why the President ordered a three month policy review and a change in strategy.

        3) Note the interesting graphs (pasted below) from the Guardian’s wikileaks story. I think they help put these documents in context.

        4) As you report on this issue, it’s worth noting that wikileaks is not an objective news outlet but rather an organization that opposes US policy in Afghanistan.

        Please let me know if you have questions.

        Tommy

  5. Is the journalism shoddy? It can be thorough and professional in its own terms, and still fail to inform the public properly, to ask the right questions, etc. The problem, surely, is ideology.

    • Sure there’s ideology, but incompetence takes different forms I think and when ideology meets incompetence we get what we now have. Perhaps the delay on this issue appearing in the mainstream media, is that they just didn’t know how to deal with the story. The SMH has a link this morning in a headline “US war effort into damage control” – hardly an eye-opening headline, and placed beneath “Satanists jailed for cannibalism ritual”, stories of the kind to which the SMH is very attached. The link on Wikileaks bizarrely takes the reader to the SMH technology pages. Everything in the way the story is presented says to me that it will be buried ASAP. The SMH also says that Australians ‘feature lightly’ in the leak, despite there being a report of a secret meeting between John Howard and US defence on Howard doubling the Australian contingent in Afghanistan. The US were asked not to tell anyone about the meeting because the Australian Govt didn’t want us (ie: Australian citizens) to know.
      I might also add that whenever there are media stories onissues about which I have some knowledge, the reporting is shoddy in the extreme, to the point of being laughable fiction. Which begs big questions about all the subjects about which my knowledge is considerably poorer.

  6. Not a peep from ABC television on this evening’s news coverage. The old ‘don’t give it any oxygen’ routine.

  7. So Labor’s going to launch an investigation, not into what the revelations reveal about the war, but about the security implications.
    Worth recalling, of course, that the Wikileaks url was on the leaked Conroy filter blacklist …

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