It’s time to celebrate.
It’s a big win for Internet-based, indie media that WikiLeaks.org posted its “Afghan War Diary,” based on 90,000 leaked US military records detailing a failing war in which US and allied forces have repeatedly killed innocent civilians. This on-the-ground material is vaster than the Daniel Ellsberg-leaked Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War and was much faster in reaching the public.
Thanks to the Internet and new technologies, it’s easier than ever for a whistleblower to anonymously leak documents exposing official abuses and deception, easier to copy and disseminate vast quantities of material and easier for journalists and citizens to cull through all the data.
I spent hours with Ellsberg this weekend at the Progressive Democrats meeting in Cleveland, where he spoke after a screening of the brilliant documentary, “The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers.”
In 1971, it was Henry Kissinger who called Ellsberg “the most dangerous man in America.” The movie shows how Ellsberg (aided at times by his own kids and pal Tony Russo) laboriously copied 7,000 pages of classified high-level documents – which exposed that every president from Truman to Johnson had publicly lied about Vietnam. It took many months before a newspaper published the documents, and much longer before they all were gathered in a book.
Today, the “most dangerous man in the world” may be Julian Assange of WikiLeaks. At least that’s how he’s seen by the various governments that have threatened to prosecute him for revealing their secrets. But as a stateless and officeless news organization operating in cyberspace, WikiLeaks is almost untouchable.
Throughout this decade of war, Ellsberg has been an evangelist beseeching government employees to engage in leaking and “unauthorized truth telling.” His prayers have now been partially answered – with Assange boasting that the 2004-2009 Afghan war logs constitute “the most comprehensive description of a war to have ever been published during the course of a war.”
The Internet has changed the game since the Pentagon Papers, says Assange: “More material can be pushed to bigger audiences, and much sooner.”
If Ellsberg is the most important whistleblower in US history, Internet activist Assange is probably the most important aider and abetter of whistleblowers – using technology that Ellsberg couldn’t have imagined as he labored over his now ancient Xerox machine.
Launched less than four years ago with a focus on helping Chinese dissidents, the donation-supported WikiLeaks has continuously posted material embarrassing to business and governments. In April, WikiLeaks posted horrific video of a 2007 US Apache gunship attack in Baghdad that killed a dozen civilians, including two Reuters journalists.
The video leak led to the jailing of 22-year-old Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning – suspected now in the Afghan leak. To its credit, WikiLeaks is raising money for Manning’s defense.
This is also a time to mourn.
Because some things don’t seem to change – like endless war, based on deceit.
Nearly 40 years after the Pentagon Papers were leaked by Democratic military analyst Ellsberg, a Democratic White House seems bent on public deception and cheerleading on behalf of an immoral war that can’t be won.
Team Obama decided to escalate the Afghanistan folly, knowing all that the public now has access to thanks to WikiLeaks – such as NATO killing of so many civilians (“blue on white” events); Task Force 373, a “black” special forces unit that sometimes kills kids or Afghan allies as it hunts down insurgents; widespread Afghan animosity toward US forces; allied troops firing on each other (“blue on blue” incidents); a steady increase in Taliban attacks.
All the color-coded military jargon can’t obscure the reality that dishonesty often infects the original incident reports or intervenes soon after, before any public statements are issued. Remember the lies about Pat Tillman’s death.
From Vietnam through Afghanistan, deceiving the public has been the government’s knee-jerk response. The Ellsberg documentary shows US Defense Secretary Robert McNamara going before TV cameras and boldly lying about all the military progress in Vietnam – just minutes after McNamara had told Ellsberg privately that he agreed there’d been no progress.
When Ellsberg leaked the papers, the Nixon White House prosecuted him for espionage and burglarized his psychiatrist’s office searching for dirt – after failing in court to prevent newspapers from publishing the papers.
The Obama White House didn’t try to stop The New York Times from publishing the Afghan logs (hopeless since WikiLeaks had also provided them to foreign publications – Germany’s Der Spiegel and the British Guardian, whose initial coverage focused much more on civilian casualties than did the Times.)
But the Obama administration denounced WikiLeaks as “irresponsible” and nonobjective – and argued that the president had announced “a new strategy” for Afghanistan last December “precisely because of the grave situation that had developed over several years.” The “new strategy” claim is hardly more credible than Nixon’s claim in 1968 that he had a plan to end the Vietnam War.
Asked by Der Speigel whether he, following in Ellsberg’s footsteps, was “today’s most dangerous man,” Assange responded, “The most dangerous men are those who are in charge of war. And they need to be stopped.”
Obama recently asked Congress for $33 billion more to pay for his 30,000 increase in US troops to Afghanistan. That vote could happen any day.
Will they be stopped?