James Houle: Washington tries to cap the WikiLeaks leak


WikiLeaks released on July 25th 76,000 mostly one-page battlefield documents leaked from US Army sources out of a total of 92,000 in their possession. They detail a vast array of material about the Afghan War ranging from “tactical reports about small unit operations to broader strategic analyses of politico-military relations between the US and Pakistan”. /STRATFOR’s George Friedman (07/27/10)/ doubts that this disparate assortment of not-so-sensitive materials below the ‘Top Secret’ category would likely have been collected by any single source. WikiLeaks, an organization operating out of several European cities since July 2007, produced this report entitled: “Afghan War Diary, 2004-2010” and sent it to three news organizations, The New York Times, the Guardian of London, and Der Speigel in Germany. One United States official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the continuing investigation, said government lawyers were exploring whether WikiLeaks and its leader, Mr. Julian Assange could be charged in violation of the Espionage Act, a 1917 law that prohibits the unauthorized disclosure of national security information. They might be charged with a crime if they were to release actual names or identities of Afghans who had worked under cover with the US Army/(NYTimes 07/29/10)/. Pfc. Bradley Manning, now returned from Army incarceration in Kuwait to the Quantico Brig in Virginia, previously released to WikiLeaks a 2007 video showing a US helicopter killing 12 unarmed Iraqis including two Reuters newsmen in Baghdad. WikiLeaks have not identified Pfc. Manning nor anyone else as the source of the current Afghan War Diary covering the period from Jan. 2004 through Dec.2009.

“Nothing new here, nothing we did not know”, we have been reassured by Defense Secretary Bob Gates and White House flak Robert Gibbs: “There is not much here that the public did not know and was not told by the media nor by the Administration”. To downgrade the leaks to old news is a clever way to reassure an uninformed public that they actually knew all of this before, so why should they bother reading it all again? President Obama told reporters in the Rose Garden on July 27th that: “While I’m concerned about the disclosure of sensitive information from the battlefield that could potentially jeopardize individuals or operations, the fact is these documents don’t reveal any issues that haven’t already informed our public debate on Afghanistan.” Now if it’s indeed all old news that has been publicly debated, then why would it be dangerous to our troops if this old news were known on the battlefield? Something does not quite add up here: does it name double agents, duplicitous Pakistanis or turn-coat Americans? Not so far it doesn’t and Mr. Assange has been redacting such names from the 15,000 documents still to be released. Mr. Obama and top military officials said that the disclosure of the documents should not force a rethinking of America’s commitment to the war. I don’t feel reassured by this. And Mr. Obama, please tell us where this public debate has been taking place about competing strategies, duplicitous Pakistanis, Task Force 373 and the like? Certainly not in our rubber-stamp Congress where the $37 billion supplemental appropriation to continue this war breezed through the day after the WikiLeaks leaked.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, broke from the Obama administration’s contention that there were no real revelations in the reports and therefore there should be no real harm to the war effort. She told The Cable in an interview on July 27th that she was shocked by the allegations in the leaked reports that elements of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate were directly involved in attacks on coalition forces in Afghanistan. “We need to find out if it’s true. The suspicion is that it may well be true and if so, it’s very serious. It’s hard to believe it actually happened because of the size of it.” she dithered /(07/27/10)./ Other senior Democrats on Capitol Hill Tuesday said they weren’t shocked by the reports. “I don’t share her shock,” Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin, D-MI. /(The Cable 07/28/10)
Admiral Mike Mullen, our Joint Chief of Staff, accused WikiLeaks of “having on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family” (presumably who were informing against the Taliban) and Secretary Gates refers to “potentially severe and dangerous battlefield consequences”. /Bill Van Auken (Countercurrents.org 07/30/10)/ comments “that no reporters at their joint news conference pointed to the absurdity of these angry denunciations of WikiLeaks from the two men whose colonial war had caused the deaths of well over 20,000 Afghans between 2004 and 2009” and whose hands are truly soaked in blood.

Much of the media as well as the US Congress has joined in to portray Assange and WikiLeaks as responsible for endangering innocent lives while actually providing details on the annihilation of thousands as a result of the US war. “The only crime of which WikiLeaks is guilty is that of breaking the main stream media’s self-censorship of information exposing the bloody and criminal character of the US war.” /(Countercurrents.org 07/30/10)/

First: Pakistan’s Interservices Intelligence agency (ISI) has played a dual game for years, supporting, supplying and providing safe havens in Pakistan to Taliban insurgents while cooperating with the US in actions against the Taliban in other areas of Pakistan such as North Waziristan. Former head of ISI, Lt. General Hamid Gul regularly confers with the Taliban in Afghanistan about tactics and strategies.

Second: That the Taliban is a thoroughly sophisticated fighting force now equipped with MANIPADS, a man-portable air defense system capable of shooting down helicopters with heat-seeking missiles and ending our domination of the skies just as the Stinger missiles supplied by the US to the mujaheddin in the 1980s took away Russia’s aerial warfare program and forced their withdrawal in 1989.

Third: There are actually two parallel war strategies being followed by the US Central Command. The COIN counter-insurgency program originated by General McCrystal seems to be our official position and would presumably encourage strong bonds with locals and the curtailment of air attacks upon villages and town. (Described in Obama-Watch 31st Edition). However, WikiLeaks now documents that an alternative war plan is actually the dominant tactic and involves heavy reliance upon a rain of terror from the sky upon towns and villages suspected of harboring Taliban utilizing unmanned drones operated by specialists in remote Nevada air bases with big TV screens and a bloodless hand on the trigger. It also involves Task Force 373 with 2000 senior Taliban figures on their kill or capture list, and with the very Orwellian name JPEL – ‘Joint Prioritized Effects List’. Among the documents released are many reports of wanton and indiscriminate roadside killings of Afghan civilians who merely pass by Task Force 373 vehicles. Most of these are not investigated further nor are the killers even disciplined. This is a far cry from the “winning the hearts and minds” tactic loudly touted in Senate hearing rooms and praised in the main stream media.
WHY THE PAKISTANI DOUBLE GAME? * The ISI continues to maintain liaison and material support to the Taliban just as they previously did (with US weapons and materiel) with the mujaheddin during the years of Russian occupation in Afghanistan. When the Russians left in 1989, the US turned over these operations in Afghanistan to Pakistan’s ISI. This relationship apparently remains intact power. From Pakistan’s viewpoint, it is most important that they maintain good relations with the Taliban on both sides of the border, since they will exist long after the US has withdrawn. It is not possible for Pakistan to have a hostile India to the east and a hostile Taliban controlling Afghanistan on the west. George Friedman suggests: “Given that Pakistan does not expect the Taliban to be defeated, and given that they are not interested in chaos in Afghanistan, it follows that they will maintain close relations with and give support to the Taliban. Given that the United States is powerful and is Pakistan’s only lever against India, the Pakistanis will not make this their public policy, however. The US has thus created a situation in which the only rational policy for Pakistan is two-tiered, consisting of overt opposition to the Taliban and covert support for the Taliban.” /(Stratfor 07/27/10)/. The US understands this dilemma and realizes that putting too much pressure on Pakistan could result in the unwanted destabilization of the entire Islamabad government.
MAKING SAUSAGE*: As in making sausage, one must never look too closely at the messy ways in which wars are fought, particularly coalition warfare. Even the strongest alliances are fraught with deceit and dissension, as we learned working with the British in WWII. While the US is fighting to deny AlQaeda a base in Afghanistan, Pakistan is fighting to secure its western frontier against rebel tribesmen and maintain internal stability. Meanwhile, the Taliban know that they can win by not being defeated. Which gets us back to the WikiLeaks conundrum. Whoever did put all this together and leak it out, has provided the most powerful case yet for US withdrawal from Afghanistan sooner rather than later. /(STRATFOR 07/27/10)/


Jonathan Middlebrook July 31, 2010 at 5:34 pm

Jim, you’re on a roll. Keep it up!

    Thank you Jonathan. I find that here in Ukiah, where we gather in front of the Court House @ 5 pm on Friday nights for a peace vigil, the mood has changed from outrage at “perpetual war for perpetual peace” to a worn-down look of despair on most faces. Now, we get a few honks, and waves from our friends, a lot of embarrassed look-aways from those too consumed with making ends meet to bother about the war over there. and an occasional thanks and wonder about our standing there. We just have to keep hammering away, regardless. Its a vicarious socio-political experience. Join us. Jim Houle