After nearly five months of silence and only 12
leaked documents this year, Wikileaks bellowed to life, releasing 90,000 classified U.S. government
documents detailing the U.S. military and aid campaigns to combat terrorism in
With the release, Wikileaks continues
to gun hard for the U.S. government, playing the role of hostile
foreign espionage organization-cum-whistleblower. Funded by shadowy
anonymous donors, two-thirds of the site's previous leaked documents targeted
the U.S. or close ally Iraq -- and that total has now soared to well over 90
percent. While Wikileaks has
released some important documents from other regions from Africa to Asia, the
quantity of those leaks pales in comparison to the site's targeted
efforts against the U.S.
The recent leak is the masterwork of site leader
Julian Assange, an ex-computer criminal who today lives in Iceland, a nation
whose specially designed freedom of speech laws shelter him from
prosecution. Assange was first elevated into the public eye with the
release of gun cam footage of a July 2007 U.S. airstrike in Baghdad, which
killed civilians, including two Reuters employees. That video was dubbed "collateral
murder" by Assange and required days of supercomputer time to crack the
advance encryption protections by the U.S. gov't.
The new documents offer what Assange claims is
damning evidence of U.S. wrongdoing and meddling in Afghanistan and
Pakistan. Among the highest profile claims is that the U.S.
"murdered" innocent civilians.
In reality, the documents reveal a surprisingly
low number of tragic incidents. Over a six-year military operation
plagued with tense situations and suicide bombings, the U.S. Military reports
being aware of only 144 incidents in which civilians appear to be killed.
Most of these involve drivers or motorcyclists who were mistaken for suicide
bombers and shot. In total 195 civilians died and 174 were wounded.
The highest profile incident involved 15 passengers being killed or wounded
when a U.S. patrol unleashed machine gun fire on a bus.
It's hard to make premature judgements on these
incidents. And any loss of life is certainly tragic and unsavory.
That said, considering that close to 10,000 civilians are estimated to have
died from local secular violence and over 1,000 U.S. soldiers are estimated to
have been killed in Afghanistan, that total appears remarkably low.
The site is fulfilling its role as a whistleblower
at least to some respect, in so much as many of these incidents were previously
The documents also reveal that roadside bombs
killed 2,000 civilians in Afghanistan alone – this was over 10 times the total
killed by the U.S. in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The documents also revealed a classified
anti-Taliban commando unit dubbed the "black unit". That unit's
objective was apparently to "kill or capture" Taliban leaders without
bringing them first to trial in the U.S. or Afghanistan.
Other leaked documents reveal that the U.S.
suspects several of its key allies are facing pro-terrorist sentiments from
within their own ranks. Pakistan, which currently receives $1B USD a year
to fight terrorism reportedly has high ranking government officials which the
U.S. Military claims were supporting the Taliban and seeking to undermine U.S.
One official in the nation's security services,
the ISI, even reportedly plotted to kill pro-U.S. Afghani President Hamid
Karzai in 2008. The report also reveals other ISI operative to be engaged
in training and employing a network of suicide bombers, starting in 2006.
There's much to say about the new report.
First and foremost, it comes at a time when the U.S. government is seeking to
prosecute Pvt. 1st Class Bradley Manning, the U.S. solider station
in Iraq who likely leaked these documents. Amid that backdrop they appear
clearly geared at exposing perceived U.S. wrongdoing and represent a
continuation of the site's targeting of the U.S.
There's no real smoking gun in the reports.
Many wouldn't even constitute whistleblowing as they deal with logistics
aspects like troop numbers or weaponry -- these releases can clearly be
perceived as hostile foreign intelligence engaged by Wikileaks. That said
there is a great deal of compelling material here. Most of the material --
a relatively small number of civilian casualties and Pakistani government
involvement with terrorism -- was already widely known, if some specific
details were lacking. The docs certainly clarify the picture of these
issues, as seen through the eyes of the U.S. Military.
The question now becomes what to do. The
leak is likely the largest in U.S. Military history. It has been condemned
by the Obama administration. But the administration must tread
cautiously or it risks being viewed at home or abroad as callous about civilian
deaths or unsupportive of its allies.
The Obama administration did blame the previous
Bush administration, which masterminded most of the Iraq and Afghanistan
military operations as engaging in "under-resourcing", which resulted
in many of the tragic loss-of-life incidents. However, the harder
question is what to do about Assange and Wikileaks.
If the Obama administration tolerates the site, it's likely to continue its
targeted attack of the U.S -- but if it moves against it, it will likely be
accused of conspiracy to undermine journalism and be validated Assange's claims
of international hostility towards him, which to this point appeared paranoia.
For Wikileaks, the leak
represents both problems an opportunity. After being down for some time,
the site's secure
submissions server is now back alive and the site has
drawn its most attention grabbing leak yet. Yet, its biggest source of
leaked info about the U.S. is currently sitting in prison and it faces the
potential of covert or open action from the U.S. government.
The biggest opportunity for the site, though, is
for it to target wrongdoing worldwide -- not just in the U.S. China,
Russia, and North Korea are just a few of the nations that could benefit from
the scrutiny. However, Wikileaks has to
date offered no indication it's interesting in becoming an equal-opportunity
whistleblower. In total it has released only 215 Chinese leaks, versus
close to 100,000 U.S. leaks. Empowered by its new publicity, will the
site turn from a crusade against the U.S. towards a crusade against
injustice? It remains to be seen if it will be given that opportunity,
and if given, whether it will take it.
The full archive of the new leaked documents is