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Wikileaks Too Confusing for Citizens?

[Ed. Note: A vote is expected today on a $33 billion war supplemental, H.R. 4899. See Siun’s previous post for more information.]

It’s fascinating to watch the so-called “progressive” COIN fans circle the wagons over the Wikileaks release of over 90,000 files from Afghanistan. Everywhere you look – from Joshua Foust to our very own Attackerman’s selection of Adam Weinstein’s post in Mother Jones as the “winner” of “the WikiLeaks commentary contest” – you’ll find concerned military journos assuring us that there’s really nothing there, no need to bother our pretty little heads trying to read or understand these files. As Weinstein writes: “But in truth, there’s not much there. I know, because I’ve seen many of these reports before—at least, thousands of similar ones from Iraq, when I was a contractor there last year.”

Repeating the White House and Pentagon talking points that “ there were few, if any, revelations in the documents” many followed the lead of Andrew Exum who, after assuring us that he has “spent the past two days” looking at the 92,000 files (even though his piece was published considerably less than 48 hours after the release) and “seen nothing in the documents that has either surprised me or told me anything of significance,” goes on to express his concern for us poor befuddled readers:

The publication of these documents, by contrast, dumps 92,000 new primary source documents into the laps of the world’s public with no context, no explanation as to why some accounts may contradict others, no sense of what is important or unusual as opposed to the normal march of war.

Many experts on the war, both in the military and the press, have long been struggling to come to grips with the conflict’s complexity and nuances. What is the public going to make of this haphazard cache of documents, many written during combat by officers with little sense of how their observations fit into the fuller scope of the war?

What these fellows miss is that the documents are important for us to read precisely because they are raw original source materials “written during combat by officers.” After years of watching the ISAF press office attempt to coverup mass civilian casualty events until some reporter or local doctor provides a cell phone video, after years of rhetoric from Bush and now Obama claiming progress in this disaster than spirals further into chaos, after all those McChrystal claims of caution and concern for the people of Afghanistan, we can now read the actual reports ourselves, with no PR officer to hide the facts. (cont’d.)

Not surprisingly, many overseas journalists have found a lot to pay attention to in these files. The Guardian notes:

Further disclosures reveal more evidence of attempts by coalition commanders to cover up civilian casualties in the conflict…
The war logs show how a group of US marines who went on a shooting rampage after coming under attack near Jalalabad in 2007 recorded false information about the incident, in which they killed 19 unarmed civilians and wounded a further 50.

In another case that year, the logs detail how US special forces dropped six 2,000lb bombs on a compound where they believed a “high-value individual” was hiding, after “ensuring there were no innocent Afghans in the surrounding area”. A senior US commander reported that 150 Taliban had been killed. Locals, however, reported that up to 300 civilians had died.

But I guess these events just fall into Exum’s “normal march of war.”

And that march continues as we noted Sunday with the BBC’s report of yet another massacre of Afghan civilians:

At least 45 civilians, many women and children, were killed in a rocket attack by the Nato-led foreign force in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province last week, a spokesperson for the Afghan government said on Monday.

The incident happened in Helmand’s Sangin district on Friday when civilians crammed into a mud-built house to flee fighting between Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) troops and Taliban insurgents, Siyamak Herawi told Reuters.

As usual, the ISAF press office is saying this didn’t happen, admitting that forces had “used helicopters and precision-guided missiles while responding to insurgent attacks near Regey village,” but claiming “All fires were observed and accounted for and struck the intended target.”

Yet we know that a BBC reporter went to the area, saw wounded children – and there are photos of the same circulating – and spoke to witnesses of the missile(s) that hit the house where the families tried to hide from the firefight.

As one of the survivors asked:

“They can see something as small as an insect just four inches on the ground, so how were they not able to see all of those women and children when they bombed them?”

And how can we see them if we do not look at the kinds of reports found in the wikileaks Afghanistan war logs?

Or is making sure we don’t see them the very reason why the Pentagon cheerleaders like Exum want us to ignore the Wikileaks story?

Today, the House of Representatives will vote on the latest Obama War Supplemental Act. You can let them know we are readng these files and we want to know why they are approving even more money for this fiasco. Let them know that you will not turn away from what Assange calls the squalor of our war and occupation in Afghanistan.

Video: The Guardian’s guide to reading the 300 “key” files they’ve published from the release. These files are here – it’s a good place to start before heading into the full 92,000.

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Siun is a proud Old Town resident who shares her home with two cats and a Great Pyrenees. She’s worked in media relations and on the net since before the www, led the development of a corporate responsibility news service, and knows what a mult box is thanks to Nico. When not swimming in the Lake, she leads a team working on sustainability tools.

Email: media dot firedoglake at gmail dot com