Opinion and Editorial

Stark , terrible face of war

Rahul Goswami (AFGHANISTAN)
Filed on July 27, 2010

Described to the world as a leak, this extraordinary and terrible library of new information about the war in Afghanistan is anything but. It is instead a testament that has emerged when the conditions for its emergence are right.

That they have emerged because of the disestablishment organisation called WikiLeaks in no way should determine their status as primary data records. WikiLeaks has, for several years, encouraged, sought and published the secret, the dirty, the murderous deals that help define the post-modern era: bank scams, crooked arms deals, financial disaster by design. It has done so by ensuring anonymity to those who make available such information, often at great risk and at great cost.

The Afghan War Diary is, as a subject and as a deep insight into contemporary history, altogether different. It is beginning to be seen as the single biggest leak in intelligence history. The weeks of analysis that lie ahead will surely confirm that. But the Afghan war logs are more, much more. They are also a terrifying window into how a superpower has run a war the world does not want, and the cost of such a war detailed in hundreds of accounts of the deaths of innocents. In the immediate aftermath of the massive store of documents being made public, two governments are immediately forced onto the defensive, that of the USA and of Pakistan. The protests against the ‘leaks’ from the White House, the US military establishment and the supporters of its wars in the region are long and loud.

They are also irrelevant, for this is not the era of the Vietnam War and the leak of the Pentagon Papers in 1971. The New York Times is involved here too, with the Afghan War Diary, and so are The Guardian of Britain and Der Spiegel of Germany. A comment in the The Times, years later, about its game-changing 1971 series on the Pentagon Papers had said they “demonstrated, among other things, that the Johnson Administration had systematically lied, not only to the public but also to Congress, about a subject of transcendent national interest and significance”.

That is exactly what The Afghan War Diary promises, for the secret compendium of over 91,000 reports covering the war in Afghanistan from 2004 to 2010 describe the majority of lethal military actions involving the US military. They include the number of persons internally stated to be killed, wounded, or detained during each action, together with the precise geographical location of each event (WikiLeaks has enabled the plotting of these deadly, tragic events on Google Earth, in a timeline of bloody death), and the military units involved and major weapon systems used.

“The Afghan War Diary is the most significant archive about the reality of war to have ever been released during the course of a war,” said WikiLeaks in its introduction to the complex database created for the intelligence reports. “The deaths of tens of thousands is normally only a statistic but the archive reveals the locations and the key events behind each most of these deaths. We hope its release will lead to a comprehensive understanding of the war in Afghanistan and provide the raw ingredients necessary to change its course.”

Implicit in this introduction is the responsibility that now rests with the readers and researchers of the The Afghan War Diary. It will be up to us, individuals and groups of concerned citizens everywhere, to employ these raw ingredients and fashion anew accountability and truth, democracy and peace. The total of 91,731 reports from US military databanks relating to the war in Afghanistan are now publicly available on the Internet, on the WikiLeaks website. “Never before has it been possible to compare the reality on the battlefield in such a detailed manner with what the US Army propaganda machinery is propagating,” explained Der Spiegel.

“The reports, from troops engaged in the ongoing combat, were tersely summarised and quickly dispatched. For the most part, they originate from sergeants, but some have been penned by the occasional lieutenant at a command post or ranking analysts with the military intelligence service. And they show that the war in northern Afghanistan is becoming increasingly perilous.”

Protecting and circulating the truth about the way our world actually works is just as perilous, as we remain locked into the matrix of globalisation and its instruments. In April, WikiLeaks released video footage from a helicopter cockpit showing a deadly 2007 aerial strike in the Iraqi capital that killed 12 civilians, including two journalists from the Reuters news agency. Since the release of that damning footage there has been a series of attempts to smear, obstruct and shut down WikiLeaks and tarnish its founder, Julian Assange.

In a short statement to the international trio of news outlets that participated in the Afghan War Diary, Assange said that to reduce the risk of gagging by the authorities, the Afghan War Diary database would be made available to The New York Times, Der Spiegel and The Guardian together, and that the three news publications would publish simultaneously in three different jurisdictions.

The three news publications vetted the material for a month before this weekend’s release, and compared the data with independent reports. All three media sources have concluded that the documents are authentic and provide a stark and unvarnished image of the war in Afghanistan, from the perspective of the soldiers who are fighting it, but with immense implications for the governments and regimes involved.

The Afghan War Diary is not about the extent of “plausible deniability” practised by the regime in Washington and its purported allies in West and South Asia. It is about how the tools to enforce governance in our time have changed, and how they lend power to our collective conscience.

Rahul Goswami is a development policy analyst based in Berlin, Germany, and Goa, India. He can be contacted at makanaka@pobox.com.

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