Andrew Sullivan, the King of Bloggers, has written a Newsweek cover story which is featuring heavily in American political discussion on tv, in newspapers and on blogs right now. From over here, it’s sometimes difficult to realize that Sullivan is not just a blogger, albeit a big one, but also a pretty prominent “public intellectual” (as they say) in the US, who from time to time – as a very early advocate of gay marriage, as proponent of the Iraq War, as supporter of Obama – generates a lot of public debate.
In the Newsweek article, Sullivan argues, as one of the first people to elaborately do so, passionately for Obama’s re-election. He basically says that Obama’s political strategy is a “long game”, of which we have not seen the results yet, which will only play out in eight years. In doing so, he obviously and correctly dismisses the president’s conservative ”critics” (we may just call them lunatics), but also takes on criticism of Obama from “the left”. Personally, while I certainly agree with Sullivan that Obama has by and large been a good president – in that he has saved the US and the West from plunging into a systemic crisis largely caused by Bush, through the stimulus, the bail-outs of Wall Street and the auto industry, having healthcare reform passed, getting out of Iraq, reaching out to the Muslim world, responding carefully to the Green Revolution and the Arab Spring, and taking on Qadhafi – he has also failed miserably to keep up to his promises to restore the rule of law. Under Obama, indefinite detention has been enshrined into law, Guantánamo Bay has seen its tenth birthday, military commissions have been kept open, a Drone War killing hundreds of innocents has been started, extrajudicial assassination has become normal, and a war on whistleblowers and transparency-seekers has been waged. Torture has merely been halted by executive order and can easily be reversed by a Republican president.
This, I think, is unforgivable; it is a core reason not to support Obama’s re-election; and Sullivan passes it too easily by. I also think he fails to engage seriously with Obama’s critics that he relents too easily in the face of opposition, as was the case with healthcare and the debt ceiling crisis. Sullivan doesn’t mention anywhere the deep interpenetration of the Obama administration and Wall Street lobbyists. And, finally, I think it’s kind of slavish and rather uncritical to say: “It’s all part of the masterplan, just wait, it will all play out in eight years, just vote now, it’s Obama!” But that is a tendency you see more often in Obama supporters.
Anyway. The only reason I wanted to write this was because I thought it was funny to see Sullivan, whom you almost only know by writing, defend his article on television. And he’s doing it pretty well actually. Enjoy this weird-in-a-sympathetic-way person’s discussion with a Republican supporter:
- Edit: In the best response to Sullivan’s article so far, here’s Conor Friedersdorf, who writes it down better than I can. First he asks if Sullivan would have supported a Republican in 2008 who would have proposed the following:
(1) Codify indefinite detention into law; (2) draw up a secret kill list of people, including American citizens, to assassinate without due process; (3) proceed with warrantless spying on American citizens; (4) prosecute Bush-era whistleblowers for violating state secrets; (5) reinterpret the War Powers Resolution such that entering a war of choice without a Congressional declaration is permissible; (6) enter and prosecute such a war; (7) institutionalize naked scanners and intrusive full body pat-downs in major American airports; (8) oversee a planned expansion of TSA so that its agents are already beginning to patrol American highways, train stations, and bus depots; (9) wage an undeclared drone war on numerous Muslim countries that delegates to the CIA the final call about some strikes that put civilians in jeopardy; (10) invoke the state-secrets privilege to dismiss lawsuits brought by civil-liberties organizations on dubious technicalities rather than litigating them on the merits; (11) preside over federal raids on medical marijuana dispensaries; (12) attempt to negotiate an extension of American troops in Iraq beyond 2011 (an effort that thankfully failed); (14) reauthorize the Patriot Act; (13) and select an economic team mostly made up of former and future financial executives from Wall Street firms that played major roles in the financial crisis.
Yet President Obama has done all of the aforementioned things.
No, Obama isn’t a radical Kenyan anti-colonialist. But he is a lawbreaker and an advocate of radical executive power. What precedent could be more radical than insisting that the executive is empowered to draw up a kill list of American citizens in secret, without telling anyone what names are on it, or the legal justification for it, or even that it exists? What if Newt Gingrich inherits that power?
He may yet.
[Sullivan's] Newsweek essay fits the pattern I’ve lamented of Obama apologists who tell a narrative of his administration that ignores some of these issues and minimizes the importance of others, as if they’re a relatively unimportant matter to be set aside in a sentence or three before proceeding to the more important business of whether the president is being critiqued fairly by obtuse partisans.
Like President Bush, [Obama] is breaking the law, transgressing against civil liberties, and championing a radical view of executive power – and he is invoking the War on Terror to get away with it. As much as it was in 2003 or 2007, it is vital in 2012 that there be a backlash against these post-9/11 excesses, that liberty-loving citizens push back so that these are anomalies that are reined in, rather than permanent features of a bipartisan consensus that can only end in a catastrophically abusive executive operating in an office stripped by successive presidents and their minions of both constitutional and prudential checks.
That is the best case against Obama I can think of. It is, indeed, vital that there is a backlash against his policies.
In yet another confirmation that the Obama administration’s handling of counterterrorism policy is nothing but a continuation and, in fact, reinforcement of Bush-era policies, the US Department of Justice decided on Thursday that all cases against (former) low-level CIA and military employees suspected of having employed torture, sometimes leading to murder, are to be dropped, except two.
So there’s not gonna be any accountability for the breaches of human rights and the Geneva Conventions conducted under the last administration in the name of the ‘War on Terror’.
Back in August 2009, the Obama White House already decided that there would be no torture investigations regarding former administration officials (Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld) and government lawyers (John Yoo, Jay Bybee) who invented and implemented the ‘legal’ architecture for things like indefinite detention, military commissions and ‘enhanced interrogation methods’ (torture), which eventually spread from Guantánamo Bay and the secret ‘black sites’ to Abu Ghraib and Afghanistan. Neither would there be investigations regarding CIA and military employees who stayed ‘within the lines’ of the new torture regime (even though a lot of people, including JAG lawyers, protested at that time).
The only exception to this immunity granted by Obama would be for those employees who went beyond even what was permitted by the Bush administration in terms of torture. And of those 101 cases, all are now dropped except two.
Those two cases are the most gruesome imaginable: one is of a detainee who froze to death in an American secret prison in 2002 after being stripped and chained to the floor, and the other is of the Abu Ghraib detainee who was photographed in 2003 with a guard holding her thumbs up. All other horrors perpetrated under the Bush administration will now be fully, legally protected.
Change we can believe in. And what’s more: except for one executive order ordering a halt to ’enhanced interrogation methods’, there’s nothing that can prevent a future president from starting to employ torture again…
Consider what’s being permanently shielded from legal accountability. The Bush torture regime extended to numerous prisons around the world, in which tens of thousands of mostly Muslim men were indefinitely imprisoned without a whiff of due process, and included a network of secret prisons – ”black sites” — purposely placed beyond the monitoring reach of even international human rights groups, such as the International Red Cross.
Over 100 detainees died during U.S. interrogations, dozens due directly to interrogation abuse. Gen. Barry McCaffrey said: ”We tortured people unmercifully. We probably murdered dozens of them during the course of that, both the armed forces and the C.I.A.” Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who oversaw the official investigation into detainee abuse, wrote: ”there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.”
Thanks to the Obama DOJ, that is no longer in question. The answer is resoundingly clear: American war criminals, responsible for some of the most shameful and inexcusable crimes in the nation’s history — the systematic, deliberate legalization of a worldwide torture regime — will be fully immunized for those crimes. And, of course, the Obama administration has spent years just as aggressively shielding those war criminals from all other forms of accountability beyond the criminal realm: invoking secrecy and immunity doctrines to prevent their victims from imposing civil liability, exploiting their party’s control of Congress to suppress formal inquiries, and pressuring and coercing other nations not to investigate their own citizens’ torture at American hands.
All of those efforts, culminating in yesterday’s entirely unsurprising announcement, means that the U.S. Government has effectively shielded itself from even minimal accountability for its vast torture crimes of the last decade. Without a doubt, that will be one of the most significant, enduring and consequential legacies of the Obama presidency.
As Glenn Greenwald notes, the Obama administration has blocked all attempts by detainees to sue torture facilitators with its generous use of the state secrets doctrine.
What that means is that the only thing preventing a future Republican president from using torture techniques is a flimsy, reversible executive order from the president himself, because no court has ever made a determination that the interrogation techniques themselves were illegal. Both the new Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and the new CIA chief David Petraeus, both once among the most prominent opponents of torture, have now expressed support for the idea of using coercive interrogations in “limited” circumstances. Torture became an issue of partisan dispute because Republicans rallied to the defense of their former president. What happens if the same thing happens with Obama supporters, and they feel the need to minimize the magnitude of what happened under Bush in order to defend the lack of accountability sought by their president?
The fact that so few people, if any, will face professional, civil or criminal sanction for torture bothers me far less than the possibility of torture itself becoming American policy again. Between the absence of strong legal barriers to torture and the deterrent factor of criminal or civil accountability, that outcome seems quite possible.
Gonggrijp, oprichter van Nederlands eerste internetprovider XS4ALL, is al jaren bezorgd over enerzijds de toenemende greep van overheden wereldwijd op informatie over hun burgers, en anderzijds de geheimhouding van onwelgevallige informatie. Hoewel hij niet structureel betrokken is geweest bij WikiLeaks, dat zijn zorgen deelt, heeft hij wel meegewerkt aan de totstandkoming en publicatie van de “Collateral Murder”-video – waarop te zien is hoe de bemanning van een Amerikaanse Apache-helikopter in Irak als in een computerspel onschuldige burgers en journalisten vermoordt. Een nobele daad van Gonggrijp, zou je zeggen, gezien de aard van de handelingen en de overmatige reactie van de Amerikaanse overheid op het vrijkomen van deze informatie.
Daar denkt minister Rosenthal (VVD) dus blijkbaar anders over – evenals de Telegraaf, die Gonggrijp een “linkse terreuractivist” en “Assanges adjudant” noemde. Wat Rosenthal betreft is uitlevering van Gonggrijp aan de V.S. – hoewel het Europees Parlement vragen heeft gesteld over de waarschijnlijk illegale methodes van datavergaring die de Amerikaanse overheid op onder meer Gonggrijp heeft toegepast – niet uitgesloten. Dat medewerkers van WikiLeaks door de regering-Obama stelselmatig geïntimideerd en onder druk gezet worden doet er blijkbaar niet toe. Sterker nog, Rosenthal zegt – hoewel de woordvoerder van het Amerikaanse ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken vorige maand nog ontslagen werd omdat hij de behandeling van Manning ‘belachelijk en contraproductief’ had genoemd – hier niet eens van op de hoogte te zijn.
GroenLinks-Kamerlid Arjen El Fassed noemt de antwoorden van Rosenthal ‘genânt’. Dat is nog een understatement, wat mij betreft.
Minister Uri Rosenthal sluit niet uit dat Nederland XS4ALL-oprichter en stemcomputercriticus Rop Gonggrijp gaat uitleveren aan de VS. De procedure is volgens hem met voldoende waarborgen omkleed.
Dat blijkt uit antwoorden van de Minister van Buitenlandse Zaken op vragen van het GroenLinks-kamerlid Arjan El Fassed. Sinds begin dit jaar is duidelijk dat de Amerikaanse autoriteiten onderzoek doen naar Gonggrijp. Daar wordt gekeken naar de vermeende rol van Gonggrijp bij Wikileaks.
Gonggrijp komt voor in het onderzoek naar Bradley Manning, die ervan wordt verdacht documenten te hebben gelekt. Gonggrijp zou hebben meegeholpen aan het samenstellen van de film Collateral Murder, waarin te zien is hoe vanuit een Amerikaanse gevechtshelikopter journalisten onder vuur worden genomen. Volgens Rosenthal is die video de aanleiding: “De naam van de heer Gonggrijp wordt hierbij genoemd omdat hij Wikileaks, naar eigen zeggen, heeft geholpen een video over Irak te publiceren en er een strafrechtelijk onderzoek loopt naar degene die de beelden aan Wikileaks heeft verstrekt.”
Op dit moment ligt er volgens de bewindvoerder geen aanklacht tegen Gonggrijp, maar als dat zo is dan sluit hij uitlevering niet uit. “Uit dat verzoek dient onder andere te blijken naar welke strafbare feiten onderzoek wordt gedaan, zodat de Amerikaanse strafrechtelijke belangen kunnen worden afgewogen tegen de belangen van betrokkene”, stelt Rosenthal. “Dat proces is met voldoende waarborgen omkleed. Ik sluit daarom niet nu uit dat Nederland medewerking zal verlenen.”
De uitspraak is belangrijk. Als er daadwerkelijk een aanklacht komt dan wordt niet op inhoud van de zaak getoetst, maar alleen op procedurele zaken gelet. Zo mag er nooit de doodstraf worden opgelegd. Dat er veel ophef is over de behandeling van Bradley Manning in de gevangenis, is Rosenthal niet bekend. “Met het detentieregime van de heer Manning ben ik niet bekend. Het betreft een Amerikaanse strafzaak tegen een verdachte met de Amerikaanse nationaliteit.” Vorige maand stapte de voorlichter van de Amerikaanse minister van Buitenlandse Zaken nog op, omdat hij de behandeling van Manning kwalificeerde als ‘belachelijk’ en ‘stom’.
Dat er valt te twijfelen op de manier waarop de VS met gevangenen omgaan weet de bewindvoerder wel. Nederland heeft in november 2010 vragen tijdens een soort examen voor de mensenrechten, de Universal Periodic Review, vragen over de VS gesteld. Zo zijn onder andere vragen gesteld over regeling rond seksueel geweld tegen homo’s en of eerdere aanbevelingen rond het vastbinden van vrouwen tijdens de bevalling. “Tot slot is gevraagd wat de Amerikaanse regering doet om de lichamelijke en geestelijke situatie van gevangenen in penitentiaire instellingen te verbeteren.”
Eerder werd al duidelijk dat Nederland niet in actie voor Gonggrijp willen komen, zoals de IJslanders dat wel voor hun parlementslid Birgitta Jónsdóttir doen.
Gonggrijp heeft altijd ontkend onderdeel van Wikileaks te zijn, maar is open over zijn bijdrage aan de Colleteral Murder video. Die bestond vooral uit het doen ondersteunende zaken bij het samenstellen van de video.
In een reactie zegt El Fassed de antwoorden ‘genânt’ te vinden. “Ze doen niet eens meer een poging om te verhullen dat ze hier geen aandacht aan willen geven”, vertelt hij Webwereld. “Wij zullen de minister van Buitenlandse Zaken bij het aankomend debat over mensenrechten hierover opheldering vragen.”
The NYT reports that Bradley Manning (23) - the American soldier who originally passed the Iraq helicopter video, the Iraq and Afghan war logs and the US diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks – is being treated in an increasingly inhumane way in the cell in which he is locked up in Quantico, Virginia. He is now permanently stripped of this clothes during the night and the morning inspection, where he stands along the other detainees. This comes in addition to his 23-hour solitary confinement; his one hour of outside-cell time, during which he is shackled and must walk around all time; his deprivation of exercise; and the constant surveillance he is under. Bradley Manning, even though he is not suicidal and has acted like a model detainee (although he’s increasingly showing signs of psychological duress) has been forced to endure this treatment for the past ten months.
Let’s be clear about this: Bradley Manning’s treatment amounts to torture. Forced nudity is a breach of the standards of the Geneva Conventions, and prolonged solitary confinement is torture anyhow. And this is being done under one President Barack Obama. Manning is the person thanks to whom we know that American soldiers in Iraq shot innocent civilians from an Apache helicopter; thanks to whom we know how high the death toll of the Iraq War really was; and thanks to whom we know all those revelations from the WikiLeaks cables, that are still coming out. They even played a role in the Tunisian uprising, leading to the historic events of the past few weeks. In other words, this person is a hero if there ever was one. And yet, even though he has not been convicted of any crime, he is being handled in a manner reserved for the worst criminals in Supermax prisons (or terror suspects in Guantánamo Bay).
Here’s an excerpt from the chat logs between Adrian Lamo (the guy who turned him in) and Manning, revealing the latter’s motivations for revealing information being held secret to the public:
Manning: [B]ecause it’s public data. . . . it belongs in the public domain -information should be free – it belongs in the public domain – because another state would just take advantage of the information… try and get some edge – if its out in the open . . . it should be a public good.
Lamo: what’s your endgame plan, then?. . .
Manning: well, it was forwarded to [WikiLeaks] – and god knows what happens now – hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms – if not, than [sic] we’re doomed – as a species – i will officially give up on the society we have if nothing happens – the reaction to the [Baghdad Apache attack] video gave me immense hope; CNN’s iReport was overwhelmed; Twitter exploded – people who saw, knew there was something wrong . . . Washington Post sat on the video… David Finkel acquired a copy while embedded out here. . . . – i want people to see the truth . . . regardless of who they are . . . because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.
So this is how the American government treats whistleblowers. And it is all happening under the watchful eye of President Obama, who as a candidate in 2007 said the following things:
They will be ready to show the world that we are not a country that ships prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far off countries. That we are not a country that runs prisons which lock people away without ever telling them why they are there or what they are charged with. That we are not a country which preaches compassion and justice to others while we allow bodies to float down the streets of a major American city.
That is not who we are.
Yes we can, President Obama. Change we can believe in.
Behold: an hour-long documentary from Swedish television on the organization and man of the year: WikiLeaks, and Julian Assange. From the early beginnings to the publication of the Collateral Murder video, the Afghan war logs, the Iraq war diaries and Cablegate. Must-watch.
From the description on YouTube (it was uploaded two days ago):
Exclusive rough-cut of first in-depth documentary on WikiLeaks and the people behind it!
From summer 2010 until now, Swedish Television has been following the secretive media network WikiLeaks and its enigmatic Editor-in-Chief Julian Assange.
Reporters Jesper Huor and Bosse Lindquist have traveled to key countries where WikiLeaks operates, interviewing top members, such as Assange, new Spokesperson Kristinn Hrafnsson, as well as people like Daniel Domscheit-Berg who now is starting his own version – Openleaks.org!
Where is the secretive organization heading? Stronger than ever, or broken by the US? Who is Assange: champion of freedom, spy or rapist? What are his objectives? What are the consequences for the internet?
Anyone else think that it is a problem that the President of the United States cares what a more or less crazy rap guy thinks?
In an excerpt from an interview that will air on Monday, November 8, 2010 on “Matt Lauer Reports”, Bush identifies Kayne’s dumb, but poignant, outburst was “the worst moment” of his presidency.
BUSH ON KANYE WEST:
About a week after the storm hit NBC aired a telethon asking for help for the victims of Katrina. We had celebrities coming in to ask for money. And I remember it vividly because I hosted it. And at one part of the evening I introduced Kanye West. Were you watching?
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:
MATT LAUER: You remember what he said?
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes, I do. He called me a racist.
MATT LAUER: Well, what he said, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: That’s — “he’s a racist.” And I didn’t appreciate it then. I don’t appreciate it now. It’s one thing to say, “I don’t appreciate the way he’s handled his business.” It’s another thing to say, “This man’s a racist.” I resent it, it’s not true, and it was one of the most disgusting moments in my Presidency.
MATT LAUER: This from the book. “Five years later I can barely write those words without feeling disgust.” You go on. “I faced a lot of criticism as President. I didn’t like hearing people claim that I lied about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction or cut taxes to benefit the rich. But the suggestion that I was racist because of the response to Katrina represented an all time low.”
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Yeah. I still feel that way as you read those words. I felt ‘em when I heard ‘em, felt ‘em when I wrote ‘em and I felt ‘em when I’m listening to ‘em.
MATT LAUER: You say you told Laura at the time it was the worst moment of your Presidency?
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes. My record was strong I felt when it came to race relations and giving people a chance. And– it was a disgusting moment.
I wonder if some people are going to read that, now that you’ve written it, and they might give you some heat for that. And the reason is this–
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Don’t care.
MATT LAUER: Well, here’s the reason. You’re not saying that the worst moment in you’re Presidency was watching the misery in Louisiana. You’re saying it was when someone insulted you because of that.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: No — that– and I also make it clear that the misery in Louisiana affected me deeply as well. There’s a lot of tough moments in the book. And it was a disgusting moment, pure and simple.
So we promised to blog about the release by WikiLeaks of nearly 400,000 classified military documents on the Iraq war, but due to circumstances we’re blogging about it two days after the fact. That means that a whole lot of news outlets have already scrutinized the raw material, and that a lot of commentary is already out there. Assessing this, I can’t help but get the feeling that this release, although quantitatively bigger than the Afghanistan leak, somehow seems to resonate less than did the first one, back in July. Perhaps it’s because the revelations from the Afghanistan leak were more “shocking” or unexpected than this one, perhaps it’s because everybody’s already used to things in Iraq going very badly. Perhaps it’s also that WikiLeaks in the public view is losing its innocence as heroic battlers of government secrecy, and, due in large part to the quirks of its leader Julian Assange, is now seen as a more ambiguous organization.
One thing’s for certain though: far more than painting a picture of American or British abuse (although it’s certainly there), these war logs especially show war crimes, abuse and misconduct by Iraqi “security forces”; a question is to which extent American forces stood by. Also – as in the case of Pakistan when it came to Afghanistan - it shows Iranian meddling in Iraqi affairs. The total death toll of the Iraq War, moreover, is way higher than ever publicly acknowledged.
Anyway, here’s the commentary that I thought most to the point. As always, things starts with the NYT (I very much recommend the “War Logs” section they have put up especially for the WikiLeaks releases):
A huge trove of secret field reports from the battlegrounds of Iraq sheds new light on the war, including such fraught subjects as civilian deaths, detainee abuse and the involvement of Iran.
The secret archive is the second such cache obtained by the independent organization WikiLeaks and made available to several news organizations. Like the first release, some 77,000 reports covering six years of the war in Afghanistan, the Iraq documents provide no earthshaking revelations, but they offer insight, texture and context from the people actually fighting the war.
A close analysis of the 391,832 documents helps illuminate several important aspects of this war:
The war in Iraq spawned a reliance on private contractors on a scale not well recognized at the time and previously unknown in American wars. The documents describe an outsourcing of combat and other duties once performed by soldiers that grew and spread to Afghanistan to the point that there are more contractors there than soldiers.
The documents suggest that the so-called surge worked not only because the American military committed to more troops and a new strategy but because Iraqis themselves, exhausted by years of bloody war, were ready for it. The conditions, the documents suggest, may not be repeatable in the still intensifying war in Afghanistan.
The deaths of Iraqi civilians — at the hands mainly of other Iraqis, but also of the American military — appear to be greater than the numbers made public by the United States during the Bush administration.
While the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by Americans, particularly at the Abu Ghraib prison, shocked the American public and much of the world, the documents paint an even more lurid picture of abuse by America’s Iraqi allies — a brutality from which the Americans at times averted their eyes.
Military documents laid bare in the biggest leak of secret information in U.S. history suggest that far more Iraqis died than previously acknowledged during the years of sectarian bloodletting and criminal violence unleashed by the American-led invasion in 2003.
The accounts of civilian deaths among nearly 400,000 purported Iraq war logs released Friday by the WikiLeaks website include deaths unknown or unreported before now — as many as 15,000 by the count of one independent research group.
The field reports from U.S. forces and intelligence officers also indicate U.S. forces often failed to follow up on credible evidence that Iraqi forces mistreated, tortured and killed their captives as they battled a violent insurgency.
The 391,831 documents date from the start of 2004 to Jan. 1, 2010. They provide a ground-level view of the war written mostly by low-ranking officers in the field. The dry reports, full of military jargon and acronyms, were meant to catalog “significant actions” over six years of heavy U.S. and allied military presence in Iraq.
Wired has separate pieces about several aspects of the documents leak. One piece relates how the search for WMD’s in Iraq continued after the idea – the core rationale of the Iraq War - had been given up that Saddam Hussein actually had a WMD program. The WikiLeaks documents reveal that a few remnants of an infrastructure to create WMD’s have actually been found – chemicals, labs, weapons and the like.
An initial glance at the WikiLeaks war logs doesn’t reveal evidence of some massive WMD program by the Saddam Hussein regime — the Bush administration’s most (in)famous rationale for invading Iraq. But chemical weapons, especially, did not vanish from the Iraqi battlefield. Remnants of Saddam’s toxic arsenal, largely destroyed after the Gulf War, remained. Jihadists, insurgents and foreign (possibly Iranian) agitators turned to these stockpiles during the Iraq conflict — and may have brewed up their own deadly agents.
The WMD diehards will likely find some comfort in these newly-WikiLeaked documents. Skeptics will note that these relatively small WMD stockpiles were hardly the kind of grave danger that the Bush administration presented in the run-up to the war.
But the more salient issue may be how insurgents and Islamic extremists (possibly with the help of Iran) attempted to use these lethal and exotic arms.
Another Wired article goes into the brutalization of detainees mainly by Iraqi security forces years after the Abu Ghraib scandal:
Torture was a signature feature of the state terror that Saddam Hussein inflicted on Iraq. The voluminous Iraq-war documents released by WikiLeaks today show that getting rid of Saddam didn’t eradicate the brutal tendencies of the revamped Iraqi security forces. Detainees were roughed up with pipes, knives, cables, electricity — even a cat in the face. Some suspects were so scared, they confessed to being terrorists, just so they could be shipped to the Americans.
Searching the WikiLeaks Iraq trove for incidents of reported detainee abuse results in literally thousands of accounts of brutality. Some of them involve U.S. troops allegedly inflicting harm upon detainees in their custody.
Some of the more gruesome and unseemly accounts of abuse are the result of Iraqi security forces.
There are accounts of U.S. troops trying to stop the abuse.
Finally, a summary Wired article goes into what seem to be the big revelations of the whole WikiLeaks document leak: the Iranian influence on the war, the high civilian death tolls, and the widespread detainee abuse by Iraqi forces.
The nearly 400,000 documents are still being perused around the world, however, so more insights may be around the corner. Already, Nick Clegg of the governing Liberal Democrat party in Great Britain has called for an investigation into (two) claims of abuse by British coalition forces in Iraq. Also, the UN special rapporteur on torture Alfred Nowak has called on the US to investigate allegiations of torture. I would, finally, particularly like to recommend the New York Times’ suspenseful profile of WikiLeaks’ aggravated leader Julian Assange – a man who is always on the run, but in his quest for transparency seems to alienate some of his closest associates.
E-mail from a reader in response to our blogging earlier today about the pending WikiLeaks Iraq document dump. Newsy is a “multisource video news analysis” site that “highlight[s] the key differences in reporting so that you can understand all the angles of a story”. I watched the video (can’t embed it), it’s definitely informative.
I just saw your blog post about Wikileak’s upcoming publication of the 400,000 documents on the Iraq war. As you mentioned, things are not going too swimmingly with the Wikileaks organization. In fact, the US government has put their bank account on a watch list so as to block funding. I am torn between sides regarding Wikileak’s mission–on one hand, it seems they are doing a service to Americans and democracy, but on the other hand they very well may be endangering our troops and their operations. This certainly calls to mind the Pentagon Papers and Daniel Ellsberg in the 1970s.
I wanted to share a video with you from Newsy.com that I thought you might find interesting. It analyzes much of the recent coverage from multiple sources regarding the document leak and synthesizes it into one story: http://www.newsy.com/videos/pentagon-preps-for-more-leaked-war-documents/. It raises the question of whether this document leak holds the government accountable for its actions and serves as a whistleblower, or whether the site is indeed being reckless and possibly endangering the military and restricting its strategic operations.
Back in July, WikiLeaks’ publication of 92,000 classified military documents on the war in Afghanistan was one of the biggest leaks in military history.
Probably this week (maybe even today), WikiLeaks’ publication of 400,000 classified military documents on the Iraq War will constitute the biggest leak in military history, ever.
We’re waiting for it. It’s not going too swell with the WikiLeaks organization, however, and again the legitimate question can be asked whether publication of these documents will not harm innocent people.
After a brief quiescence, the secret-spilling website WikiLeaks is about to explode again onto the global stage with the impending release of almost 400,000 secret U.S. Army reports from the Iraq War, marking the largest military leak in U.S. history.
Measured by size, the database will dwarf the 92,000-entry Afghan war log WikiLeaks partially published last July. “It will be huge,” says a source familiar with WikiLeaks’ operations, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Former WikiLeaks staffers say the document dump was at one time scheduled for Monday, October 18, though the publication date may well have been moved since then. Some large media outlets were provided an embargoed copy of the database in August.
In Washington, the Pentagon is bracing for the impact. The Defense Department believes the leak is a compilation of the “Significant Activities,” or SIGACTS, reports from the Iraq War, and officials have assembled a 120-person taskforce that’s been scouring the database to prepare for the leak, according to spokesman Col. Dave Lapan.
The Iraq release comes at a crucial time for the 4-year-old WikiLeaks, which has been rankled by internal conflict, shaken by outside criticism and knocked off-message by a lingering sex-crime investigation of its founder, Julian Assange, in Sweden. At least half-a-dozen staffers have resigned from the organization in recent weeks, including key technical staff, according to four ex-staffers interviewed by Wired.com. A “scheduled maintenance” of the WikiLeaks website that began September 29 has stretched to more than two weeks.
The controversies dogging the site followed a string of triumphs: a series of high-profile leaks aimed at U.S. and NATO war efforts. In April, the site published a highly controversial classified video of a 2007 Army helicopter attack in Baghdad.
The attack killed two Reuters employees and an unarmed Iraqi man who stumbled onto the scene and tried to rescue one of the wounded. The man’s two children suffered serious injuries in the hail of gunfire. WikiLeaks titled the video “Collateral Murder,” and raised $150,000 from supporters in two days following its release.
Then in July, the site published the Afghan logs, generating headlines around the world. But WikiLeaks’ handling of that release garnered its first widespread criticism from ideological allies. Although the organization withheld 15,000 records from publication to redact the names of Afghan informants who might be at risk of Taliban reprisal, names of some collaborators were still found in the thousands of documents that were published.
Although there’s no evidence that anyone has suffered harm as a result of the names being exposed, WikiLeaks’ handling of the matter drew criticism from human rights organizations and the international free press group Reporters Without Borders, which accused the site of being reckless. Not surprisingly, the Pentagon was also displeased and issued formal demands that WikiLeaks “return” all classified documents in its possession.
James Bridle, author of the blog Book Two, has compiled the entire editing process of one Wikipedia page – that of the Iraq War – in a book. Or rather, an entire encyclopedia, as all the editing between between December 2004 and November 2009 amounts to a total of 7,000 pages, or twelve volumes. He has done this because, to him, this is historiography: the continuing debate about history, colored by differences in viewpoints, ideology and factical estimates.
Bridle illustrates his argument in a beautiful way, showing at once the relevance and the impossibility of history writing:
In a world obsessed with “facts”, a more nuanced comprehension of historical process would enable us to better weigh truth, whether it concerns the evidence for going to war, the proliferation of damaging conspiracy theories, the polarisation of debate on climate change, or so many other issues. This sounds utopian, and it is. But I do believe that we’re building systems that allow us to do this better, and one of our responsibilities should be to design and architect those systems to make this explicit, and to educate.
One of the ways to do this might be to talk more not only about history, but about historiography. History not as a set of facts, but as a process, and one in which, whether we agree or not with the writers, our own opinions and biases are always to be challenged.
I talked about Wikipedia because for me, Wikipedia is a useful subset of the entire internet, and as such a subset of all human culture. It’s not only a resource for collating all human knowledge, but a framework for understanding how that knowledge came to be and to be understood; what was allowed to stand and what was not; what we agree on, and what we cannot.
As is my wont, I made a book to illustrate this. Physical objects are useful props in debates like this: immediately illustrative, and useful to hang an argument and peoples’ attention on.
I don’t know whether I agree entirely with him, though. Maybe it’s professional bias, but I kinda feel like history writing should be left to historians. The premise of the whole Wikipedia project is that the more people work on something, the truer it is likely to be. It’s a sort of knowledge democracy. Historians, on the other hand, are trained to thorougly scrutinize every piece of evidence, to understand that what they see is only one part of the truth, and to perpetually question whatever they – and their peers – find. Hopefully, in this way, a “more true” account of history can be construed, although it’s always a debate. The editing page of a Wikipedia entry is more like folklore; the collected wisdom of a community.
A brilliant project though, although probably a highly boring read.
This is historiography. This is what culture actually looks like: a process of argument, of dissenting and accreting opinion, of gradual and not always correct codification.