The New Pentagon Papers: WikiLeaks Releases 90,000+ Secret Military Documents Painting Devastating Picture of Afghanistan War
It’s one of the biggest leaks in US military history. More than 90,000 internal records of US military actions in Afghanistan over the past six years have been published by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks. The documents provide a devastating portrait of the war in Afghanistan, revealing how coalition forces have killed hundreds of civilians in unreported incidents, how a secret black ops special forces unit hunts down targets for assassination or detention without trial, how Taliban attacks have soared, and how Pakistan is fueling the insurgency. We host a roundtable discussion with independent British journalist Stephen Grey; Pentagon Papers whistleblower, Daniel Ellsberg; former State Department official in Afghanistan, Matthew Hoh; independent journalist Rick Rowley; and investigative historian Gareth Porter. [includes rush transcript]
RICK ROWLEY: Well, I mean, what these documents show—prove—is that the US military has been whitewashing the war in Afghanistan for years and that most of the media has been along for the ride. They’ve systematically covered up civilian casualties. They’ve covered up the successful attacks by the Taliban and their significance. And they’ve covered up the violent criminality of the security forces that we’ve created there, security forces that are preying on Afghan civilians. I mean, the picture that emerges from these documents is, on the one hand, of an insurgency that is resilient and adapting and that is winning the war on the ground, and, on the other hand, of an Afghan state that we’ve constructed there that looks less like a government and looks more like a patchwork of warlords and criminal gangs that’s extorting the local population and that has become more hated in many parts of the country than the Taliban who they replaced.
A third interesting thing that these documents do is they put flesh on a process that we’ve been tracking, along with reporters like Jeremy Scahill, for some time, of a transition to what some people call a special forces war, an entirely covert and classified war that’s conducted with drone strikes and midnight raids and targeted assassinations, where everything is classified, there are no media embeds, and there’s very little accountability. I mean, I think that is the trajectory that this war is taking right now.
Now, the White House has responded. They haven’t denied anything here. They haven’t even denied the conclusions that people are drawing about how terrible the war has been there. Their response has been that this is old news, we knew about this a long time ago, and that, in fact, Obama’s war, Obama’s surge, the new war that began in December 2009, has changed everything. Well, I came back from Afghanistan ten days ago. And while I was embedded with the Marines in Marjah and elsewhere in the country, I can tell you that this picture matches perfectly with what’s going on on the ground there right now.
…it is an abject failure, as far as a nation-building operation on the ground. And, you know, whether you’re talking about the last ten years of the war or 2010, I mean, the picture doesn’t change.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: … We now have a president who has asserted—Barack Obama, who has asserted a right to do what other presidents have done in the past, but have done it covertly. He’s asserting the right to assassinate American citizens abroad who he suspects, or intelligence suspects, are serving the cause of terrorism. And I’m sure, by the way, that the phrase “the most dangerous man alive,” which Henry Kissinger put to me because of the disclosures I was making, that’s the way they would think of Julian Assange right now.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go back to Gareth Porter in Washington, DC. Talk more about the significance, what you think is most important to highlight here, as we go through these hundreds of thousands of pages of top-secret documents, classified documents.
GARETH PORTER: Well, again, I mean, there are very few things here that have not, in some fashion, been reported by the news media over the last—particularly over the last year or so. But there is one set of documents, in particular, that I thought were particularly insightful in terms of revealing the basic nature of the society and of the Afghan government that the United States is supporting, and that is a set of documents that show, for example, a police commander, a district police commander, who had raped a sixteen-year-old girl and who was confronted with a civilian complaining about this rape. He ordered his bodyguard, according to this report, to shoot the civilian. The bodyguard refused to do so, and then the police commander simply killed his own bodyguard in order to basically deal with the situation. This sort of laid bare the basic structure that the United States has stumbled into, or, perhaps I should say, has allowed itself to take control of, and—or tried to take control of, and I think what it shows is that this is a war that not only cannot be won, but in which the United States is on the wrong side.
And I just want to make one more point about the releases, and that is that I think that the real story here, the most important story, is WikiLeaks itself. I think what we have here is a new institution that is undoubtedly the most important antiwar institution that has been created so far and that I have no doubt is frightening the US military and intelligence establishment, as well as the Obama administration, very strongly. And I think that’s for very good reason. I think they understand that this represents a potentially powerful weapon for the future against war crimes as well as other illegal actions by the United States.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Well, this is the closest that I’ve come to what I’ve been calling for for years, and that is for people to do not what I did, which is to wait years, until bombs were falling and until more countries have been invaded or escalation, before revealing documents to Congress and the public through the press. And now, of course, we have a way of doing that, thanks to WikiLeaks, that does bypass the press, even if they are reluctant to do it.