US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates charged the WikiLeaks website with being "morally guilty" over the publication of 92,000 classified Pentagon documents revealing the war in Afghanistan to be a botch-up. Obviously, killing 7-year-old children is "morally legal" and keeping it a secret from taxpayers is "morally imperative."
The publication of the "Afghan War Diary" raised the usual hypocritical storm of reaction from those whose dogma is to kill without having to answer to anyone. They argue that the success of the campaign was undermined by the leak (as though we have seen tremendous successes in the past nine years) and that it put the lives of combatants in jeopardy (as though the lives of others matter less).
These are the same arguments used by Richard Nixon’s administration to stop the publication of Pentagon papers relating to the Vietnam War. The only difference today is the vehicle through which the information was made public. The recent files were published online, causing much envy among newspapers who adopted the same line of argument as the Pentagon bureaucrats.
The 91,000-plus documents released by WikiLeaks reveal a different face of the war to that usually put across by the Pentagon’s PR people, often with great success. They reveal the murder of civilians, victims of friendly fire, torture of prisoners, special (and uncontrolled) death squads that were formed to take out leading members of the Taliban etc, etc. Mostly, though, they revealed that the Afghan war is being lost by the West. The description of a battle in a village, where young guerrillas fought NATO forces as their mothers supplied them with ammunition, shows that Western tactics are turning the people against them and this, in turn, is helping the Taliban gain new ground.
The WikiLeaks revolution has made a significant contribution to Western democracies, and not just because it informs citizens of what the soldiers whom they are paying are doing to combat terrorism but also because these leaks give some hope that this war may one day end. Maybe the fear of future leaks will make the military powers think twice about their tactics. Maybe NATO will consider how and why the campaign is such a mess. And then, maybe the West will win back the hearts and minds of the Afghan people and, by extension, the war.
Published in "Kathimerini" newspaper 3.8.2010