War of words
The smoking gun in the 90,000 pages of documents related to the war in Arghanistan that were made public by WikiLeaks may be just this: There is no smoking gun.
Unlike the notorious Pentagon Papers of the 1970s, which showed the Johnson administration had been lying about the prospects for success in Vietnam, there have been no such revelations with the Afghanistan papers.
There are, however, very serious questions about how WikiLeaks obtained the documents and whether they endanger U.S. troops or our mission in Afghanistan.
Many of the just-released documents are field reports from military commanders dating back several years. Based on various news reports, they actually support what government officials have been saying for some time. The situation has deteriorated in Afghanistan in recent years, the Taliban has gained power and it has worked closely with al-Qaida and other outside groups.
There are interesting items among the documents. There was evidence to support the long-held belief that Iran has been heavily involved with both the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan.
Some of the most damaging documents for the U.S. effort, according to officials in the Obama administration, are those that indicate elements of the Pakistani intelligence service worked closely with the Taliban and al-Qaida as they planned missions against U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan. Those reports raised fears that the fragile alliance with Pakistan, which has become stronger over the past couple years, could weaken.
The United States needs Pakistan’s help in tracking and targeting al-Qaida and Taliban leaders who hide in the rugged moutains along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The alliance also benefits Pakistan, which, as that country’s ambassador noted in a column in The Wall Street Journal Tuesday, has lost more citizens to terrorist attacks in the past two years than the number killed at the World Trade Center on 9/11.
So if there was no smoking gun, what was this all about?
WikiLeaks has a clear history of opposing U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is little question the release was aimed at boosting anti-war sentiment in the United States.
For instance, WikiLeaks claimed there was evidence of war crimes in the documents released. However, most of the analysis suggests only that numbers of Afghan civilians were accidentallly killed in attacks on the Taliban and al-Qaida. Those deaths are unfortunate, but there’s been no evidence reported to date of intentinal killings civilians such as would constitute war crimes.
WikiLeaks may also be trying to raise its own profile. By offering the first views of the documents to The New York Times, London’s Guardian newspaper and Germany’s Der Speigel, the organization has certainly received more publicity than it usually does.
Regardless of its motives, if WikiLeaks colluded with the leaker to facilitate the leak of documents, it could face criminal charges.
We beieve strongly there should be few restrictions on First Amendment rights. But one area that does warrant restrictions involves sensitive military documents related to an ongoing war. When their release threatens the safety of our military personnel or the security of our mission, there is good reason to withhold them. And to prosecute those who illegally release them.