Archives for July 2010

Do disclosures of atrocities change anything?

At Counterpunch, Alexander Cockburn writes:

The hope of the brave soldier who sent 92,000 secret U.S. documents to Wikileaks was that their disclosure would prompt public revulsion and increasing political pressure on Obama to seek with all speed a diplomatic conclusion to this war. The documents he sent Wikileaks included overwhelming documentary evidence – accepted by all as genuine, of:

* the methodical use of a death squad made up of US Special Forces, known as Task Force 373,

* willful, casual slaughter of civilians by Coalition personnel, with ensuing cover-ups,

*the utter failure of “counter-insurgency” and “nation building”,

*the venality and corruption of the Coalition’s Afghan allies,

*the complicity of Pakistan’s Intelligence Services with the Taliban,

Wikileaks’ founder, Julian Assange, skillfully arranged simultaneous publication of the secret material in the New York Times, the Guardian and Der Spiegel.

The story broke on the eve of a war-funding vote in the U.S. Congress. Thirty-six hours after the stories hit the news stands, the U.S. House of Representatives last Tuesday evening voted Aye to a bill already passed by the Senate that funds a $33 billion, 30,000-troop escalation in Afghanistan. The vote was 308 to 114. To be sure, more US Reps voted against escalation than a year ago when the Noes totted up to only 35. That’s a crumb of comfort, but the cruel truth is that in 24 hours the White House and Pentagon, with the help of licensed members of the Commentariat and papers like the Washington Post, had finessed the salvoes from Wikileaks.

“WikiLeaks disclosures unlikely to change course of Afghanistan war” was the Washington Post’s Tuesday morning headline. Beneath this headline the news story said the leaks had been discussed for only 90 seconds at a meeting of senior commanders in the Pentagon. The story cited “senior officials” in the White House even brazenly claiming that that it was precisely his reading of these same raw secret intelligence reports a year ago that prompted Obama “to pour more troops and money into a war effort that had not received sufficient attention or resources from the Bush administration.” (As in: “Get that death squad operating more efficiently” – an order consummated by Obama’s appointment of General McChrystal as his Afghan commander, transferred from his previous job as top U.S. Death Squad general in charge of the Pentagon’s world-wide operations in this area.)

There’s some truth in the claim that long before Wikileaks released the 92,000 files the overall rottenness and futility of the Afghan war had been graphically reported in the press. Earlier this year, for example, reporting by Jerome Starkey of The Times of London blew apart the U.S. military’s cover-up story after Special Forces troops killed two pregnant Afghan women and a girl in a February, 2010, raid, in which two Afghan government officials were also killed.

It’s oversell to describe the Wikileaks package as a latterday Pentagon Papers. But it’s undersell to dismiss them as “old stories”, as disingenuous detractors have been doing. The Wikileaks files are a damning, vivid series of snapshots of a disastrous and criminal enterprise. In these same files there is a compelling series of secret documents about the death squad operated by the US military known as Task Force 373. an undisclosed “black” unit of special forces, which has been hunting down targets for death or detention without trial. From Wikileaks we learn that more than 2,000 senior figures from the Taliban and al-Qaida are held on a “kill or capture” list, known as Jpel, the joint prioritized effects list.

There are logs showing that Task Force 373 simply killed their targets without attempting to capture. The logs reveal that TF 373 has also killed civilian men, women and children and even Afghan police officers who have strayed into its path.

One could watch Assange being interviewed on US news programs where he would raise the fact that the US military has been – is still – running a death squad along the model of the Phoenix Program, His interviewers simply changed the subject. Liberal gate-keepers complained that the Wikileaks documents were raw files, unmediated by responsible imperial journalists such as themselves. This echoed the usual ritual whines from the Pentagon about the untimely disclosures of “sources and methods”.(I recommend to CounterPunchers Doug Valentine’s pieces on this site — try the one from August 11, 2003 — on the fundamental objective of big assassination programslike Phoenix in instilling general social terror in the target population.)

The bitter truth is that wars are not often ended by disclosures of their horrors and futility in the press, with consequent public uproar.


Secrets worth revealing

“Dr Ellsberg, do you have any concern about the possibility of going to prison for this?”

“Wouldn’t you go to prison to help end this war?” Ellsberg responded when asked by reporters about the repercussions he might face after leaking the Pentagon Papers.

The 40-year old former US military analyst who was then working for the RAND Corporation, knew exactly the risks he was taking. In 1971, his was a courageous act of conscience, clear-eyed and utterly responsible.

Almost 40 years later, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange sees himself in the same role — with a difference. Assange seems to have become caught up in the mystique of whistleblowing and allowed the actors and the mechanism through which they reveal secrets to assume as much importance as the secrets themselves.

Someone using the handle Bradass87 seems to have been the source of the leaked Afghan war logs, which he described like this: “its open diplomacy … its Climategate with a global scope and breathtaking depth … its beautiful and horrifying … It’s public data, it belongs in the public domain.”

It would appear that Bradass87 is a 22-year old intelligence analyst, Private Bradley Manning. He was arrested on May 26 and was transferred today from Kuwait to Quantico, Virginia where he is in military custody and has been placed on suicide watch.

Assuming that Manning was indeed the source, it’s hard to believe that he deeply weighed up the risks he was taking. The comparison with the so-called Climategate is perhaps telling — another leak where the act of revelation had more significance than the content.

It was Assange who held up the Pentagon Papers parallel, which again perhaps said less about the documents than about the Wikileaks founder’s desire to be seen as a modern Ellsberg — even though Assange’s role is actually much closer to that of a newspaper publisher than that of a whistleblower.

Through Wikileaks, Assange has created a new and immensely valuable infrastructure for whistleblowing, but as with everything else enabled by the internet, the medium should not be confused with the content. But since in this case that is to a significant degree what has happened, the story that has captivated the media for a week has been a story about Wikileaks as much as it has been about the war in Afghanistan.

In the short run, this might provide a boost to Wikileaks and draw wider attention to its work, but in the long run the value of whistleblowing itself will be undermined if it comes to be regarded as political theater where the actors claim more attention that the text.

When asked to comment on the war logs, Ellsberg said that they are significant more for what they lack than what they contain: they provide no plausible justification for the war. But when asked by the Washington Post whether there are indeed important documents, yet to be leaked, declassified or otherwise made public, that could fundamentally alter public understanding of key national security issues and foreign policy debates, he gladly drew up a wish list:

1. The official U.S. “order of battle” estimates of the Taliban in Afghanistan, detailing its size, organization and geographic breakdown — in short, the total of our opponents in this war. If possible, a comparison of the estimate in December 2009 (when President Obama decided on a troop increase and new strategy) and the estimate in June or July 2010 (after six or seven months of the new strategy). We would probably see that our increased presence and activities have strengthened the Taliban, as has happened over the past three years.

2. Memos from the administration’s decision-making process between July and December 2009 on the new strategy for Afghanistan, presenting internal critiques of the McChrystal-Petraeus strategy and troop requests — similar to the November 2009 cables from Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry that were leaked in January. In particular, memos by Vice President Biden, national security adviser Jim Jones and others; responses to the critiques; and responses to the responses. This paperwork would probably show that, like Eikenberry, other high-level internal critics of escalation made a stronger and more realistic case than its advocates, warranting congressional reexamination of the president’s policy.

3. The draft revision, known as a “memo to holders,” of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran from November 2007. This has been held up for the past several months, apparently because it is consistent with the judgment of that NIE that Iran has not made a decision to produce nuclear weapons. In particular, the contribution to that memo by the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), since the INR has had the best track record on such matters. Plus, estimates by the INR and others of the likelihood of an Israeli attack on Iran later this summer. Such disclosures could arrest momentum toward a foreseeably disastrous U.S.-supported attack, as the same finding did in 2007.

4. The 28 or more pages on the foreknowledge or involvement of foreign governments (particularly Saudi Arabia) that were redacted from the congressional investigation of 9/11, over the protest of then-Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.).

On each of these matters, congressional investigation is called for. The chance of this would be greatly strengthened by leaks from insiders. Subsequent hearings could elicit testimony from the insiders who provided the information (whose identities could be made known to congressional investigators) and others who, while not willing to take on the personal risks of leaking, would be ready to testify honestly under oath if requested or subpoenaed by Congress. Leaks are essential to this process.

Through the revelation of such documents, Wilileaks would demonstrate its value, but if such revelations are to occur it will most likely require a selfless act of courage from someone who occupies a higher perch in government than the one held by Private Bradley Manning.


Obama administration in danger of establishing ‘new normal’ with worst Bush-era policies

The Obama administration has repudiated some of the Bush administration’s most egregious national security policies but is in danger of institutionalizing others permanently into law, thereby creating a troubling “new normal,” according to a new report released today by the American Civil Liberties Union.

“Establishing a New Normal: National Security, Civil Liberties, and Human Rights Under the Obama Administration,” an 18-month review of the Obama administration’s record on national security issues affecting civil liberties, concludes that the current administration’s record on issues of national security and civil liberties is decidedly mixed: President Obama has made great strides in some areas, such as his auspicious first steps to categorically prohibit torture, outlaw the CIA’s use of secret overseas detention sites and release the Bush administration’s torture memos, but he has failed to eliminate some of the worst policies put in place by President Bush, such as military commissions and indefinite detention. He has also expanded the Bush administration’s “targeted killing” program.

The 22-page report, which was researched and written by staff in the ACLU’s National Security Project and Washington Legislative Office, reviews the administration’s record in the areas of transparency, torture and accountability, detention, targeted killing, military commissions, speech and surveillance and watchlists. [ACLU press release.]

(Download the ACLU report here.)


Taliban hunt Wikileaks outed Afghan informers

Channel 4 News reports:

The Taliban has issued a chilling warning to Afghans, alleged in secret US military files leaked on the internet to have worked as informers for the Nato-led coalition, telling Channel 4 News “US spies” will be hunted down and punished.

Speaking by telephone from an undisclosed location, Zabihullah Mujahid told Channel 4 News that the insurgent group will investigate the named individuals before deciding on their fate.

“We are studying the report,” he said, confirming that the insurgent group already has access to the 92,000 intelligence documents and field reports.

“We knew about the spies and people who collaborate with US forces. We will investigate through our own secret service whether the people mentioned are really spies working for the US. If they are US spies, then we know how to punish them.”


One man’s terrorist

Larry Derfner writes:

In the hypocrisy that characterizes Israel’s view of Palestinians, this is the height of it: The greatest denouncers of Palestinian violence against Israel also tend to be the greatest defenders of pre-state Zionist violence against Britain.

After electing [Menachem] Begin prime minister, we elected Yitzhak Shamir, who had been one of the leadership trio of Lehi (the Hebrew acronym for “Fighters for the Freedom of Israel”). Lehi went Etzel [the Hebrew acronym for “National Military Organization in the Land of Israel”] one better — not only did it kill for Israeli statehood, it killed after statehood, too. On September 17, 1948, Lehi men in Jerusalem shot to death Count Folke Bernadotte, the UN’s envoy to the Middle East (who, as a Swedish diplomat during World War II, had saved many thousands of Jews from the Nazi death camps).

At Lehi’s 70th anniversary celebration in Jerusalem last month, National Union MK Arye Eldad (whose father, Yisrael, had been one of Shamir’s partners in the leadership) said from the podium: “Count Bernadotte wanted to internationalize Jerusalem. In response, Lehi killed him. With his death, the concept of taking Jerusalem away from the Jewish people died with him.”

Hooray. And after Yitzhak Shamir dies, there will be highways, neighborhoods, hospitals and schools named after him, too.

It seems to me that if you are going to condemn the Munich Olympics killings and the Coastal Road Massacre, you also have to condemn the King David Hotel bombing and the Bernadotte assassination. By the same token, if you justify or even “understand” Begin’s and Shamir’s violence, you also have to justify or at least understand the violence of Muhammad Oudeh and Dalal Mughrabi.

And if you don’t — if violence in the name of your nation’s freedom is what you call heroism, but violence in the name of the enemy nation’s freedom is what you call terrorism — then you have no principles at all. Then the only thing you stand for in this world is the side you happen to have been born on.


Time for a free and independent Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip

Geoffrey Aronson writes at Foreign Policy:

Prime Minister David Cameron during his recent visit to Turkey warned that the Gaza Strip “cannot and must not be allowed to remain a prison camp.” Britain, however, along with the rest of the European community, and of course, Washington, are ambivalent guardians of the self-described prison camp run by Israel, with Egyptian assistance. The prisoners, of course, want their freedom. And so too it seems does Israel’s right-wing foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, who has emerged as an unlikely proponent of ending Israel’s status as an occupying power in the Gaza Strip.

Cameron’s prison camp description gave voice among critics to uncomfortable associations with some of the worst excesses of Nazi Germany. Some apologists for Gaza’s strangulation have, certainly unintentionally, evoked similar associations. The shameful press attention paid to the appearance of a new shopping mall in Gaza and the fine fare on offer at one of the Strip’s restaurants by those anxious to give lie to the pain and suffering caused by the siege is a particularly evocative case in point. The efforts by Gaza’s besieged population to create a semblance of normality, like the orchestra of the Warsaw ghetto, is a lasting testament to the triumph of the best instincts of human spirit over those who would crush it. Did the reaffirmation of humanity by Jews staring into the abyss negate the gruesome, bestial reality of the ghetto? And so it is with Gaza.

The casualties of the “freedom flotilla” sailing out of Turkey highlighted the malign neglect of the international diplomatic community in this engineered calamity and roused Washington to demand welcome, if minor, changes in the draconian border regime. These less than half measures, however, do not offer even the hint of an end to the regime of collective punishment that Gazans are being forced to endure.


To avert disaster, stop isolating Hamas now

Chris Patten writes in the Financial Times:

As we all know, peace will come to the Middle East when Israel and Palestine agree to a two-state solution, with a viable Palestinian state rising from the rubble of more than 60 years of turbulence to live peacefully alongside Israel within the 1967 borders as modified through negotiation. All that is required is political will, brave leadership and a following wind. However, visitors to Israel and occupied Palestine may require increasing quantities of blind faith to go on repeating this mantra. There is no other acceptable outcome. But the chances of the dynamic external interventions necessary for this to happen seem slight.

In the West Bank you see more construction of large urban developments than I have seen anywhere in Europe (apart from perhaps the southern Andalusia coast before the credit crunch). These are primarily Israeli settlements, the colonies planted illegally in Palestinian territory and now housing about half a million people. There are 149 of these colonies according to the UN’s Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs and there are a further 100 outposts – the smaller “facts on the ground” that are destined to grow.

As the Obama administration has told us there is an “unprecedented freeze” in settlement activity. Who is fooling whom?


Tension mounts in Lebanon

Nicholas Noe (co-founder of writes at Foreign Policy:

With the announcement from Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah this week that Hizbullah members may be indicted for the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Raifk Hariri, one thing is now (publicly) clear, no matter what one may think about the integrity of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL): the militant Shiite party is both angry and concerned. Of course, this isn’t a wholly new development: the party has apparently been preparing for just such an eventuality at least since the summer of 2006 when the first media reports began circulating in this regard (interestingly, in Hizbullah’s analysis, these reports came just after Israel found itself unable to smash its bitter enemy in open battle during the July War).

At that time, and over the intervening years, the party was genuinely fearful that an STL indictment against it — for the murder of the leading Sunni in the country — might be added to an already formidable, though not insurmountable, “Cedar Revolution” cocktail of threats and weaknesses pressed by its many domestic, regional and international opponents. Indeed, more than the danger of another Israeli assault, it can be said that Hizbullah felt existentially threatened at the time by the prospect of an open civil war, aided and abetted by outside powers and fought along sectarian lines (mainly Sunni-Druze vs. Shiite). Hizbullah had learned, and painfully so, that its ultimate fight against Israel could not be properly conducted in times of internal bloodshed — such as during the Amal-Hizbullah engagements of the late 1980s — and that an STL indictment during a period of already high sectarian tension could tip the balance.

Now, however, the party has reached a fundamentally different — and more secure — position of political, diplomatic and military power, not to mention ideological coherence. Which is precisely why one should not over-emphasize Hizbullah’s concern vis-à-vis the STL’s current (purported) track — unless you are a partisan and/or polemicist and have a stake in shaping the course of the fight.


The student who lost an eye protesting in Israel — but none of her vision

“I guess I can be grateful to the IDF for giving me the chance to see the world in a new way.”

This is Emily Henochowicz’s wry observation after having been hit in the face by a tear gas cannister fired by a soldier in the Israeli Defense Forces in Jerusalem on May 31. The impact destroyed her left eye.

The 21-year old art student from Maryland evinces no bitterness but has mixed emotions:

“I’m happy all these things are happening, that people are listening to me and looking at my work [ — the New York–based Center for Constitutional Rights is considering hosting a show of her art work],” she says. But she knows the attention is because of who she is. “I have just the right ethnicity and nationality for this to be a bigger case,” she says. If the person hit “were Palestinian,” she adds, “it is very unlikely they would get the same response. It’s just the way the world works.”

The Village Voice describes what happened after the young American was shot.

Stuart Henochowiz raced to Jerusalem, and for the week his daughter was in the hospital — the canister had also broken several bones in her skull and knocked out a tooth — he slept in a chair at the foot of her bed. The situation was worrisome enough even without all the guns nearby. “Emily was in one room with another patient, and next door was one of the prisoners from the flotilla,” he recalls. “There were four soldiers there with their submachine guns in front of that room. While I was in the darkened room with Emily, this soldier comes in with a nurse, dangling his submachine gun.” Dr. Henochowicz says he knew that the soldier was just following orders, but “the thought of her facing a submachine gun at night, after everything she’d been through — I didn’t appreciate the lack of tact.”

Adding to the situation were comments from one doctor and nurses who spoke, he says, “with racism that was straight out of the 1930s.”

“There was one doctor who was explaining Emily’s CT scan,” Dr. Henochowicz recalls, “and what they’d done with the surgery, and then he asked me, in Hebrew, ‘Are you Jewish? Because, then, how could your daughter be involved in such an activity?’ ”

Several nurses, he says, tried to explain Middle East politics in terms they thought he would relate to. “You have your blacks — and we have our Palestinians,” he says they told him. He adds, “They thought I should think of Palestinians in the same way. And I told them, ‘We don’t really think that way in the States anymore! We have a black president.’ And I told them I voted for him and gave money to his campaign, and they replied, ‘You mean, Hussein Obama?’ ”

At least, he says, “they come honestly by their racism. It’s right there. They don’t sugar-coat it. They just come out and say it.” And despite everything, the hospital was used to dealing with acts of war and terrorism and gave his daughter decent medical care.

But Stuart Henochowicz says he’s outraged by what he calls “a basic lack of decency” from the Israeli government. He says he knows that “Israel takes a very hard line,” and so he thinks the military’s stance is that “her face got in the way of the canister.” But, he adds, “these people are fathers. Couldn’t they even bother to ask, ‘Gosh, how is she doing?’ No one from the Israeli government would even talk to me. No one. Why is that? You might not agree with me, or with Emily, but why didn’t they even call me?”


Good guests don’t overstay their welcome

“Be a good guest. Treat the Afghan people and their property with respect,” Gen David Petreaus advises his forces in a new counterinsurgency manifesto.

Maybe during his tenure in Tampa, Florida, Petreaus used to shop regularly at Target and thus has a more elastic definition of the word “guest”, but the way I understand the term, good guests always defer to the wishes of their hosts. Good guests don’t invite themselves into anyone’s home and they don’t overstay their welcome.

Petreaus says: “Live with the people: Position joint bases and combat posts as close to those we’re seeking to secure as is feasible.”

Now when Hezbollah does this in Southern Lebanon where it is the indigenous military force, it gets accused of using the local population as human shields. US and NATO forces in Afghanistan who “live with the people” — they’re just getting cozy with their hosts.


Israel’s latest act of ethnic cleansing

Electronic Intifada reports:

Early morning on 27 July, Israeli bulldozers, flanked by helicopters and throngs of police, demolished the entire Bedouin village of al-Araqib in the northern Negev desert. Despite their land rights cases still pending in the court system, hundreds of al-Araqib villagers were instantly made homeless a month after Israeli police posted demolition orders.

Eyewitness reports say the police were accompanied by several busloads of right-wing Israeli civilians who cheered during the demolitions.

The Electronic Intifada spoke with Dr. Yeela Ranaan of the Regional Council for Unrecognized Villages (RCUV) in the Negev, who was in al-Araqib all day long during the demolitions.

“Approximately 1,500 Israeli police came at 5:30 in the morning and evacuated everyone from their beds,” Ranaan said. “They brought tear gas and water cannons, but didn’t use them. There was a handful of Israeli peace activists who had come the night before to stay with the villagers, and the police beat them up and detained them. Once they evacuated everyone in the village, they started to demolish it. It took three hours to flatten the village. For the people of al-Araqib, it was a nightmare to see their village destroyed.”

Since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, al-Araqib villagers have been fighting for recognition in the courts. Ranaan told The Electronic Intifada that in the early 1950s, after they were forcefully expelled from their land by Israeli forces, villagers were fined for “trespassing” in their own homes by the Israeli government. Israel has refused to acknowledge al-Araqib villagers’ land deeds and receipts of land taxes paid to the Ottoman authorities well before Israel’s establishment.

“As we speak, the fate of al-Araqib hasn’t been decided in a court,” Ranaan said. “Despite this, Israel came and demolished the homes. Israel is not just changing the facts on the ground, it’s erasing them.”


Turkey’s diplomatic persistence with Iran may pay off

The Wall Street Journal reports:

Iran has pledged to stop enriching uranium to the higher grade needed for a medical research reactor if world powers agree to a fuel-swap deal it outlined earlier this year with Turkey and Brazil, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Wednesday.

The offer marks the latest in an international tug-of-war over the nuclear ambitions of Iran, which denies international allegations that it is pursuing nuclear weaponry. U.S. and European diplomats say Iran’s offer suggests it has felt the pinch of a rash of economic sanctions imposed on Tehran since June.

The United Nations imposed sanctions in part because Iran insisted it would continue enriching nuclear fuel to 20%, a level Tehran said was necessary to fuel a medical-research reactor and that the U.S. and others feared was a step toward creating nuclear weapons.

Mr. Davutoglu said Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki offered to change Tehran’s position on continuing enrichment when the two men met in Istanbul on Sunday. Mr. Mottaki had said “there will be no need for Iran to continue 20% enrichment if the Tehran Agreement was realized and the country gets the fuel it needs,” Mr. Davutoglu told a joint press conference with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on Wednesday.

The Obama administration is said to be “studying” the discussions. I would hope that behind the scenes they are sending unambiguous positive signals to Turkey. The issue of continued enrichment was the supposedly the reason for earlier rejecting the Turkish-Brazilian brokered deal with Iran. If Turkey can now deliver on the administration’s key demands, we will get to find out whether Washington is operating in good faith. Let’s see.


War against Iran more likely — thanks to Wikileaks

If the release of the Pentagon Papers epitomized the value of government leaks as a means of speaking truth to power, Wikileaks at this point can claim no such distinction.

As if to underline the extent to which the Afghan war logs are making the fog of war more, not less, dense, Katrina vanden Heuvel says: “more than a few commentators — including Daniel Ellsberg himself — have called [the war logs] a 21st-century Pentagon Papers.”

She may understandably have been misled by a headline in The Guardian that read: “Daniel Ellsberg describes Afghan war logs as on a par with ‘Pentagon Papers’.” However, “These documents are not the Pentagon Papers — we still await their equivalent for Afghanistan,” is what Ellsberg unambiguously told the Financial Times.

While Wikileak’s founder, Julian Assange, is no doubt sincere in his hope that these intelligence revelations will expose the futility of war, the fact is, because intelligence is not intelligent it can very easily be used to serve a host of diverging political agendas.

If opponents of the war in Afghanistan now feel better armed, so do proponents of an expanding war in Pakistan. Likewise, those pushing for military action against Iran will welcome a new supply of ammunition served by Wikileaks.

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported:

Cooperation among Iran, al Qaeda and other Sunni extremist groups is more extensive than previously known to the public, according to details buried in the tens of thousands of military intelligence documents released by an independent group Sunday.

U.S. officials and Middle East analysts said some of the most explosive information contained in the WikiLeaks documents detail Iran’s alleged ties to the Taliban and al Qaeda, and the facilitating role Tehran may have played in providing arms from sources as varied as North Korea and Algeria.

The officials have for years received reports of Iran smuggling arms to the Taliban. The WikiLeaks documents, however, appear to give new evidence of direct contacts between Iranian officials and the Taliban’s and al Qaeda’s senior leadership. It also outlines Iran’s alleged role in brokering arms deals between North Korea and Pakistan-based militants, particularly militant leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and al Qaeda.

Here we see one of the most bizarre twists in the story: US government sources now using the leaked documents to buttress the current anti-Iran narrative and in the process acting as though the intelligence reports are providing information that hadn’t been accessible inside government until they were leaked!

At the very same time, the State Department’s leading expert on Iran, John Limbert — a genuine source of intelligence and “the most qualified person on the Iran team at State in the three decades I have lived in the United States,” according to Haleh Esfandiari, head of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars — is about to resign.

At Foreign Policy, Barbara Slavin writes:

[I]t’s hard not to view Limbert’s departure as a turning point and yet another missed opportunity in U.S.-Iran relations. A number of players with more skeptical views about the prospect of rapprochement with Tehran — such as White House aide Dennis Ross and nonproliferation experts like Robert Einhorn and Gary Samore — appear to be driving U.S. policy now, and the president himself blames the Iranian government for failing to respond to his outreach.

What could please the attack-Iran lobby more than to see the departure of the most skilled American proponent of engagement and at the same time to be served a prize piece of propaganda by an outfit aligned with the anti-war movement?!


Afghan war logs in search of good journalism

“[T]he task of good journalism is to turn this raw material — who, when, where, how, how many — into something that emotionally engages people who can apply levers on decision-making,” said Wikileaks founder Julian Assange at a press conference in London on Monday.

And there’s the rub, since the war logs offer a resource from which an almost unlimited number of stories can be gleaned and to which a disproportionate amount of credibility will be attached for no other reason than that they are based on leaked intelligence reports.

Consider, for instance, one of the latest reports from Danger Room with the headline “WikiLeak: U.S. Battling Militants from Turkey, Its NATO Ally.”

Oh my god, it’s the Turks again! No wonder Israel was alarmed by the approach of the Turk-laden Mavi Marmara.

Spencer Ackerman has been studying reports indicating that Turkish fighters, supported by the al-Qaeda-aligned Haqqani network, may have operated out of militant safe havens in Pakistan.

U.S. troops at the Bermel base, part of Task Force Eagle — a team of five infantry companies and a cavalry troop operating in the area — began to notice in early May 2007 that Turkish fighters south of the base were scoping out how Pashtun insurgents conducted attacks against U.S. Army Blackhawk helicopters. On May 19, they struck, sending a 107-millimeter rocket into the base. No one was harmed, and an official assessment noted that the incident was amateurish: “fighters were having a difficult time coordinating and carrying out relatively routine actions leading up to an attack.”

But a military record that day noted something had changed. “Todays [sic] single rocket was the first involvement of Turkish fighters in directly attacking [coalition forces],” it reads, and went on to suspect that the incident was a test run for something more serious down the line.

That report proved to be prescient.

Thus unfolds a tale of a Turkish threat, looming from Pakistan but rooted in a Salafist-Wahhabist movement rising in Turkey — at least, that’s the impression you get from Ackerman’s only source of expert analysis.

“It’s a story that hasn’t been mainstreamed, this Turkish involvement in jihad,” says Bryan Glyn Williams, an associate professor of history at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth who’s studied Islamic militancy in Turkey, including Turkish extremist infiltration into Afghanistan. “There is a growing Salafist-Wahhabist movement in Turkey, a lot more extreme than the [ruling Isalmic-based] AK Party.”

Given that the AK Party isn’t extreme at all, that’s a strange contrast to draw.

How reliable a source is Williams? It’s hard to say, but he must have scored points at the CIA last month when he released a study claiming that drone strikes in Pakistan have been far more accurate than previously reported. He says that for every 22 militants killed, there was one civilian casualty. Contrast that with a report in Pakistan’s leading newspaper Dawn last year, which said for “each Al Qaeda and Taliban terrorist killed by US drones, 140 innocent Pakistanis also had to die. Over 90 per cent of those killed in the deadly missile strikes were civilians, claim authorities.”

How did Williams come up with such radically different numbers? The only dead he counted were those whose names were recorded — and note, the brief news reports on the results of drone attacks are not filled with copious detail.

Just in case anyone might think that the Turkish threat to Task Force Eagle in 2007 saw the end of Turkish militant infiltration to Afghanistan, Ackerman warns:

A different report from November 2009 details U.S. forces finding a trove of Turkish cash in a militant compound. (The amount of money isn’t detailed.)

That doesn’t surprise the University of Massachusetts’ Williams. He’s been going to Turkey since the 1990s and has been disturbed to see growing anti-Americanism and sympathy for terrorists on websites like Cihaderi, a phenomenon he says has grown by inches since the 1990s, when Turks went to fight on behalf of Islamic militants in Bosnia and Chechnya. Now, it’s being channeled through Deobandi mosques in tribal Pakistan, where radicalized Turks go as an entrance point “to take shots at Americans and even fellow Turks” fighting for the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

How significant is all of this? Who’s to say. If a contingent of 20 or 30 Turks have been fighting alongside the Taliban, might we not ask: so what?

Meanwhile, at The Guardian, Simon Tisdall digs out a story much more prosaic yet a narrative that conveys far more about the war:

Winning hearts and minds in Afghanistan can be uphill work, as US soldiers attached to Task Force Catamount discovered when they visited the remote village of Mamadi in Paktika province, near the Pakistan border.

“It seems to always be this way when we go there. No one wants anything to do with us,” the mission report’s author complained sadly. Nor does the Mamadi patrol’s experience appear to be untypical.

The report, circulated by US military intelligence in April 2007, is one of numerous accounts of attempted bridge-building contained in the classified war logs and examined by The Guardian. The material offers an unprecedented insight into the gaping cultural and societal gulfs encountered by US troops trying to win grassroots support for the west’s vision of a peaceful, developing, united Afghanistan.

The purpose of the Mamadi visit, reassuringly termed a “non-combat event”, was to meet local leaders and distribute food and other assistance. But things started badly when a Humvee broke down, the road turned muddy and the weather deteriorated. To be safe, half the patrol of 29 US servicemen plus Afghan army personnel stayed with the Humvee. The rest went on to Mamadi.

Their reception there is distinctly unenthusiastic. The children mostly stay indoors. The village elder is described as “a very disgruntled man” who does not want American handouts. “He personally blamed George Bush for his AK-47 being taken from him. He doesn’t want us to give stuff to his village because of fear from the enemy punishing him. He did say he would take the money, though,” the report said.

A talk with a 30-year-old male villager with black hair and “skinny” build is similarly uninspiring. “Not very outgoing, [he] sits on the edge of the conversation and just listens to what is going on.” It transpires that the man’s silence may be connected to his prior detention for “involvement with IEDs”. He was sacked by the Afghan army for the same offence.

After a curtailed stay, the patrol hands out 30 sweaters, 30 backpacks, 10 bags of beans and 10 bags of rice then departs. Back at base, the anonymous author reaches a surprising conclusion: “The mission in Mamadi was success.” But this seems to be largely because they fixed the Humvee. “The village of Mamadi is definitely anti-coalition. They want nothing to do with US or ANA [Afghan national army] forces. Nothing further to report.”


Ellsberg: ‘These documents are not the Pentagon Papers’

In an interview with Der Spiegel, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange when asked why he published the Afghan war logs, said:

These files are the most comprehensive description of a war to be published during the course of a war — in other words, at a time when they still have a chance of doing some good. They cover more than 90,000 different incidents, together with precise geographical locations. They cover the small and the large. A single body of information, they eclipse all that has been previously said about Afghanistan. They will change our perspective on not only the war in Afghanistan, but on all modern wars.

Those are very grand claims which appear to be based more than anything on the sheer quantity of information that has been released. Even so, Assange is probably over-estimating the capacity of the American public to become deeply politically engaged on an issue with which most people lack personal involvement.

Comparisons are being made between the war logs and the release of the Pentagon Papers which were leaked to the New York Times by Daniel Ellsberg in 1971, yet the content of the documents and the contexts in which they appeared are vastly different. The Pentagon Papers revealed a massive level of deception through which US governments had led, by that point, 54,000 Americans to their deaths in Vietnam.

“These documents are not the Pentagon Papers — we still await their equivalent for Afghanistan,” Ellsberg told the Financial Times. “But they do add to the strong doubts that most of us have about a war that has cost us more than $300bn so far in which the Taliban only appears to get stronger with each passing year. They reinforce the question: What is the point of this war?”

Ellsberg told the Wall Street Journal he had mixed feelings about the release of so many documents:

“To put out such a large amount of material is of some risk if you haven’t read it all,” said Ellsberg, reached in Mexico where he was attending a screening of “The Most Dangerous Man in America,” a documentary about his Pentagon Papers ordeal.

Because the leaker was taking a risk in releasing the material, Ellsberg concluded it was released quickly and not likely carefully vetted…

Ellsberg said he had studied every word of the Pentagon Papers and carefully weighed whether their release would harm anyone.

“I had read all of it and made a judgment of the 7,000 papers and concluded they deserved to be out and would not harm any Americans,” he said.

However, Ellsberg said, such a volume of material can be noteworthy for what it lacks: in this case, a justification for the U.S. continuing to wage war in Afghanistan.


Bush’s negligence doesn’t absolve Obama of his responsibilities

True to form, the administration’s response to the biggest intelligence leak ever has been tactical and clichéd.

“The United States strongly condemns the disclosure of classified information by individuals and organizations which could put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk, and threaten our national security,” National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones said in a statement released by the White House.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry had a somewhat more serious response, The Hill reported:

“However illegally these documents came to light, they raise serious questions about the reality of America’s policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan,” Kerry said. “Those policies are at a critical stage and these documents may very well underscore the stakes and make the calibrations needed to get the policy right more urgent.”

But how long can this critical stage last?

In The Guardian, Simon Tisdall observes:

That the Afghan campaign lacks a clear strategy, has been politically misdirected and militarily under-resourced, and is essentially unwinnable as presently conceived is something the British public, like its counterparts in the US and western Europe, has increasingly suspected. Opinion polls in most Nato countries show strengthening opposition to the western alliance’s longest ever war.

The war logs, an official accounting of murderous missions, tragic incompetence and abject failure from 2004-2009, put factual flesh on the bare bones of these negative perceptions. Their publication may further undermine public support just as the campaign supposedly reaches a “critical” juncture following June’s record casualties and the sacking of General Stanley McChrystal.

The White House’s defence — that this serial bungling occurred on George Bush’s watch — appears problematic. Since Barack Obama concluded a policy review last December and decided on a “surge” of 30,000 additional troops, overall levels of violence have risen further while confusion about counterinsurgency strategy and the exit timetable has deepened.

“Obama has had several opportunities to reassess US goals and interests and in each instance he has chosen to escalate,” said Richard Haass, a former senior Bush administration official and president of the council on foreign relations. “Today the counterinsurgency strategy that demanded all those troops is clearly not working.” Afghanistan was now Obama’s war, Haass said, and he was losing it. “It’s time to scale down our ambitions and reduce and redirect what we do.”

When it comes to understanding this war, subjective impressions sometimes tell us as much as any of the raw facts. It’s even possible that a poem — and one written hundreds of miles away from the battlefield in another country — might provide us with as much insight as do reams of intelligence reports.

Megan Stack covered the war in Afghanistan for the Los Angeles Times and in her new book, Every Man in This Village Is a Liar, chronicles her experiences as a war correspondent.

In an interview on NPR this morning, Stack described the way a government-backed anti-terrorism program in Yemen failed to resonate with the experience of ordinary Yemenis — people whose sentiment is no doubt shared by much of the population in Afghanistan.

On one of her last evenings in Yemen, Stack traveled to a remote village to meet a poet who was known for his anti-terrorism poems and had been hired by the government to travel around the countryside, reciting his poetry and encouraging people to write their own anti-terrorist verses.

But what Stack heard the villagers recite that night was quite a bit different:

The more we try to be Muslim, the more American they try to make us.
Our literary teaching and great heritage have been invaded by the West.
They drove us crazy talking about the freedom of women.
They want to drive her to evil.
They ask the woman to remove the hijab and replace it with trousers, to show their bodies.
Now people who do their village rituals are accused of being extremists.
Even the music is now brought in instead of listening to good, traditional music.
Now people are kissing each other on television.

Cultural imperialism results in no casualty reports, no visible scars, but the destructive effect of America’s wars should not simply be measured in the amount of blood shed.


The Afghanistan war logs

The White House’s response to Wikileaks’ release of 92,000 classified military documents covering operations in Afghanistan from 2004 until 2009 has been to say the accounts are unreliable, irrelevant and cover a period preceding the announcement of President Obama’s new strategy. White House spokesman Tommy Vietor, drew reporters’ attention to a report in The Guardian which said:

A retired senior American officer said ground-level reports were considered to be a mixture of “rumours, bullshit and second-hand information” and were weeded out as they passed up the chain of command. “As someone who had to sift through thousands of these reports, I can say that the chances of finding any real information are pretty slim,” said the officer, who has years of experience in the region.

But if the White House truly shared this retired officer’s opinion, why push the line that everything here precedes the new strategy and say: “[s]ome of the disconcerting things reported are exactly why the President ordered a three month policy review and a change in strategy”?

The White House is clearly scrambling desperately to get its story straight.

In an interview with The Guardian, Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, puts this major leak into perspective:

The nearest analog is The Pentagon Papers, which was released in the early ’70s. That exposed how the United States was prosecuting the war in Vietnam. That was some 10,000 pages, and some of those pages were accepted and put into the New York Times and other US newspapers. It wasn’t for several years that a book was published — 5,000 of those pages by Beacon Press.

This situation is different in that it’s not just more material and being pushed to a bigger audience and much sooner — if you like, everyone has the book, the whole lot at once — but rather that people can give back. So people who around the world are reading this are able to comment on it and put it in context and understand the full situation. That is not something that has previously occurred and that is something that can only be brought about as a result of the internet.

The Guardian describes how the Pentagon tracked down the source of the leaks.

On 21 May, a Californian computer hacker called Adrian Lamo was contacted by somebody with the online name Bradass87 who started to swap instant messages with him. He was immediately extraordinarily open: “hi… how are you?… im an army intelligence analyst, deployed to eastern bagdad … if you had unprecedented access to classified networks, 14 hours a day, 7 days a week for 8+ months, what would you do?”

For five days, Bradass87 opened his heart to Lamo. He described how his job gave him access to two secret networks: the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network, SIPRNET, which carries US diplomatic and military intelligence classified “secret”; and the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System which uses a different security system to carry similar material classified up to “top secret”. He said this had allowed him to see “incredible things, awful things … that belong in the public domain and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington DC … almost criminal political backdealings … the non-PR version of world events and crises.”

Bradass87 suggested that “someone I know intimately” had been downloading and compressing and encrypting all this data and uploading it to someone he identified as Julian Assange. At times, he claimed he himself had leaked the material, suggesting that he had taken in blank CDs, labelled as Lady Gaga’s music, slotted them into his high-security laptop and lip-synched to nonexistent music to cover his downloading: “i want people to see the truth,” he said.

He dwelled on the abundance of the disclosure: “its open diplomacy … its Climategate with a global scope and breathtaking depth … its beautiful and horrifying … It’s public data, it belongs in the public domain.” At one point, Bradass87 caught himself and said: “i can’t believe what im confessing to you.” It was too late. Unknown to him, two days into their exchange, on 23 May, Lamo had contacted the US military. On 25 May he met officers from the Pentagon’s criminal investigations department in a Starbucks and gave them a printout of Bradass87’s online chat.

On 26 May, at US Forward Operating Base Hammer, 25 miles outside Baghdad, a 22-year-old intelligence analyst named Bradley Manning was arrested, shipped across the border to Kuwait and locked up in a military prison.

Gathered from 92,201 records of individual events or intelligence reports, The Guardian presents a selection of 300 of the key ones.

Piecing together details from the reports, The Guardian describes the operations of an undisclosed “black” unit of special forces, Task Force 373, whose mission was to hunt down targets for death or detention without trial.

On the night of Monday 11 June 2007, the leaked logs reveal, the taskforce set out with Afghan special forces to capture or kill a Taliban commander named Qarl Ur-Rahman in a valley near Jalalabad. As they approached the target in the darkness, somebody shone a torch on them. A firefight developed, and the taskforce called in an AC-130 gunship, which strafed the area with cannon fire: “The original mission was aborted and TF 373 broke contact and returned to base. Follow-up Report: 7 x ANP KIA, 4 x WIA.” In plain language: they discovered that the people they had been shooting in the dark were Afghan police officers, seven of whom were now dead and four wounded.

The coalition put out a press release which referred to the firefight and the air support and then failed entirely to record that they had just killed or wounded 11 police officers. But, evidently fearing that the truth might leak, it added: “There was nothing during the firefight to indicate the opposing force was friendly. The individuals who fired on coalition forces were not in uniform.” The involvement of TF 373 was not mentioned, and the story didn’t get out.

However, the incident immediately rebounded into the fragile links which other elements of the coalition had been trying to build with local communities. An internal report shows that the next day Lieutenant Colonel Gordon Phillips, commander of the Provincial Reconstruction Team, took senior officers to meet the provincial governor, Gul Agha Sherzai, who accepted that this was “an unfortunate incident that occurred among friends”. They agreed to pay compensation to the bereaved families, and Phillips “reiterated our support to prevent these types of events from occurring again”.

Yet, later that week, on Sunday 17 June, as Sherzai hosted a “shura” council at which he attempted to reassure tribal leaders about the safety of coalition operations, TF 373 launched another mission, hundreds of miles south in Paktika province. The target was a notorious Libyan fighter, Abu Laith al-Libi. The unit was armed with a new weapon, known as Himars – High Mobility Artillery Rocket System – a pod of six missiles on the back of a small truck.

The plan was to launch five rockets at targets in the village of Nangar Khel where TF 373 believed Libi was hiding and then to send in ground troops. The result was that they failed to find Libi but killed six Taliban fighters and then, when they approached the rubble of a madrasa, they found “initial assessment of 7 x NC KIA” which translates as seven non-combatants killed in action. All of them were children. One of them was still alive in the rubble: “The Med TM immediately cleared debris from the mouth and performed CPR.” After 20 minutes, the child died.

The coalition made a press statement which owned up to the death of the children and claimed that troops “had surveillance on the compound all day and saw no indications there were children inside the building”. That claim is consistent with the leaked log. A press release also claimed that Taliban fighters, who undoubtedly were in the compound, had used the children as a shield.

The log refers to an unnamed “elder” who is said to have “stated that the children were held against their will” but, against that, there is no suggestion that there were any Taliban in the madrasa where the children died.

The rest of the press release was certainly misleading. It suggested that coalition forces had attacked the compound because of “nefarious activity” there, when the reality was that they had gone there to kill or capture Libi.

A New York Times report focuses on revelations in the documents about collaboration between Pakistan’s intelligence services and the Taliban “in secret strategy sessions to organize networks of militant groups that fight against American soldiers in Afghanistan, and even hatch plots to assassinate Afghan leaders.”


Facebook prohibits the word “Palestinian”

The folks at Palestinian Refugee ResearchNet thought they’d create a Facebook page only to discover: Facebook blocks the term “Palestinian”! (H/t Jillian C York.)

Are Palestinians the only group so blocked from making pages? Well, not really… after a little fiddling around, I discovered that al-Qaida Refugee ResearchNet and Nazi Refugee ResearchNet are filtered too.

It does seem a bit odd, however, that a population of up to 12 million people, receiving more than a billion dollars in international aid, recognized by the UN, and enjoying a degree of formal diplomatic recognition from the United States — is placed in the same filtered category as Nazis and al-Qaida.

I’ve sent an email to Facebook customer service—we’ll see what they say.

Just to be sure, I tried myself to create a “Palestinian sports” page — not allowed.