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.