I was amazed at the reaction to the WikiLeaks documents on the war in Afghanistan. As a journalist, I thought, wow, WikiLeaks has done it again. They have gotten closer to the truth about what’s going on than any of the mainstream media. The revelations they had leaked to them and subsequently published show that the U.S. and their NATO allies, including Canada, are not being truthful in their descriptions of the war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and of the success of the operations so far.
Here are a few of the revelations as outlined by John Warnock, a Canadian political economist and author:
* U.S. Task Force 373, a U.S. Special Forces unit, is widely engaged in Afghanistan in the assassination of people suspected of supporting the insurgency. Very often they have called in air support which killed innocent civilians. This is a secret operation.
* The insurgency now has anti-aircraft weapons which it is using to shoot down aircraft and drones, including Canadian drones.
*NATO forces are killing far more civilians than they and the Karzai government are willing to admit.
*NATO forces are being used to help the Karzai government suppress popular demonstrations. This includes the use of military force. In one case, in Jalalabad on May 11, 2005, U.S. Marines used helicopter gun ships to “shut down” a street demonstration, resulting in the death of 37 Afghan civilians.
*There is widespread insurgency all across Afghanistan, much more extensive than is reported by the NATO governments and the mainstream media. The insurgency is steadily increasing.
Isn’t this what journalism is all about? Isn’t getting to the truth and reporting it the only task that journalists are assigned? This seems to be so self evident that it should not need mention or discussion. Apparently that’s not the case. Christie Blatchford, just one example, dismissed WikiLeaks and thought it was more important to serve our troops than to do our jobs. She saw the leaks as undermining the NATO war effort. As John Warnock pointed out, that’s a very weird stance for a journalist who works for a newspaper that complains about government secrecy. The Globe actually editorialized that the leaks create a national security threat to the war operations.
This is exactly the kind of thinking that undermines the professionalism and competency of journalists. It is not our job to decipher who is right and wrong and then to act as propaganda tools for the side we deem correct. It is simply our job to report what we know to be factual.
If Blatchford and The Globe were to be taken seriously the entire coverage of the Vietnam War would be wrong. President Lyndon Johnson and Secretary of Defense Robert Mcnamara would have been off limits for criticism and General Westmoreland would have been given a free pass to lie about the number of Viet Cong being killed and the impending victory over the North Vietnamese. The war and the increasing loss of life on both sides would have lasted many more years.
If it was a journalists job to support governments no matter what, budget leaks and human rights offenses would be off the table for reporters. The manila envelope would disappear, political incumbents would get a free ride no matter whether their plans were succeeding or failing. In fact we could stop reporting on Question Period in the House because the questions of the opposition might be deemed to be harmful to the plans of the government.
The truth of the matter, a truth that has been ignored by many of those who oppose WikiLeaks, is that telling the real story of the war in Afghanistan will save lives and perhaps bring about the end to what has become a quagmire for the United States, Canada and our NATO allies. The truth will force our political leaders to explain what we are doing in Afghanistan. The truth will allow the citizens of Canada and the U.S. to assess accurately our role in that country. The truth will force our political and military leaders to prove to us that we are doing the right thing and accomplishing what “we the people” expect from our government.
Giving the military and the politicians free reign to act as they please and tell us as little as possible has resulted in over 150 Canadian soldiers’ deaths without getting us any closer to reaching our goals in the region. It has resulted in the handover of prisoners to a brutal regime to be tortured. It has resulted in much larger civilian casualties than we have been led to believe. It has resulted in the propping up of a corrupt government that we all have to hold our noses to support. Perhaps now that the truth is starting to emerge, thanks to WikiLeaks, we may see some changes in our Afghan war effort and the policies that our governments have perpetrated for over eight years. Sometimes supporting the troops means keeping the government and military leaders in check.
I understand why President Obama and Prime Minister Harper are so upset at WikiLeaks. On his blog “Press Think”, Jay Rosen says: … what Wikileaks is about: the release of information without regard for national interest. In media history up to now, the press is free to report on what the powerful wish to keep secret because the laws of a given nation protect it. But Wikileaks is able to report on what the powerful wish to keep secret because the logic of the Internet permits it. This is new. Just as the Internet has no terrestrial address or central office, neither does Wikileaks.”
“If you’re a whistle blower with explosive documents, to whom would you rather give them? A newspaper with a terrestrial address organized under the laws of a nation that could try to force the reporter you contacted to reveal your name, and that may or may not run the documents you’ve delivered to them online…. or Wikileaks, which has no address, answers no subpoenas and promises to run the full cache if they can be verified as real? (And they’re expert in encryption, too.)”
What I don’t understand is why anyone else is upset. We should not be condemning WikiLeaks. We should be thanking them for doing the job that mainstream media has either shied away from or more often, been blocked from. We are being informed…and I have always believed that can never be a bad thing. The U.S. successfully did away with military criticism when they came up with the idea of embedding reporters with the troops and thus creating captive “pet” journalists. Now it seems, governments and some media outlets want to further embed journalists, this time in Ottawa and Washington; join the press gallery and support our government. If that’s not a scary thought, you should consider what it is like to live in China, Iran and Syria…