Sunday, August 15, 2010

Bloody WikiLeaks

I like Charli Carpenter. She's a serious political scientist. In relation to myself, her work's over on the other side of security studies (human rights, constructivist theories). She's published in top-notch journals and she takes positivist methodology as legitimate. (Her lead article in I.O. Fall 2003, "'Women and Children First': Gender, Norms, and Humanitarian Evacuation in the Balkans 1991–95," is cool.) Charli also blogs. I think I first saw her stuff at Duck of Minerva, where the content is mostly all-academic. Some time back, though, Charli joined the roster at Lawyers, Guns and Money. I thought it strange, and I've said so here previously. Dave and SEK are basically hate-bloggers, and while Robert Farley generally eschews that kind of demonology, he's an unserious academic who's not only dishonest but revels in it. And because of that, I don't think she's a good fit over there. In fact, in speaking to Charli recently I joked that I was going to convert her to neoconservatism, since we have overlapping interests on security issues, and especially on Julian Assange's WikiLeaks media whistle-blowing operation. I don't think Charli's going to become a feminist "Charli" Krauthammer any time soon, but I hope sometime she finds a prominent (high-traffic) blog that's a better fit.

Perhaps toward that end, Charli's got an essay up at Foreign Policy on WikiLeaks (maybe a good sign, considering the stable of solid bloggers over there). See, "How WikiLeaks Could Use Its Power for Good."


Charli argues that WikiLeaks' is not in fact a "criminal enterprise" (as Marc Thiessen has argued, and I've seconded). Yet, she notes that the massive, indiscriminate "document dump" by WikiLeaks wasn't smart, and that perhaps a more carefully designed leaking strategy might be good. In releasing its information, WikiLeaks ought to pick its targets carefully, not unlike how the military targets its enemies. And Charli adds:

WikiLeaks adds real value to the international regime governing the behavior of soldiers in wartime by promoting precisely the sort of accountability that the Geneva Conventions require but military culture tends to discourage. The laws of war compel soldiers to refuse illegal orders and report war crimes, but troops are typically expected do so through their own chain of command, an act that goes against the grain of everything else they're taught about obedience and loyalty. When service personnel do take the leap to speak out, they can only hope their confidentiality will be respected and that they will be rewarded rather than penalized for honesty.

WikiLeaks could provide a solution -- a reporting mechanism through which individual soldiers could report specific war crimes without fear of retribution. The organization has servers in many countries and sophisticated encryption techniques, all of which are intended to disseminate incriminating secrets while protecting the anonymity of sources. Consider what this could have meant in the case of Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, for example. When Sgt. Joseph Darby saw former high school friends abusing prisoners in 2004, he fulfilled his duties under the Geneva Conventions by reporting the abuses to the U.S. Army's Criminal Investigation Command. Though he asked to remain anonymous, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld revealed his identity, inviting hate mail and death threats from the public. It is no wonder that so many other participants at Abu Ghraib chose not to stick their necks out for fear of compromising their careers and personal safety. The Abu Ghraib case is hardly an isolated one.
More at the link.

Charli's argument is fine on its face, or, at least to the extent that it's good to have the release of information (and accountability) on criminal military liabilities. What I think she omits --- and this is a fatal omission with regards to the WikiLeaks project --- are the intentions of Julian Assange and those of the (nefarious) global network of anti-American whistle-blowers. Charli Carpenter wants to save lives, particularly civilians who are killed or injured in what is otherwise the lawful exercise of military power. The problem is that's not what Julian Assange wants, nor is it what his worldwide backers want. Frankly, I don't think these people care about "human rights" except as a vehicle to chain the United States to supranational norms and to limit America's international power. Thus, I don't think Assange and WikiLeaks should be the agents of the kind of military transparency that Charli proposes.

Let's look a bit more at some related issues, which cast more light on the un-humanitarian motives of the WikiLeaks network. First, as I've pointed out here, WikiLeaks puts lives at risk, both needlessly and indiscriminately. See, "
Julian Assange and Wikileaks Abbetting Murder in the Name of 'Openness'." At issue is the compromised information on the identity of hundreds of Afghan nationals working with the United States. Taliban operatives pledged to kill them when the news of the Afghan operatives came to light. As bad as that was, Assange's response assuaged nothing. He claimed that "Anything in theory has the potential to harm anything else." He also blamed the United States, saying he was "appalled that the U.S. military was so lackadaisical with its Afghan sources. Just appalled." Assange has come under fire from many on the left, for example, Reporters Without Borders. But for the most part, the world's antiwar, anti-American neo-communists have relished the release of the documents, Afghan civilian casualties be damned.

As we saw with the Apache attack video released previously, WikiLeaks' interest is in damaging the United States. The "Collateral Murder" episode clearly showed Assange's agenda (which wasn't objective journalism), and unfortunately few in the mainstream press investigated the now-debunked claims made at the tape (bloggers did, especially Jawa Report). There's litte more to be expected with the pending release of the remaining Afghanistan documents. All along, myself and others have portrayed WikiLeaks as not a "journalistic" outfit but an information warfare operation against the United States Military.

My friend Charli Carpenter means well in making the case for a benign incarnation of WikiLeaks. I'm not confident that's possible. And while Charli may still not be convinced, I'm pleased to see IBD's latest editorial echoing these themes, "WikiLeaks' Hands To Get Bloodier":
The Pentagon warns that WikiLeaks' vow to publish more stolen U.S. documents may be worse than the first leaks. Even the anti-war left opposes the theft. When will WikiLeaks be treated as an enemy?

WikiLeaks, which puts stolen, mostly classified U.S. documents on the Internet, justifies its publishing of secrets as throwing sunlight on the devious doings of governments.

In reality, its founder, Julian Assange, is an anti-American agitator whose main aim is to end the U.S. war in Afghanistan by any means necessary. If that means publishing the name of an Afghan tribesman who's so much as given a U.S. soldier a drink of water in Kandahar, he's indifferent to the impact.

So there's no doubt the 76,000 stolen documents he's already published are the work of an enemy who is maddeningly exempt from the U.S.' excessively legalistic approach to war.

He's already published more than 100 names of Afghans connected to U.S. troops in his first info dump. The name-filled battlefield reports shed no sunlight on anything readers of the news don't already know of the U.S. war strategy — which is based on relationships with informants. But for the Taliban, it's a gold mine.

Having been defeated in battle, they've turned to killing Afghans who oppose them. Already a Taliban spokesman has said the Taliban is scouring these documents to find U.S. allies "to punish."

Newsweek says that, four days after WikiLeaks released its first U.S. documents, 80 death threats rolled in at the homes of tribal elders in southern Afghanistan. In a Kandahar village called Monar, the Taliban took Khalifa Abdullah from his home and killed him.

It's blood on the hands of WikiLeaks, and even the anti-war left is taking cover. Last week, George Soros-funded leftist groups like the Open Society Institute, the International Crisis Group and Amnesty International warned WikiLeaks that "we have seen the negative, sometimes deadly ramifications for those Afghans identified as working for or sympathizing with international forces."

It was followed by a letter from another group, Reporters Without Borders, warning of the same thing. If they think this is a bad thing, what moral justification does WikiLeaks have left?


Dana said...

But when the Afghanis helping American soldiers are identified and killed by the Taliban, it isn't Julian Assange's fault, isn't his responsibility, is it?

Khalifa Abdullah was a man, a specific individual, and thanks to Mr Assange, he is now stone-cold graveyard dead.

Mr Assange was "appalled that the U.S. military was so lackadaisical with its Afghan sources. Just appalled?" No, the military wasn't "lackadaisical" about its sources, because it wasn't the military which released their names; that was his doing.

Unless, of course, one concludes that the U S Military was lackadaisical because it failed to send a team to Mr Assange's residence and offices, confiscate all of the stolen documents and kill Mr Assange and his confederates. Perhaps that was what he meant.

Anonymous said...

I concur with Dana...Assange is arrogant and narcissistic, and it wouldn't make me sad for a moment to see him get the same treatment Khalifa Abdullah did.

Isn't WikiLeaks just playing into the hands of those who champion government regulation of the internet? I'm just waiting for that pronouncement, in the "interest" of our national security, of course...