Wikileaks Doc Dump On Afghanistan - And the Media Spins on The Previous Media Fail

Given the last week's Shirley Sherrod news cycle of pre fact checking trashing to a post fact checked resurrection, I find a little bit of humor in asking some in the traditional media to take an advance look at the most recent Wikileaks documents to help verify the fact that they were real. Ya know.... A little bit of fact checking before anybody runs with it.

Anyways, with the resources they have they can and did serve a purpose here as the Times, the Guardian and others confirmed the likelihood that the docs are the real McCoy, and even using the advance notice to take a moment to dig a story or two out of the Wikileaks documents and spin what they can:

A massive new leak by Wikileaks of more than 90,000 pages of classified materials covering the war in Afghanistan from 2004 to 2009 dominates the front page of the New York Times today, one of the outlets to receive the papers along with The Guardian and Der Spiegel.

The Times' initial report gives the basic overview:

A six-year archive of classified military documents made public on Sunday offers an unvarnished, ground-level picture of the war in Afghanistan that is in many respects more grim than the official portrayal....

The documents — some 92,000 reports spanning parts of two administrations from January 2004 through December 2009 — illustrate in mosaic detail why, after the United States has spent almost $300 billion on the war in Afghanistan, the Taliban are stronger than at any time since 2001....

The reports — usually spare summaries but sometimes detailed narratives — shed light on some elements of the war that have been largely hidden from the public eye:

• The Taliban have used portable heat-seeking missiles against allied aircraft, a fact that has not been publicly disclosed by the military. This type of weapon helped the Afghan mujahedeen defeat the Soviet occupation in the 1980s.

• Secret commando units like Task Force 373 — a classified group of Army and Navy special operatives — work from a “capture/kill list” of about 70 top insurgent commanders. These missions, which have been stepped up under the Obama administration, claim notable successes, but have sometimes gone wrong, killing civilians and stoking Afghan resentment.

• The military employs more and more drone aircraft to survey the battlefield and strike targets in Afghanistan, although their performance is less impressive than officially portrayed. Some crash or collide, forcing American troops to undertake risky retrieval missions before the Taliban can claim the drone’s weaponry.

• The Central Intelligence Agency has expanded paramilitary operations inside Afghanistan. The units launch ambushes, order airstrikes and conduct night raids. From 2001 to 2008, the C.I.A. paid the budget of Afghanistan’s spy agency and ran it as a virtual subsidiary.

Over all, the documents do not contradict official accounts of the war. But in some cases the documents show that the American military made misleading public statements — attributing the downing of a helicopter to conventional weapons instead of heat-seeking missiles or giving Afghans credit for missions carried out by Special Operations commandos.

The White House has condemned the leak

Just a little bit from Amy Davidson at the New Yorker as she looks at some of what may be the Obama Administration's real problems with the leaks:

Among the ninety-one thousand or so documents from the Afghan war released by WikiLeaks Sunday is an incident report dated November 22, 2009, submitted by a unit called Task Force Pegasus. It describes how a convoy was stopped on a road in southern Afghanistan at an illegal checkpoint manned by what appeared to be a hundred insurgents, “middle-age males with approx 75 x AK-47’s and 15 x PKM’s.” What could be scarier than that?

Maybe what the soldiers found out next: these weren’t “insurgents” at all, at least not in the die-hard jihadi sense that the American public might understand the term. The gunmen were quite willing to let the convoy through, if the soldiers just forked over a two- or three-thousand-dollar bribe; and they were in the pay of a local warlord, Matiullah Khan, who was himself in the pay, ultimately, of the American public. According to a Times report this June (six months after the incident with Task Force Pegasus), Matiullah earns millions of dollars from NATO, supposedly to keep that road clear for convoys and help with American special-forces missions. Matiullah is also suspected of (and has denied) earning money “facilitating the movement of drugs along the highway.”

That is good to know. The Obama Administration has already expressed dismay that WikiLeaks publicized the documents, but a leak informing us that our tax dollars may be being used as seed money for a protection racket associated with a narcotics-trafficking enterprise is a good leak to have. And the checkpoint incident is, again, only one report, from one day. It will take some time to go through everything WikiLeaks has to offer—the documents cover the period from January, 2004, to December, 2009—but it is well worth it, especially since the war in Afghanistan is not winding down, but ramping up. (Also very helpful: Raffi Khatchadourian’s piece for The New Yorker on WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange.)

And when I say read on? I really mean it on that one as Davidson makes clear the point that anyone should pause for a moment after revelations of massive bribery of warlords (something we already knew a little bit about) where they are getting us coming and going (something we did not know about)... As well as other revelations that are included that had been hidden from the public record and the New York Times drones on:

Over all, the documents do not contradict official accounts of the war.

Oh really? Davidson, who will likely be among a small eyeful of print in the traditional media to note a little more truth than they usually do, goes on to say:

One should pause there. What does it mean to tell the truth about a war? Is it a lie, technically speaking, for the Administration to say that it has faith in Hamid Karzai’s government and regards him as a legitimate leader—or is it just absurd? Is it a lie to say that we have a plan for Afghanistan that makes any sense at all? If you put it that way, each of the WikiLeaks documents—from an account of an armed showdown between the Afghan police and the Afghan Army, to a few lines about a local interdiction official taking seventy-five-dollar bribes, to a sad exchange about an aid scam involving orphans—is a pixel in a picture that does, indeed, contradict official accounts of the war, and rather drastically so.

As a matter of what has been hidden from the public record? There are too many failures that should have caused more than a little pause alrready before this story. A small amount of which has been noted  previously. This just heaping a lot more onto the pile. But I can't help but wonder how much of this being addressed this late on has to do with the inbeded embeded media that is afraid, all too often, to do their jobs for fear of losing the access to what amounts to nothing more than a heaping pile of media stenography and propaganda.

My own personal note on the media?

Over all, the traditional media's spin on the new documents do does not contradict official accounts previous uncritical media stenography of the government spin on the war.

Currently on the media spin cycle they are asking the dumbest question they can think of to distract from real news:

"Will this leak hurt the troops"

A totally predictable reaction given their previous track records, instead of concentrating on what the media is suposed to concentrate on, you know:

"Do the actual actions taken in Afghanistan hurt our troops"

And a note on the Wikileaks site: At the moment I keep getting error messages trying to get in there and look at the docs myslef. No doubt every blogger, researcher, jounalist and even the jounamalist with an internet connection is trying to get in there and find their own little scoops. No doubt their site is being hit with more traffic than they can take.

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Had to correct Sherrod's name in the first paragraph at the time of this comment. Brain frazzle here!