"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

The New Pentagon Papers: WikiLeaks Releases 90,000+ Secret Military Documents Painting Devastating Picture of Afghanistan War

In Uncategorized on July 26, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Taliban militants drove through Musa Qala, a southern Afghan town, in a Ford pickup truck, that very kind of vehicle the United States had provided the Afghan Army and police force.

Oldspeak:“HOOOO-LEEEEY SHIT. What a clusterfucking SNAFU this “war” is.  Thank christ for WikiLeaks, If we had to rely on corporate media solely, shit like this would never come to light. Thousands of civilians dead, TALBAN using U.S. equipment against the U.S. Army, U.S. Mercenaries running wild, Pakistan supporting  the insurgency. It don’t get no betta! WOW. WOWOWOWOWOW.”

From Amy Goodman @ Democracy Now:

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It’s one of the biggest leaks in US military history. More than 90,000 internal records of US military actions in Afghanistan over the past six years have been published by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks. The documents provide a devastating portrait of the war in Afghanistan, revealing how coalition forces have killed hundreds of civilians in unreported incidents, how a secret black ops special forces unit hunts down targets for assassination or detention without trial, how Taliban attacks have soared, and how Pakistan is fueling the insurgency. We host a roundtable discussion with independent British journalist Stephen Grey; Pentagon Papers whistleblower, Daniel Ellsberg; former State Department official in Afghanistan, Matthew Hoh; independent journalist Rick Rowley; and investigative historian Gareth Porter.


Stephen Grey, independent journalist based in London. He has been reporting from Afghanistan for the past few years. He is author of Operation Snakebite: The Explosive True Story of an Afghan Desert Siege. He recently interviewed Julian Assange for Channel 4.

Daniel Ellsberg, Pentagon Papers whistleblower.

Rick Rowley, independent journalist with Big Noise Films He just returned from a six-week trip to Afghanistan, where he was embedded with a Marine division in Marjah.

Matthew Hoh, former Marine Corps captain in Iraq and former State Department official in Afghanistan. He is the first-known US official to resign in protest over the Afghan war.

Gareth Porter, investigative historian and journalist specializing in US national security policy.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s one the biggest leaks in US military history. More than 90,000 internal records from US military actions in Afghanistan over the past six years have been published by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks. The documents provide a devastating portrait of the war in Afghanistan, revealing how coalition forces have killed hundreds of civilians in unreported incidents, how a secret black ops special forces unit hunts down targets for assassination or detention without trial, how Taliban attacks have soared, and how Pakistan is fueling the insurgency. WikiLeaks made the files available this week to the New York TimesThe Guardian of London and the German weeklyDer Spiegel, who agreed simultaneously to publish their reports on Sunday.

The documents, most of them classified as secret, give a blow-by-blow account of the war in Afghanistan between January 2004 and December of 2009. The findings include detailed reports on 144 attacks on civilians by coalition forces, ranging from the shootings of individuals to massive air strikes, resulting in hundreds of casualties; how a secret black ops special forces unit named Task Force 373 hunts down targets for assassination or detention without trial. The so-called “kill or capture” list of senior Taliban and al-Qaeda figures includes more than 2,000 names and is known as JPEL, the Joint Prioritized Effects List. The files also reveal how coalition forces are increasingly using deadly Reaper drones to hunt and kill Taliban targets by remote control from a base in Nevada.

The records reveal there has a been a steep rise in Taliban attacks on coalition troops and that the US covered up evidence that the Taliban have acquired deadly surface-to-air missiles. In addition, the Taliban have caused growing carnage with a massive escalation on their roadside bombing campaign, which has killed more than 2,000 civilians to date.

And the files reveal NATO commanders fear neighbouring Pakistan and Iran are fueling the insurgency. According to the New York Times, the records suggest Pakistan allows representatives of its spy service to meet directly with 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.

The founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, spoke about the files in an interview with independent journalist Stephen Grey for Channel 4 in Britain.

    JULIAN ASSANGE: We have released 91,000 reports about Afghanistan from the United States military. The reports cover the period from 2004 to 2010 in minute detail. They cover essentially all US military operations, with the exclusion of some special forces operations and the CIA. It covers each civilian kill, each military kill that has been internally reported, where it happened, and when it happened. It is the most comprehensive history of a war to have ever been published during the course of a war.

    STEPHEN GREY: And how significant is that?

    JULIAN ASSANGE: There doesn’t seem to be an equivalent disclosure made during the course of a war, during the time where it might have some effect. The nearest equivalent is perhaps the Pentagon Papers released by Daniel Ellsberg in the ’70s. That was about 10,000 pages. But already that was about four years old by the time it was released.

    STEPHEN GREY: And how many pages in your report?

    JULIAN ASSANGE: There’s about 200,000 pages in this material. Pentagon Papers was about 10,000 pages.

    STEPHEN GREY: What can you tell us about the source of this material? How do you know it’s—how do you know it’s true?

    JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, we know from looking at, you know, the material, correlating with the public record, speaking to confidential military sources, that this material is true and accurate. As to the specific source, obviously we can’t comment.

AMY GOODMAN: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

The White House has condemned the publication of the files by WikiLeaks. In a statement, National Security Adviser Jim Jones said, quote, “We strongly condemn the disclosure of classified information by individuals and organizations, which puts the lives of the US and partner service members at risk and threatens our national security.” Jones went on to say, quote, “The documents posted by Wikileaks reportedly cover a period of time from January 2004 to December 2009. On December 1, 2009, President Obama announced a new strategy with a substantial increase in resources for Afghanistan, and increased focus on al Qaeda and Taliban safe-havens in Pakistan, precisely because of the grave situation that had developed over several years,” he said.

Well, today we’re spending the hour on this unprecedented release of documents during the war with a roundtable of guests. Here in our New York studio we’re joined by Rick Rowley, independent journalist with Big Noise Films, just returned from a six-week trip to Afghanistan, where he was embedded with a Marine division in Marjah. Joining us from Washington, DC, is Matthew Hoh, former Marine Corps captain in Iraq and former State Department official in Afghanistan, the highest-level US official to resign in protest over the Afghan war. Also in DC, Gareth Porter, investigative historian and journalist specializing in US national security policy.

But first we go to London to speak to independent journalist Stephen Grey, who has spent the past few years reporting from Afghanistan and recently interviewed WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange about this massive leak. He’s author of Operation Snakebite: The Explosive True Story of an Afghan Desert Siege. And we’ll go to Daniel Ellsberg in Mexico, perhaps the country’s most famous whistleblower, who leaked the secret history of the Vietnam War that many are comparing this massive document leak to, 92,000 documents.

Stephen Grey, let’s go to you first. You spent a good deal of this weekend with Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder who is responsible for this leak. First, talk about its significance and what he understood he was doing when he released these documents.

STEPHEN GREY: Well, I think this is part of, you know, WikiLeaks’s strategy. I mean, it’s been a—it’s a snowball that started with fairly minor disclosures into something that is, you know, absolutely game changing. I mean, I think that this leak is phenomenal. It’s almost an act of sort of cyber war journalism. I mean, this has completely compromised the US military’s secret system. It’s called SIPRNet. It’ll probably cost them a billion dollars, I think, to fix it. And this is only the beginning. I mean, if what we’re hearing is true, there are thousands and thousands of more documents to come out here. But, you know, the actual contents are also really significant. I’ve been spending the weekend as well looking through, as far as you can in a short period of time, these 90,000 documents, you know, looking at mentions of these task forces. They’re special forces task forces. I actually wrote about this Task Force 373 before.

But it’s really the extent of it. I mean, you know, I’m sure some of the other people you’ve got on today have also seen firsthand, you know, incidents like death of civilians. But it’s really in the totality of it all that it becomes shocking. It’s the fact that you’ve got absolutely everything here. OK, not the most secret stuff, but it gives an absolutely compelling portrait. I think it will take months, if not years, to really analyze it. It is—you know, the papers this morning, particularly The Guardian in London, I think have done a very good job pulling together some of its conclusions. But, you know, it is incredible to see the raw detail there, and I think it will pull together an actually—an incredible picture of war.

AMY GOODMAN: As we are broadcasting this show today, the news conference is going on in London that Julian Assange is holding, revealing all of this. I wanted to turn to Daniel Ellsberg in Mexico. You’re hearing of this release. Your response?

DANIEL ELLSBERG: I’m very impressed by the release. It is the first release in thirty-nine years or forty years, since I first gave the Pentagon Papers to the Senate, of the scale of the Pentagon Papers, and not the first as it should have been. I would—how many times in those years should there have been the release of thousands of pages showing our being lied into war in Iraq, as in Vietnam, and the nature of the war in Afghanistan? I hope there will be—I hope this will inspire, despite the charges brought against Manning under the UC, under the Universal Code of Military Justice, which is not civilian law, it’s not First Amendment law. It’s the military law, so he’s in deep water here, as I think he expected. But nevertheless, I hope people will not be deterred from realizing that they have the responsibility that, according to the reports we’ve had of what Manning said in chat logs to the informant, Adrian Lamo, that realize that there is great deception going on, that there is, in Manning’s reported words, horrific material, almost criminal, as he put it, which deserve to be in the public domain, that they will consider doing what’s been done here, and that is risking their own career and their clearance and even their liberty, maybe for life, in order to save many lives. So, whoever did this—and Manning is charged with it—it remains to be seen whether the government can prove a case against him in the particular charges, but in terms of what he’s reported to have said to Lamo, I admire very much the spirit in which he did this. He said that he felt the public needed to know this and that he was prepared to go to prison, even for life—he said that—or even to be executed. That’s the first person I’ve heard in forty years who is in the same state of mind that I was forty years ago.

AMY GOODMAN: Stephen Grey, just to clarify, Dan Ellsberg is talking about Private First Class Bradley Manning, who was in Iraq, had—says he released these documents. He has now been arrested by the military. What did Julian Assange say about Bradley Manning? And this came out in his conversations with Lamo, another blogger online.

STEPHEN GREY: Yeah, I mean, like Daniel Ellsberg, he has, you know, praised what Bradley Manning has said about what he’s doing, but he has not confirmed that he’s the source. I mean, it’s one of the beauties, if you like, of this technology that Julian Assange and his colleagues at WikiLeaks have developed, is that it actually protects the source. So what Julian Assange told me was that he himself does not know who the source is. What they do is verify documents, not sources themselves. So they’re not able to actually verify that that was him. But, I mean, what was striking to me was that Bradley Manning said in his so-called confessions to this informer that he had released 265,000 documents to WikiLeaks. Now, they’ve published 95,000; they say they’ve held back 15,000. Add that up, I think there’s 110,000. So less than half of what he’s handed over has actually been published yet. So there’s—you know, if he indeed is the leak—and I suppose you can—it looks pretty likely—then there’s a lot more to come.

AMY GOODMAN: He’s been charged with passing on fifty State Department cables. We’re talking about the largest document release in US history, outside of Dan Ellsberg, the—actually, including Dan Ellsberg, in the course of a war. Ninety-two thousand pages are being released by WikiLeaks, the website, Julian Assange holding a news conference now in London. Daniel Ellsberg is on the phone with us from Mexico. Stephen Grey, who spent much of the weekend with Julian Assange, is on with us from London. We’ll be joined by others when we come back. Stay with us.

AMY GOODMAN: Our guest, whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, he released the Pentagon Papers. WikiLeaks is being compared to that. It’s the largest release of secret documents in history. More than 92,000 records, that’s more than 200,000 pages, have now been released online. Rick Rowley is with us, just back from Afghanistan, with Big Noise Films. Gareth Porter is with us in Washington, DC. Stephen Grey, in London, just interviewed Julian Assange for Channel 4. And Matthew Hoh, highest-level government official to quit his position in Afghanistan because of the war there, also a Marine Corps captain.

Matthew Hoh, I want to go to you. You worked with Task Force 373.

MATTHEW HOH: Loosely. It’s a very integrated—with these special forces operations, I hope people aren’t getting the idea that, at least of last year, they’re off by themselves running amok. It’s a fairly well-integrated operation that spans political efforts, as well. I’ll give you an example. As a political officer, you would review the target lists to make sure you weren’t—we weren’t killing or going after anyone who was actually working with us. A lot of times what happens—the point was made that we kill the wrong people. Well, you know, sometimes we get the right guy, but he’s actually just somebody who’s been turned in by someone who’s got a grudge against him.

One of the things I hope people see from these documents is how complex the nature of war is, how difficult war actually is. And so, the question has to be asked, Is it worth it? What we’re asking our young men and women to do, is it worth putting them through this? And what benefit is it to the United States?

But the other point about the special operations raids, these capture-kill missions, if this worked, if this was a viable method, we would have won this thing back in ’04 or ’05, you know? And the other point, too, about Dan’s—Dan Ellsberg’s excellent point about the strength of the Taliban, I’m in complete agreement. If you actually go back and look at comments made by General Barno, who was the commanding general of American forces in ’04 and ’05, back then he was saying there were only 2,000 Taliban. Last summer they said it was 40,000. And I concur with Dan Ellsberg. We’ve sent 30,000 more troops into southern Afganistan, and that probably has exponentially increased the strength of the Taliban, because we see the Taliban get their support because of resistance to foreign occupation and resistance to a corrupt and unrepresentative government.

AMY GOODMAN: Stephen Grey, the newspapers that WikiLeaks worked with in releasing this—and it’s still all just being digested. It’s less than twenty-four hours ago. By the way, Eric Schmitt, the reporter for the New York Times, said they’ve been working with the White House now for weeks and carefully going through and redacting names and other sources that might be compromised, said the White House was fully aware of what’s in these documents. And he actually said Julian Assange has agreed to hold back a number of documents to go through that kind of redacting process before they’re released. But Stephen Grey, The Guardian write, “In many cases, the unit has set out to seize”—talking about Task Force 373—”seize targets for internment, but in others it has simply killed them 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.”

STEPHEN GREY: Well, that’s right. And I’ve been looking through those same documents. I mean, they do show a lot of people are captured; it’s not just a kill operation. But on the other hand, they are systematically using methods that don’t allow you to capture. For example, there was one missile strike that they used to try and take out one person they were supposedly trying to capture, and, you know, it killed a bunch of children instead. And they tried to—you see them trying to prevent that information being released to anyone other than themselves. And it is quite shocking.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go back to Gareth Porter in Washington, DC. Talk more about the significance, what you think is most important to highlight here, as we go through these hundreds of thousands of pages of top-secret documents, classified documents.

GARETH PORTER: Well, again, I mean, there are very few things here that have not, in some fashion, been reported by the news media over the last—particularly over the last year or so. But there is one set of documents, in particular, that I thought were particularly insightful in terms of revealing the basic nature of the society and of the Afghan government that the United States is supporting, and that is a set of documents that show, for example, a police commander, a district police commander, who had raped a sixteen-year-old girl and who was confronted with a civilian complaining about this rape. He ordered his bodyguard, according to this report, to shoot the civilian. The bodyguard refused to do so, and then the police commander simply killed his own bodyguard in order to basically deal with the situation. This sort of laid bare the basic structure that the United States has stumbled into, or, perhaps I should say, has allowed itself to take control of, and—or tried to take control of, and I think what it shows is that this is a war that not only cannot be won, but in which the United States is on the wrong side.

And I just want to make one more point about the releases, and that is that I think that the real story here, the most important story, is WikiLeaks itself. I think what we have here is a new institution that is undoubtedly the most important antiwar institution that has been created so far and that I have no doubt is frightening the US military and intelligence establishment, as well as the Obama administration, very strongly. And I think that’s for very good reason. I think they understand that this represents a potentially powerful weapon for the future against war crimes as well as other illegal actions by the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m going to give, for the last few seconds, Daniel Ellsberg the last word, as we come full circle from Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers, that you had released at tremendous risk to yourself, to WikiLeaks right now and this unprecedented release of top-secret documents.

DANIEL ELLSBERG: Well, this is the closest that I’ve come to what I’ve been calling for for years, and that is for people to do not what I did, which is to wait years, until bombs were falling and until more countries have been invaded or escalation, before revealing documents to Congress and the public through the press. And now, of course, we have a way of doing that, thanks to WikiLeaks, that does bypass the press, even if they are reluctant to do it.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there.


AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you very much, Daniel Ellsberg, for joining us. Thank you to Rick Rowley of Big Noise Films; Gareth Porter in Washington, DC; Stephen Grey in London, author of Operation Snakebite. And Matthew Hoh, thanks so much for joining us.


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