Defense Secretary Robert Gates and top Pentagon brass are claiming that the lives of Afghan civilians and U.S. soldiers have been put at risk by the leak of some 92,000 classified documents about the Afghan War, waving the bloody shirt (even if they don't yet have one).
Referring to the leaker and WikiLeaks, the Web site which distributed the documents, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Thursday that "the truth is they might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family."
Gates cited the need to examine the documents to assess potential dangers to soldiers and civilians. "We have a moral obligation, not only to our troops but to those who have worked with us," Gates said, adding that he had called the FBI into an expanding criminal investigation of the leak.
However, the intensifying rhetoric against WikiLeaks and the chief leaking suspect, Pfc. Bradley Manning, obscures two crucial points:
First, the U.S. military itself has put countless Afghanis (and Iraqis) in harm's way by pressing (or bribing) them to cooperate with the occupying forces. Indeed, the military has publicized these collaborations by having the news media film meetings between American officers and local leaders, as a sign of supposed U.S. progress in winning their hearts and minds.
Especially in Iraq, many Sunnis who agreed to take U.S. money and join the so-called Awakening have been killed in retaliatory attacks. Similar killings have occurred in Afghanistan, in areas like Marja where U.S. troops claimed to have established security only to find the Taliban returning at night to take revenge on Afghan officials and residents working with the Americans.
More broadly, it could be argued that President George W. Bush's invasions and botched occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq have led to the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians, making any suggestion that Manning and WikiLeaks may have some additional blood on their hands both hypothetical and hypocritical.
Secondly, the main reason for leaks is that the U.S. government has engaged in vastly over-classifying its "secrets," thus reducing the ability of the American people to debate life-or-death issues of war and peace and undermining the concept of an informed electorate in a democracy.
In my career as an investigative reporter covering national security issues, I have often encountered both the problem of over-classification on relatively innocuous information and the desire of government officials to hide truths that the people had a right to know.
Indeed, Consortiumnews.com, which I founded in 1995, was one of the first if not the first investigative Web site to disclose classified U.S. government documents on the Internet. We did so because I had come into possession of secret documents that shed light on an important chapter of American history, the so-called October Surprise case of 1980.
The documents helped explain how Republicans gained power in that pivotal election year allegedly through a treacherous dirty trick, sabotaging President Jimmy Carter's negotiations with Iran to free 52 American hostages before the 1980 election. However, by the time I found the documents in the mid-1990s, there was no interest among more traditional U.S. news outlets, including The New Yorker magazine, to use these documents.
Apparently the disinterest stemmed from the widely held view that the October Surprise case was a discredited "conspiracy theory." But the secret documents told a different story.
So, on the advice of my oldest son, Sam, we started the Consortiumnews.com Web site and revealed the documents in an eight-part series that I dubbed "The October Surprise X-Files."
The documents included a confidential cable from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow translating a January 1993 report from the Russian parliament about what Soviet-era intelligence files revealed about the October Surprise case.
The Russian Report corroborated longstanding allegations that Republicans did strike a deal with the Iranians behind Carter's back, a determination that contradicted the conclusion of a congressional task force which had claimed to find "no credible evidence" of Republican guilt.