Days after the release of tens of thousands of documents that were once classified information and are now known as the "Afghanistan War Logs," the focus on the documents has shifted from the contents of the incident reports to what the effect or impact of the leak by Wikileaks will be on the war in Afghanistan.
The leak of more than 70,000 incident reports (and the news that 15,000 more incident reports are to be released after undergoing what Wikileaks founder Julian Assange calls "a harm minimization process" to protect Afghani civilians) created two direct challenges to what can be considered as two branches of government in the United States: the White House and Pentagon (Executive Branch) and the press (often regarded as the "Fourth Branch" of government).
This is part of the official statement released by the White House on Sunday, July 25th:
"We strongly condemn the disclosure of classified information by individuals and organisations, which puts the lives of the US and partner service members at risk and threatens our national security. Wikileaks made no effort to contact the US government about these documents, which may contain information that endanger the lives of Americans, our partners, and local populations who co-operate with us."
In a press conference on Monday, July 26th, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs showed their was a small evolution in the White House response to the leak. Similar to the official statement, he said the White House's reaction to this "breach of federal law" is that it has the "potential to be very harmful to those that are in our military, those that are cooperating with our military, and those that are working to keep us safe."
Gibbs also said, "I don't think that what is being reported hasn't in many ways been publicly discussed, either by you all or by representatives of the U.S. government, for quite some time," and went on to discuss how the press was fully aware of how Pakistan may have "safe havens" that were aiding the Taliban and the White House had been making progress in addressing this problem.
Those who remember the Obama Administration's blocking the release of photos allegedly showing troops abusing detainees at prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan have likely heard this argument about risks to troops before. In a video posted by The Guardian, Assange responded to the argument and said, "Militaries keep information secret to prosecute their side of a war but also to hide abuse." He noted there is a military argument for information on "where troops are about to deploy" from, but, since the information is all from 2004-2009, none of the information is particularly sensitive.
Gibbs' remarks that there's nothing new here with Pakistan shows part of the evolution from the initial response released to the press and public. The Obama Administration appears to have made a calculation that the nature of Wikileaks is too remarkable to wholly dismiss solely with an argument that they have used to argue for the protection of government information.
Admiral Mike Mullen's tweet and other remarks show that the Obama Administration has chosen to attempt to curb enthusiasm for the leak and forewarn those who are interested that if they take interest in them they will likely find no new information. If the public thinks there is nothing to be gained from the leak, then it's possible to push the public to question Wikileaks and possibly convince them that what was done was a kind of publicity stunt.
The initial response also demonstrated the White House believed Wikileaks should have consulted them before leaking the classified information to the press. That's interesting given the fact that the U.S. government has been hunting Julian Assange and displayed a zealous thirst to halt the operations of Wikileaks. Even more interesting is the fact that there was some back and forth prior to the publishing of the documents thanks to two reporters with the New York Times who consulted the White House and asked the White House for permission and guidance on what to publish and what not to publish. The meeting gave the White House time to prepare for the oncoming document dump by Wikileaks.
A file circulated to press, which features many of the president's and the administration's leaders' remarks on the role of Pakistan in the Afghanistan War, indicates there was likely a development of a media or public relations strategy between the White House and the New York Times before the "war logs" went public July 25th. This file provided a way for journalists uncomfortable with the ethics of Wikileaks to cover the contents of the documents leaked. It seems like this .PDF file became the basic talking points for critical conversation among the press on the Monday after the leak.
The effect was that possibility of war crimes committed was, for the most part, conveniently omitted or glossed over; illumination of the US-assassination squad Task Force 373 was virtually absent from the publication's analysis of the logs on Sunday. Examine Der Spiegel and The Guardian and compare what is central to the editorials and reports with what is central to the editorials and reports posted by the New York Times. You will likely find media spin that focuses on Pakistan and the Taliban.
The New York Times' decision to take this to the White House and to not further explore possible war crimes committed or even the alarming number of civilian casualties detailed in the logs could have something to do with what Illinois State University Professor Anthony DiMaggio wrote in his book When Media Goes to War on the media's role in foreign wars:
"American journalists see their role in foreign conflicts as dutifully reflecting the range of opinions expressed in Washington. In the case of Afghanistan, both Democrats and Republicans lent their support to escalating war as of early to mid 2009. "Responsible" criticisms were limited to questions of whether the war is unwinnable or too costly. The Obama administration paternalistically denigrated the Afghan government for complicity in corruption, ballot-tampering, collusion with warlords, narcotics dealing, and a lack of democratic responsiveness. These criticisms were echoed in news stories and editorials."