Analysts Find Little New in WikiLeaks Afghan Docs

Are they really the next Pentagon Papers?

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The tens of thousands of documents pertaining to the Afghan war released by Wikileaks have garnered intense media attention, especially those documents describing civilian casualty cover-ups and the support given to the Taliban by rogue elements of the Pakistani military intelligence service. Some observers, such as the New America Foundation's Steve Clemons, have called this a watershed moment for the war and compared the leaks to the Pentagon Papers. But many Afghanistan-watchers are doubting that these leaked files actually reveal anything new. After all, the trend of civilian casualties and the behavior of Pakistani intelligence have both been well-known for years. Here's the case for skepticism.

  • This Is No 'Pentagon Papers'  The American Prospect's Adam Serwer explains, "The leaks may reinforce the idea that administration's perspective is rosier than reality, but that isn't comparable to the Pentagon Papers revealing John F. Kennedy approved of the overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, Lyndon Johnson flat out lied about the war, or the fact that Richard Nixon had expanded operations into Cambodia and Laos. So far there isn't any previously undisclosed information in these documents that implicates the U.S. government in dishonest and illegal behavior the way the Pentagon Papers did."
  • Devoid of Real News or Significance  Mother Jones' Adam Weinstein writes, "most of this information is tactical nuts and bolts, devoid of context, and largely useless for a war narrative. ... By and large, like most of the stunts pulled by Assange, this one's long on light and short on heat, nothing we didn't already know if you were paying attention to our wars."
  • For Afghanistan-Watchers, Nothing  Threat Watch's Steve Schippert writes, "There's nearly nothing (that I've seen thus far) new here. If you've paid attention to the Afghanistan conflict over the years, ask yourself if you really learned something you didn't know or definitively confirmed something you didn't already suspect or presume. The answer will probably be an honest 'no' twice in a row. But seems intent on driving its own relevance. That's why it fed the New York Times, the UK's Guardian and Germany's Der Spiegel."
  • At Least It's Causing Public Debate  Time's Michael Crowley says that most of these reports "are already pretty well known." However, "This isn't to say that the documents are irrelevant. Sometimes it can be crystallizing to see hard truths articulated not by reporters covering a war but in the real-time reports of the men and women on the ground. Moreover, the media frenzy about the documents--we're already seeing comparisons to the Vietnam-era Pentagon Papers--is bound to startle the public and put a further dent in support for the war."
  • Could Seriously Endanger Some Lives  Mother Jones' Adam Weinstein worries about the safety of Afghan officials and individuals who meet with the U.S. in "what the military calls KLEs—key leader engagements. Military officers, as well as officials from State, USAID, and other agencies regularly meet with important players in a war zone to get their take on the situation. ... If they were ever outed as collaborators with American forces, they'd be as good as dead. And Wikileaks has 16 pages of secret military KLEs with individuals and groups in Afghanistan, spanning six years. No names are redacted. In this case, what retired general James Jones, the White House national security adviser, said yesterday is correct: WL is putting some lives at serious risk with that particular data dump."

I'm going to bed, but if I were to stay up late reading more, here is what I suspect I would discover:

  1. "Afghanistan" has four syllables.
  2. LeBron is going to the Heat.
  3. D'Angelo Barksdale didn't actually commit suicide in prison. Stringer Bell had him killed.
  4. Although a document dated 17 October 2004 claims the Red Sox were down 3-0 in a seven-game series with the Yankees, they actually went on to win 4-3.
  5. Liberace was gay.
  6. The Pathan remains wily.
  7. Julian Assange is a clown.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.