Revolution #209, August 15, 2010
WikiLeaks: Exposing War Crimes of a Criminal War
WikiLeaks has posted over 90,000 pages of U.S. classified material chronicling incidents in the war in Afghanistan from 2004 through 2009.
These reports are written by U.S. military personnel—which means facts and descriptions of what happened may be skewed, things may be left out, censored, covered up, etc. But this material clearly indicates the depth and extent of war crimes being committed by the U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan. Julian Assange, editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, told the BBC, "20,000 lives that have been lost in Afghanistan [are] documented and exposed by our material."
WikiLeaks—an international organization that publishes anonymous submissions and leaks of otherwise unavailable documents while preserving the anonymity of sources—first released these documents to the Guardian in the U.K., Der Spiegel magazine in Germany, and The New York Times. These war logs are now available at wikileaks.org and there are more than 15,000 documents WikiLeaks has that have not yet been made public.
There is a lot of material in these documents covering different aspects of the war in Afghanistan that requires analysis. But one thing is clear. These war logs record details of many hundreds of civilian deaths that went unreported or were unaccounted for or consciously covered up.
The power of the material, Assange said, lies in its accumulation of small, previously unknown details rather than any disclosure of one large event. He said, "The real story of this material is that it is war, it is one damn thing after another. It is the continuous small events, the continuous deaths of children."
Bloody "Blue on White" Incidents
A U.S. General's View of Fun
General James Mattis is set to replace Petraeus as head of CENTCOM, with overall responsibility for the U.S. military in the Middle East and Afghanistan. At his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee Arizona Republican John McCain asked Mattis what effect the WikiLeaks documents will have on the "degree of candor" among military officers and senior NCOs in the field. Mattis replied:
"Sir, I would speculate that due to the urgency of the operations in a combat zone, it probably won't have much, because at the moment they're actually reporting, they're probably more eager to get the truth up the chain of command. That said, I just thought it was a—just an appallingly irresponsible act to release this information. It didn't tell us anything, that I've seen so far, that we weren't already aware of. I've seen no big revelations. One of the newspaper headlines was that it's a—the war is a tense and dangerous thing. Well, if that is news, I don't know who it's news to that's on this planet."
Note: This is the same General James Mattis who said in 2005: "You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap around women for five years because they didn't wear a veil. You know guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway, so it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them." (cited in New York Times, July 19, 2010)
The WikiLeaks documents include accounts of what, in military jargon, are called "blue on white" incidents—in which soldiers wound or kill civilians. For example:
- Coalition soldiers fire into a bus full of children, wounding eight. A U.S. patrol machine-guns a bus, wounding or killing 15 of its passengers. Other soldiers mortar a village, killing a wedding party including a pregnant woman, in an apparent revenge attack.
- A group of U.S. Marines went on a shooting rampage after coming under attack near Jalalabad—19 unarmed civilians were killed and 50 were wounded. They recorded false information on the incident.
- U.S. special forces dropped six 2,000 pound bombs on a compound where they believed a "high-value individual" was hiding after supposedly "ensuring there were no innocent Afghans in the surrounding area." A senior U.S. commander reported that 150 Taliban had been killed. But local people reported that up to 300 civilians had died.
And these are only a few examples of what is in the thousands of pages of documents.
These war logs also document how these war crimes are being covered up:
- In March 2007 a convoy of U.S. Marines, after being hit by an explosives-rigged minivan, opened fire with automatic weapons as they tore down a six-mile stretch of highway. They hit just about anyone in their way—including teenage girls in fields, motorists in cars, old men walking down the road. Nineteen unarmed civilians were killed and 50 wounded. None of this, however, was reported in the initial military account written by the Marines involved. The Afghan Human Rights Commission published a report into the shooting which said the victims included a 16-year-old newlywed girl carrying a bundle of grass and a 75-year-old man walking back from shopping. There was an inquiry in which 50 witnesses, including Afghans, testified. But the four soldiers who fired their weapons did not testify because they had not been granted immunity from prosecution. In the end, no criminal charges were brought against any officer, although some did receive an "administrative reprimand."
- A "black" unit of special forces, Task Force 373, is being used to hunt down targets for death or detention without trial. On October 20, 2007, they reportedly confronted Taliban fighters in a village called Laswanday, only six miles from a village where the Task Force had killed seven children four months earlier. The Taliban appear to have retreated by the time TF 373 called in air support to drop 500 lb. bombs on the house from which the fighters had fired. Listed at the end of the leaked log: 12 U.S. wounded, two teenage girls and a 10-year-old boy wounded, one girl killed, one woman killed, four civilian men killed, one donkey killed, one dog killed, several chickens killed, no enemy killed, no enemy wounded, no enemy detained. The U.S. coalition put out a statement falsely claiming to have killed several militants and making no mention of any dead civilians; and later added that "several non-combatants were found dead and several others wounded" without giving any numbers or details.
- September 2009, in Kunduz in the north of Afghanistan, NATO forces bomb a crowd of people surrounding two fuel tankers stuck in a riverbed. The military reports say the air strike was authorized "after ensuring that no civilians were in the vicinity" and the "battle damage assessment" claimed the 56 deaths had been "enemy insurgents." Media reports followed by official inquiries, however, established something closer to the real death toll, which included 30 to 70 civilians.
Again, these are only a few examples of what is in the thousands of pages of documents.
The accounts of civilian casualties in the WikiLeaks documents underscores a basic fact about the nature of the U.S. war in Afghanistan. This is a war to further and protect the interests of U.S. imperialism—not to liberate the Afghan people. This is a war for empire in which the U.S. has set out to dominate this strategically crucial region of the world with unchallenged military and political power. And with strategic goals in mind, U.S. occupation and intervention is digging in deep, pushing out and continuing to hold and expand military operations in countries throughout the region. A central goal in this war is subduing, by any means necessary, a population in which most don't want to be under foreign domination. The mission of the U.S. occupation by definition is brutal and murderous – no matter how much it tries to justify the war as "bringing democracy" or "freeing Afghan women" or other lies.
Response from Commander in Charge of War Crimes
So what did Barack Obama, commander-in-chief over these war crimes, have to say about this damning evidence?
At his press conference about the WikiLeaks documents Obama said, "The fact is these documents don't reveal any issues that haven't already informed our public debate on Afghanistan. Indeed, they point to the same challenges that led me to conduct an extensive review of our policy last fall. So let me underscore what I've said many times: for seven years, we failed to implement a strategy adequate to the challenge in this region, the region from which the 9/11 attacks were waged and other attacks against the United States and our friends and allies have been planned. That's why we've substantially increased our commitment there, insisted upon greater accountability from our partners in Afghanistan and Pakistan, developed a new strategy that can work, and put in place a team, including one of our finest generals, to execute that plan. Now we have to see that strategy through."
So first, Obama is trying to downplay the significance of these documents. And at the same time, there are many things in these leaked documents that point to real problems the U.S. is having in Afghanistan, such as the reliability of government forces in Pakistan and the growing strength of the Taliban. And so Obama is saying that to the extent that there is relevant information here, it only justifies the continuation of more of the same and underscores the need to escalate troops and persevere in the current U.S. counterinsurgency strategy. The White House is also trying to dismiss the documents saying they only go through December 2009—the month when Obama ordered his "surge." But can anyone seriously argue that the kind of crimes revealed in the leaked documents have stopped? What about the fact that on Monday, July 26—the very day news of the WikiLeaks documents hit the headlines—it was reported that the week before at least 45 civilians, including many women and children, had been killed in a rocket attack by NATO-led forces in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province. And civilian casualties in Afghanistan due to U.S.-led troops have been at an all-time high in recent months.
War Criminals Targeting Those Who Expose War Crimes
Meanwhile the U.S. government is focusing—not on investigating the war crimes revealed in these documents—but on finding and prosecuting those responsible for telling the world about these crimes.
Rep. Peter King, the ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee called the release of these documents "disgraceful" and called for the prosecution of whoever is responsible, saying the leak amounts to a treasonous act. From the "other side of the aisle" Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that whoever leaked the documents "is a traitor and should be tried for treason."
Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, attacked Assange at a news conference saying that he and his sources "might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family."
Reminder: Mullen, who has been chairman of the Joint Chiefs since October 2007, was in charge in July 2008, when a U.S. air strike attacked an Afghan bridal party of 70 to 90 people, mostly women. The bride and at least 27 others, including children, were killed. Mullen was also in charge in August 2008 when a memorial service for a tribal leader in the village of Azizabad in Afghanistan's Herat Province was hit by repeated U.S. air strikes that killed at least 90 civilians, including women and children. And the list goes on. (See: "Whose Hands? Whose Blood? Killing Civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq," by Tom Engelhardt, August 5, 2010)
Clearly it is the U.S.—and not those exposing such war crimes—who have blood on their hands. And those responsible for such crimes keep trying to cover up their bloody tracks. Obama is not only continuing, but in fact intensifying efforts that went on under Bush to go after people responsible for government leaks.
The Department of Justice recently obtained an indictment against an NSA whistleblower, Thomas Drake, who exposed serious waste, abuse and possible illegality. The DOJ also re-issued a Bush era subpoena to Jim Risen of The New York Times, demanding the identity of his source who revealed an extremely inept and damaging CIA effort to infiltrate the Iranian nuclear program. And an FBI linguist who leaked what he believed to be evidence of lawbreaking is set to go to prison for a term that could become the longest ever served by a government employee accused of passing national security secrets to a member of the media. Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists, who is a critic of government classification policy, said, "They're going after this at every opportunity and with unmatched vigor." (see: Glenn Greenwald, "War on Whistleblowers Intensifies," May 25, 2010)
In the name of "state security" and the "safety of U.S. personnel" the Obama administration is trying to intimidate, muzzle and criminalize those who would expose, criticize, and indict U.S. policy and military operations. At the same time, the Obama administration opposes shield laws that are meant to protect reporters from being imprisoned if they refuse to disclose confidential sources who leak material about national security.
When Obama says there is nothing "new" in the WikiLeak documents, nothing that hasn't already been informing U.S. policy in Afghanistan—he is speaking some truth. He and his government have known about these war crimes, and more than that—the very nature of this war dictates that such crimes will continue as long as U.S. soldiers are in Afghanistan.
All of the people involved in releasing these WikiLeak documents are taking heroic actions to tell the world about the crimes U.S. imperialism is committing in Afghanistan. They are literally risking their lives. And it is up to anyone with a sense of moral responsibility to humanity—to not turn their eyes, to not change the channel—but instead to act with real resolve to put an end to such crimes.
- "War on whistle-blowers intensifies" by Glenn Greenwald, salon.com, May 25, 2010
- "Afghanistan war logs: Task Force 373—special forces hunting top Taliban" by Nick Davies, guardian.co.uk, July 25, 2010
- "Files raise questions over civilian casualties," by Kris Jepson and Ed Fraser, channel4.com, updated July 26, 2010
- "Afghanistan war logs: How US marines sanitised record of bloodbath" by Declan Walsh, guardian.co.uk, July 26, 2010
- "The WikiLeaks and what they reveal," A World to Win News Service, August 2, 2010
If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.