Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Pentagon Papers Redux

The release on Monday of about 92,000 classified military records on the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan is the equivalent of the current war’s “Pentagon Papers.” The documents were released by the online watchdog site, WikiLeaks, and were reported Monday by The New York Times, England’s The Guardian and the German magazine Der Spiegel.

The files represent a six-year archive of the conflict in Afghanistan and—-like the aforementioned Pentagon Papers—-paint a grim and disturbing picture of the U.S. military’s prospects for victory in what President Obama has insisted is the “central front” of the war on terror. The New York Times (July 26, 2010) summarized the leaked documents as illustrating, “in mosaic detail why, after the United States has spent almost $300 billion on the war in Afghanistan, the Taliban are stronger than at any time since 2001.”

The records reveal, among other things, that the U.S. military may have greatly underestimated the Taliban’s weapons capabilities, attributing the use of “portable heat-seeking missiles against allied aircraft” to the group. They also acknowledge the military’s use of a secret “capture/kill list” of about 70 top insurgents, though the existence of this list has been well documented outside the corporate media before now. In all, the reports cast doubts on the likelihood U.S. forces will withdraw from Afghanistan in July of next year, as President Obama has promised, or that the woefully inadequate Afghan military will prove at all effective in taking control of the fighting.

Famed whistleblower and Pentagon Papers leaker, Daniel Ellsberg, acknowledged the striking similarities between these recent documents and his own efforts to reveal the truth about an immoral and unpopular war some thirty years ago. Speaking with Nation editor John Nichols, Ellsberg praised WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange. “He [Assange] is serving our democracy and serving our rule of law precisely by challenging the secrecy regulations,” Ellsberg said, “which are not laws, in most cases, in this country.”

He went on to note, of whistleblowers in general, “Those who provide the truth to the American people, [show] better judgment in putting it out than the people who keep it secret from the American people.”

All of this comes at a time when a majority of Americans now say they no longer support further escalation in Afghanistan. A recent ABC News-Washington Post poll finds a mere 43% of respondents support further fighting in the nearly decade-long war. (Afghanistan now has the distinction of being the longest war in U.S. history.)

Yet, despite the shift in public support for the Afghanistan war, the House of Representatives just yesterday approved an additional $37 billion to continue both the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The vote was 308 to 114 meaning that 148 supposedly anti-war Democrats voted for the war-funding. (It also means 160 “fiscally responsible” Republicans voted for the money as well. And not a Tea Partier in sight to protest the enormous spending-spree.)

Anti-war activists in Maine can at least take slight comfort in the fact that the state’s two Democratic representatives—-Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree—-voted against the war-funding. Of course, it is largely the work of Maine progressives that has influenced Congresswoman Pingree’s consistent opposition to further war funding. “Frankly, I just don’t understand why more members of Congress aren’t voting to stop the funding for this war,” Pingree said during an appearance on Hardball with Chris Matthews yesterday. “When I’m back home I hear from my constituents. They don’t think we’re winning. They don’t understand why we’re continuing the effort. And they want to see some end to this conflict.”

Nor can I understand such continued support for war, myself… The leaked Afghanistan documents will not likely end the war(s) anytime soon. But they can serve as catalyst for greater anti-war participation—just as the Pentagon Papers did during Vietnam. As Assange told Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman in an interview today, it is the heroic efforts of whistleblowers like Ellsberg that can create such a movement. “These are the people…who are inside these organizations, who want change,” Assange said. “They are both heroic figures taking much greater risks than I ever do, and they are pushing and showing that they want change in… an extremely effective way.”

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