Afghanistan: Wikileaks change the game

Like quite a few people, I suspect, I found the 14-page onslaught of the Guardian’s Wikileaks coverage yesterday almost too much (how was I ever going to get through it all …?)

Today they’ve calmed right down and only given it a front page and six inside pages. It’s virtually a “news in brief” by comparison!

But OK, this is big news and any serious newspaper would want to give it space. Apparently clocking in at 92,000 documents (bigger than some of even the chunkiest Amnesty reports), the “War logs” are already being compared to the Pentagon Papers on the Vietnam War from 1971.

I’m not sure whether they can yet be compared to the Vietnam papers (although in fact the original Pentagon leaker Daniel Ellsberg is certainly making that comparison), but people like Eric Joyce are describing the Wikileaks publication as “game changing”.

And this, in the end, is surely the point. Wikileaks’s Julian Assange has spoken of possibly uncovering war crimes through this publication. It’s quite possible. Wikileaks has a track record of helping to expose extra-judicial killings in Kenya for example, and Amnesty gave the organisation a media award for their contribution to human rights journalism in 2009 precisely in recognition of their efforts.

The “game” that Amnesty wants changed is the way that both NATO and the US fail to properly account for or investigate civilian casualties. Notoriously the US said they didn’t “do” bodycounts in Iraq and there are shades of that in Afghanistan as well.

Afghanistan is historically the graveyard of foreign forces in the so-called nineteenth-century Great Game. And it has to be said that it’s utterly depressing that large numbers of foreign forces are still dying there 150 years later along with thousands of Afghan civilians. Some game …

Generally not much is expected of the Taleban and other armed groups in terms of safeguarding civilians. But at the very least we should require the US, the UK and other international forces to be as careful as possible in protecting Afghanistan’s civilian population from further harm.

So, maybe the White House should focus on the US’s duty to protect Afghan civilians rather than attacking Wikileaks. Just a thought.

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