Outrage over Wikileaks Betrayal of Afghans Grows

Before we get going, I’d just like to make it clear that there is a value in whistle-blowing. Indeed, in the United Kingdom, employees who whistle-blow on their employers misdeeds have a certain statutory employment protection. In other countries, public watchdogs actively solicit whistle-blowing employees, to detail – for example – unsafe working practices on building sites.

Not all information should be disclosed. For example, if I knew where the ex-girlfriend of an armed psychopath was hiding, it would be irresponsible for me to publish that information on the internet, wouldn’t it?

That is essentially what Assange has done.

Wikileaks may well have provided a valuable outlet for certain sorts of information over time. However, it is now becoming clear that – despite Assange’s protests – Wikileaks conduct over the exposure of  anti-Taliban Afghans has been outrageous and utterly reckless.

You can read the back story here.

Channel 4 has spoken to the Taliban. They are grateful to Assange and Wikileaks for his help:

Speaking by telephone from an undisclosed location, Zabihullah Mujahid told Channel 4 News that the insurgent group will investigate the named individuals before deciding on their fate.

“We are studying the report,” he said, confirming that the insurgent group already has access to the 92,000 intelligence documents and field reports.

“We knew about the spies and people who collaborate with US forces.  We will investigate through our own secret service whether the people mentioned are really spies working for the US.  If they are US spies, then we know how to punish them.”

Not all Afghans are quite so pleased with Assange:

Ahmad Nader Nadery, the Commissioner of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) told Channel 4 News the damage is already done, because thousands of Afghans have already downloaded the files.

He said: “Release of names of the tribal elders and community members who met US, ISAF or NATO forces is an absolute irresponsibility.

“There is no protection mechanisms for these people, be it informant or other community members who as part of the role as an elder meets with the officials or international forces, while wikileaks served greatly in brining to public some of the unspoken files, it certainly also acted against the principle of “Do No Harm” that all civil society and watchdogs have to adhere to.

“I am not sure if only taking these names out now of the website could do any good, as only in Afghanistan, as far as I know, thousands of people had downloaded the entire package.”

And here’s a former British intelligence officer:

It is inevitable that the Taliban will now seek violent retribution on those who have co-operated with NATO.  Their families and tribes will also be in danger.  That danger should not be underestimated.

During my time in Iraq it was commonplace for bodies to be recovered bearing the marks of torture; joints mutilated by electric drills, eyes gouged and tongues pulled out.  Invariably the accusation was that the deceased had been a British informant.

Perhaps the worst of it is that many of those exposed will not even be aware of it.

Well done Assange. You must be incredibly proud of yourself today.


Der Whigphilosopie der Geschichte says:

Assange represents the logical conclusion of much of the ‘human rights activism’ I have personally witnessed which tends to revolve around selective scrutiny sometimes amounting to outright moral hypocrisy. The key problems I have with it are this selectivity, and a consequent problem of accountability. Neither of these attract much attention for some reason, even when the ‘revelations’ he peddles are no surprise to anybody.

If Assange really was worried about civilian casualties, he would direct his concern proportionately according to the agencies perpetrating those casualties. Yet it will be a long time before he and his ilk concern themselves with the actions of the Taliban. There are two reasons for this; firstly, ideological – he simply isn’t interested in exploring the reality of their behaviour, which indicates his own political agenda.

Secondly, researching what the Taliban do and attempting to hold them to account means risking your own neck. This leads to what I call ‘path of least resistance’ human rights activism. It’s simply much safer to criticise the actions of western agencies; you don’t have to risk anything and you can do this from four-star hotels, air-conditioned briefing rooms and even by leaking digital information on the internet without the risk of abduction, torture and decapitation that would follow any attempt to do the exert the same scrutiny on the Taliban.

I feel the operation of either or both of these factors does much to discredit people like Assange, and by the same token they undermine real and substantive criticism of western military operations made on more objective grounds by others.

An added bonus to this strategy is the concurrent opportunity this gives somebody like Assange to pose as some kind of ‘truth to power’ hero and bask in the adulation he will receive from those who uncritically accept his agenda. I regret to say I suspect this is a significant motivation in his case.

This gives rise to a seperate but related problem, which is the accountability involved. Whatever its shortcomings and imperfections (and there are plenty), western and specifically US military and intelligence operations in Afghanistan are implemented by elected governments subject to some kind of scrutiny by representative legislatures. Assange has no such overhead to worry about; he can decide what information to leak, what information to hold back, what to expose and what to redact. There is no accountability, short of a legal prosecution.

In a era when public discourse has become so undermined that there is an arguable necessity for holocaust deniers to be demonstrated to be such in court, I think it might be worth testing whether Assange’s actions were in the public interest in front of a jury. It would at least represent some form of public accountability; but I don’t see him volunteering for this any time soon.

All of this leads me to believe Assange is another egotist on a power trip, with less actually concern for the Afghan civilians than a NATO planner involved in operational air support missions in Khandahar or Helmand. I don’t think all human rights activists are like Assange, but some are, and many more allow people like him to set their agenda without sufficient scrutiny of his actions.