July 26, 2010

Afghan Sunshine (Wikileaks and Transparency vs. Corporate Tyranny)


Today Wikileaks, in collaboration with the NYT, the Guardian, and Der Spiegel, released 92,000 pages of documents on the Afghan war. So far it looks like strong reinforcement of everything we already knew.
From The Guardian:

The war logs also detail:

• How a secret “black” unit of special forces hunts down Taliban leaders for “kill or capture” without trial.

• How the US covered up evidence that the Taliban have acquired deadly surface-to-air missiles.

• How the coalition is increasingly using deadly Reaper drones to hunt and kill Taliban targets by remote control from a base in Nevada.

• How the Taliban have caused growing carnage with a massive escalation of their roadside bombing campaign, which has killed more than 2,000 civilians to date.

And the NYT:

The documents — some 92,000 reports spanning parts of two administrations from January 2004 through December 2009 — illustrate 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 archive is a vivid reminder that the Afghan conflict until recently was a second-class war, with money, troops and attention lavished on Iraq while soldiers and Marines lamented that the Afghans they were training were not being paid.

The reports — usually spare summaries but sometimes detailed narratives — shed light on some elements of the war that have been largely hidden from the public eye:

• The Taliban have used portable heat-seeking missiles against allied aircraft, a fact that has not been publicly disclosed by the military. This type of weapon helped the Afghan mujahedeen defeat the Soviet occupation in the 1980s.

• Secret commando units like Task Force 373 — a classified group of Army and Navy special operatives — work from a “capture/kill list” of about 70 top insurgent commanders. These missions, which have been stepped up under the Obama administration, claim notable successes, but have sometimes gone wrong, killing civilians and stoking Afghan resentment.

• The military employs more and more drone aircraft to survey the battlefield and strike targets in Afghanistan, although their performance is less impressive than officially portrayed. Some crash or collide, forcing American troops to undertake risky retrieval missions before the Taliban can claim the drone’s weaponry.

• The Central Intelligence Agency has expanded paramilitary operations inside Afghanistan. The units launch ambushes, order airstrikes and conduct night raids. From 2001 to 2008, the C.I.A. paid the budget of Afghanistan’s spy agency and ran it as a virtual subsidiary.

This enhances the clarity of the general picture: administrative and strategic incompetence, corruption, an attitude of utter callousness toward civilian life, the increasing effectiveness of the Taliban’s defensive measures, above all how this is a corporate war being waged with hijacked public resources for criminal ends.
We in the blogosphere knew all this, but will Assange’s turning the jingo NYT into a journalistic accomplice help get the message out to a broader audience? 
By making the release of the documents a collaborative effort with major MSM outlets, Wikileaks founder and impresario Julian Assange seems to have made a smart tactical move. This co-opts the generally hostile MSM and tries to force focus on the story itself rather than the fraudulent meta-story of whether or not this information should have been released in the first place. (Though we’ll no doubt see plenty of that as well.)
[We should be on the lookout for another bogus media provocation. Who knows whether or not it was an accident that right-wing and liberal corporatists came together last week for a splendid little race flap just when the Washington Post’s extraordinary series on the Pentagon corporate welfare state should have been the dominant story.]
Assange won’t reveal his sources, so we don’t know if this was another example of Bradley Manning’s heroism. He hasn’t been charged in relation to any of these leaks. But regardless we should compare Manning’s position, that of someone who actually tried to do his duty as a soldier and a citizen and looks to be severely abused for it, to that of the great capital criminals of our own or any other time, the likes of Blankfein, Dimon, Hayward, the weapons purveyors, Obama and Bush, and all the corporate and government gangsters, how they have only prospered and seem to go from strength to strength as they destroy America for no ideal higher than their verminous greed.
(Obama’s reaction to the release is typical. He blames everything on Bush while condemning the exercise in transparency itself. It’s exactly the same combination of unaccountability, remorselessness, and hatred for democracy you’d expect. Have you ever seen cockroaches scatter when a light is turned on? A commitment to transparency, of course, was one of Obama’s key campaign promises. But from day one in power he has reviled any light shone upon him and his fellow criminals.)
The almost complete destruction of democracy is just one of their ultimate crimes. (They’re not completely there yet; while Citizens United was more the formal consummation of a crime than a significant change, the defeat of net neutrality and public broadband access would signal the eradication of Internet democracy itself, the last real democratic space available to those who can access it.)
This is why transparency is such a critical issue. It’s not just a point of process, the way a liberal would typically say; by now we must exalt and demand it as a sacred ideal in itself.
As I wrote before, the “secrets” of a country which faces no existential threat have no practical reason to exist. And in a country whose economy has matured and then become decrepit to the point of rentier oligopoly, there are similarly no valid economic secrets. By now all the produce of the mature sectors is simply the work of the society itself, and therefore all the information which exists is similarly the public’s property. Not the corporations’, and not the government’s.
So there are no practical or moral reasons for elite secrets to exist. Given what we know of how malevolent a role secrecy has almost always played throughout history, how no matter what its pretext it usually also was enlisted to serve the criminal ends of power elites, it follows that if elite secrecy has no practical or moral standing, then it becomes ipso facto impractical and immoral. It’s a moral affront to the rights of the people, and a clear and present danger to the health of our democracy. By now it’s a core duty of citizenship to demand total sunshine for all elite information. Or, to put it a different way, “elite” information has no right to exist. Just like every other elite monopoly, this one must be broken up and restituted to the people.
(As I said in that previous post, this doesn’t apply to our individual, personal, bottom-up information. That truly is our individual property. Of course there too the elites, whether it be Facebook or the government, try to steal what’s ours and use it for their own power and profit goals. So a corollary is that the elites have zero right to our informational property, since all their purposes are, as I described, illegitimate. By definition elite activities have no practical or moral standing.)
So we must hail the all-too-rare true journalism of transparency as exemplified by Julian Assange and Wikileaks. They’re doing great work. As for the incipient martyrdom of Bradley Manning, I don’t know what can be done there. Bloggers like Greenwald try to interest the populace in the plight of our heroic citizen whistleblowers who are under such assault by the same administration which refuses to “look backward” to the Bush administration’s veritably Nazi crimes because Obama’s committing all the same crimes himself. But so far the people don’t seem all that interested. Nor do they seem all that concerned about the crimes themselves.
Things look grim. But one thing which can only help is sunshine. The more the better. We the people should have zero tolerance for pretensions to secrecy on the part of any elite, and regard any such claim as if the elitist had uttered the worst racial slur. That’s how unacceptable elite claims of secrecy should be among civilized people.
So that just brings us back full circle to what’s always our starting question: Can we save civilization itself? Is there even anything left to save?


  1. “Can we save civilization itself? Is there even anything left to save?”

    Allow me a Voltaire like turn:

    Civilization isn’t very civilized.

    My view is a simple, if not, I hope, simplistic. It is as follows: When the truth regarding how the U.S. (Military) actually operates, for example, in the Middle East is revealed for even the most obtuse to see, when those in denial can no longer plausibly deny-see my most recent post featuring a link to the atrocities committed by the U.S. Military in Fallujah,-and the citizenry, subsequently, do not, en masse, respond with revulsion and a sense of purpose to reverse course, with all that implies, there is no hope for change for the “civilization” (such as it isn’t) , the civilization does not deserve to be supported, let alone, maintained.

    Comment by Edwardo — July 26, 2010 @ 9:50 am

  2. ….and (the) civilization does not deserve….

    Comment by Edwardo — July 26, 2010 @ 9:52 am

  3. That’s how I feel, too.

    Another quote, from Gandhi:

    How do you feel about Western civilization?

    “I think it would be a good idea.”

    I was wondering if I was too optimistic about transparency being capable of breaking through the blinders of the public.

    But I think even today most people aren’t sociopaths or psychopaths. Although they have formidable psychological defenses set up through internalized brainwashing and cognitive dissonance, still every assault of the truth on the wall of ignorance is a blow that must chip away at it. So we need to keep trying.

    Comment by Russ — July 26, 2010 @ 10:23 am

  4. And now The House has approved funds for a troop “surge” in Afghanistan. Brilliant!

    Comment by Edwardo — July 27, 2010 @ 6:26 pm

  5. Assange didn’t write any of this stuff. He doesn’t even run wikileaks.

    These are U.S. Military docs showing how Pakistan and Iran are behind the troubles in Afghanistan. Guess who benefits from that? Do you really think there is anything there that doesn’t benefit what policy-makers don’t already want to do?

    You believe it more because it’s anonymous? because it’s allegedly from a whistleblower? Because it was once marked “secret”?

    Have you ever looked at who’s funding wikileaks?

    Comment by WakeUpRuss — July 27, 2010 @ 9:23 pm

    • What’s “anonymous” about it? It’s of course directly from the government. It clearly documents incompetence, futility, and war crimes.

      As I said, I don’t think it’s tremendously likely that this will be the tipping point for the public consciousness, but every blow at that wall helps.

      Beyond that, I use this as an occasion to promulgate the idea that the elites are entitled to no secrets, and we the people are entitled to full sunshine upon everything they do.

      As for your conspiracy theory,

      1. If the elites decide to expand the Pakistan war and attack Iran they’ll do so regardless.

      2. Pakistan’s links to the Taliban have already been well documented going back to the 80s. That’s not among the revelations here.

      3. If they wanted to leak alleged information they could do so through more stable venues than Wikileaks. What, the jingo NYT hasn’t been compliant enough for them as a stenographer? It’s hard to see what more they could want.

      4. If they wanted to launder information therough Wikileaks they could still have done it in a far more self-flattering way. If I’m a corporatist I’m saying, “leaking the ISI stuff is fine, but why the revelations about the death squads, and why such harrowing detail about yet more civilian massacres? How does that help us?”

      5. Throughout history elites at war have always agreed that controlling information and trying to limit publicity to the good stuff is paramount.

      But now you conspiracy-mongers are proclaiming that the power wisdom of the ages is all wrong, and today’s elites have figured out a far more nuanced way of doing things.

      I think today’s elites have more confidence in their raw power, including the power to control the information flow. Wikileaks is a nuisance to them, but nothing that’s going to force a paradigm shift. They’d sooner use overwhelming force to suppress it, than engage in some elaborate dance. This ain’t the Okhrana here. These are corporatist thugs. Not much subtlety there.

      Regarding the hostility to Assange among “liberals” and even some real activists, it’s easy to see why liberals hate him: They’re corporatists and elitist bootlickers themselves.

      As for the hostile activists, it’s hard to say, but the best theory I can come up with is that they’re jealous. I normally laugh at that kind of explanation for things, which is usually a putdown rather than an argument, but it’s hard to otherwise explain the rush of some to claim this is will not only have no real effect, but will actually help the war criminals.

      I said above why I think that’s silly. So why would one say it? I guess if you slave away at passionate writing on the subject for years without seeming to make a dent, and then it seems like a glorified computer programmer can come along and make a big splash with just a few keystrokes, it may be galling.

      But that’s a picayune attitude. The revolution isn’t about “you”, whoever has such attitudes. It’s about counterattack and defense, and that’s all. Does this particular counterattack advance? It’s too early to tell. But it can help. Does the sunshine ideal itself advance? Again too early, but it’ll try.

      So really, to get all peevish about it and say nothing but “this can’t help, and can only hurt”, without providing anything remotely like an argument explaining how it can hurt, seems to me to be the equivalent of stupid Internet comments which say nothing but “we’re doomed, go kill yourself.”

      Nobody who cares about the cause has the right to such expression.

      Comment by Russ — July 28, 2010 @ 2:57 am

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