- I served in Iraq as an Army officer in 2003, 2005, and 2007-2008. That probably causes some bias.
- On top of serving there, I've written and/or initiated a number of the released reports because of some of the positions I held.
- I am not linking to any of the reports, but only because I don't want any cleared persons or persons who work for organizations that take that seriously to get in trouble with their security folks.
- I will have to make some vague references to some things because they are still classified. Sorry.
- In the interest of brevity, when I say "Soldiers" I mean all service members. When I say "U.S.", that should generally include our coalition partners.
Monday, October 25, 2010
Since Friday's release, I had been thinking about writing about the Wikileaks' Iraq documents, but thought it might be a conflict of interest. Obviously, I'm writing about it now so I'll just put some caveats up front.
All that being said, it should come as no surprise that I'm not keen on the release of these documents. Here are the reasons.
1. All the reports aren't there. This was also brought to light from Adam Weinstein over at Mother Jones (via Twitter). There are a couple of significant events from my time there that there are no reports for. Unfortunately, this is one of those "classified" moments, but I remember the dates specifically and did searches around them and they just weren't there. It begs the questions of: how many aren't there? Why not those? It seems that whoever provided Wikileaks with the documents just took them from the reporting systems in Iraq, so I find it odd that some were left out. Of course it's possible that they published what they were provided, but we just don't know. Given their inclination towards secrecy, I highly doubt Wikileaks will provide us an answer on that.
2. Situation and spot reports aren't the full picture. Wikileaks claims the leak reveals the truth about the Iraq war. It doesn't. It reveals part of the truth, not the whole. Spot reports can provide a flip book of static pictures, that together provide part of the narrative of the war. But it leaves some serious gaps. Not released were the innumerable operational orders (not including Burger King ordering instructions) and storyboards. Storyboards are slide presentations that take the initial reports and drill down into significant detail, often with maps and pictures, that elaborate on the incidents in question. They provide much more context not given in the initial reports. Leaving out the orders also removes the impetus and intent for the operations reported in the leaked documents - which in my mind is very important. (I will note that the now infamous FRAGO 242 is highly troubling to say the least.) I'm glad they didn't get their hands on these additional materials, but saying that the "truth" has been revealed is incorrect. One last point here is that for a good part of the war, good things weren't reported - just bad incidents. Also, if nothing happened on a patrol, nothing was reported. This ignores the fact that every day Soldiers and Marines were doing great things for the Iraqi people that just weren't being reported. (Please note that in the later years of the reports, some of the "good news" incidents were reported - but that was after a policy change and still does not reflect all of the good things the U.S. did). That also brings questions how much these documents paint the whole picture.
3. The documents condemn the actions of Soldiers when in reality it was the policy that was bad. Assange recently stated that the documents show that the war was "a bloodbath on every corner." Of course. It was (and still is) a war - which have a tendency to be particularly violent. Is that the fault of the Soldiers on the ground? Sometimes yes, but for the most part it's the nature of conflict. The problem with the Iraq war was that it wasn't just in the first place to substantiate the violence that ensued. But, except for the actions of very few service members, Soldiers and Marines were doing what they are supposed to do: execute the nation's wars. I feel these leaks put undo onus on the people on the ground for bad policy decisions. And those people on the ground are put in some pretty lousy situations and do their best. That does not make them criminals, even if they screw up. Crimes still require intent last I checked.
4. Wikileaks asks people to break the law and put themselves at risk to promote Wikileaks' interests, while Wikileaks enjoys relative impunity. Assange goes to such great lengths to protect himself and his organization from legal action, but asks his sources to eschew such safeguards for their own wellbeing. I think it takes a lot of gall to demand Bradley Manning's release when they are the people who put him in that position. That is appalling.
5. Focusing on U.S. actions ignores the other actors involved and what they did to propagate the war. Obviously only one side was keeping fairly good records, but the truth also involves al Qaeda in Iraq, the Iraqi Government, the Iranian Government, Sunni insurgent groups, Shia insurgent groups, and political and religious actors who spurred their followers on to violence. Sure, the U.S. started the war (and as I said, unjustly). But the U.S. wasn't the only side using violence to meet their strategic objectives. There are no records to publish from the other actors and that's the nature of modern conflict. However, Wikileaks is not being forthcoming on this topic when they say they have provided the true nature of the war.
That last sentence is probably my biggest problem with Wikileaks. They see themselves as the final defenders of the truth. But they are as biased as any other organization and that makes them hypocrites. They have a particular anti-U.S. bias and have no interest in telling more than one side of the story because it won't support their predetermined conclusions. That bias is their right and I won't begrudge them that. But they should acknowledge it. By not acknowledging their bias and misrepresenting these documents as the true story of the Iraq war, they lose a lot of credibility in my mind.
The Wikileaks Iraq files provide snapshots into the U.S.'s perspective the war. But they don't even come close to portraying the whole story and you shouldn't believe Wikileaks when they claim that the reports do. Understand Wikileaks for what they are, not what they say they are. Since the reports are out, they should be used as information to build part of the Iraq story, but they are just that: part of the story.