Give a thousand Pulitzers to WikiLeaks — one for every American death so far in Afghanistan. Their securing and release of 92,000 reports from inside the US military, spanning six years, is the largest ever of secret documents from an ongoing war. And it’s a devastating confirmation of everything we already knew was wrong with this war.
I realize this is counter-intuitive for online readers, but it’s worth getting a hard copy of today’s New York Times (or The Guardian, or Der Spiegel, the three publications that co-released the secret cache together with WikiLeaks ) just to start to make sense of these tens of thousands of messages, many of them sent in the field and under fire, minute by minute, by US military in Afghanistan. The NYT spends half the front page and five full inside pages quoting and analyzing them, in acknowledgment of their scope and potential effect on the course of the war.
Here’s Julian Assange, founder of London-based WikiLeaks, in an interview with Der Spiegel:
These files are the most comprehensive description of a war to be published during the course of a war — in other words, at a time when they still have a chance of doing some good. They cover more than 90,000 different incidents, together with precise geographical locations. They cover the small and the large. A single body of information, they eclipse all that has been previously said about Afghanistan. They will change our perspective on not only the war in Afghanistan, but on all modern wars. […]
This material shines light on the everyday brutality and squalor of war. The archive will change public opinion and it will change the opinion of people in positions of political and diplomatic influence.
Self-promotion? Sure. But also correct. Like many other pundits, Andrew Sullivan gripes over on The Daily Dish that the secret reports give us little information we didn’t have before, but he underestimates the vivid power of the horse’s mouth. There is information and then there is real knowledge. Read the desperate messages sent under fire, the laconic accounts of civilians killed by mistake. the reports of Pakistani intelligence leaders working with the Taliban, and you’ll see for yourself why the White House, so bafflingly committed to this absurd war, is in red-hot fury.
Above all, enormous credit to whoever gave this enormous cache of documentation to WikiLeaks. This is clearly someone inside the US military, and there’s doubtless a major witch-hunt on now for him or her — to the same old tune of “blame the messenger.” If whoever it is needs shelter, my home is open.