In today’s online issue of CounterPunch, you can find my article dealing just with the Wikileaks release that it called the Afghan War Diary, now the Kabul War Diary. The article was originally two, and originally destined for Al Jazeera Arabic. This is an overview of the CP article, followed by a link to a continuing debate on this blog between David H. Price, anthropologist, and myself (David having actually worked with Wikileaks and Julian Assange), and what I have not yet done anywhere: propose an alternative.
August 2, 2010, CounterPunch
Reason for Celebration, Cause for Concern:
The Wikileaks Afghan War Diary
A version in Arabic was published on Al Jazeera, 08 August 2010:
نواقص في تسريبات ويكيليكس
A. Reasons for celebrating the Wikileaks release?
- Support for the anti-war movement.
- Empowering citizens.
- Imposing limits on the state.
- Soft Power in reverse.
- Working around the mainstream news media.
- Distributed training in information warfare.
B. Reasons for concern?
- Not much new support for the anti-war movement.
- New support for fighting the Taleban.
- Support for expanding the war to Pakistan and Iran.
- The incomplete and fragmentary nature of the records.
- The records are not the same as “the truth.”
- The lack of ethical concern, and an inadequate review process.
- Dependence on the mainstream news media.
- Crowd sourcing: an ideal with little substance?
As mentioned, David Price and I have been debating the ethics of the release, in comments starting here.
Two more points that I wanted to make clear: First, I am not opposed, in an absolute sense, to the release of these records. I think it should have been done, and needed to be done, but it also could have been done very differently (more in a moment). Second, concerns for national security, the safety of the troops, are not my prime concern in my comments about ethics. I leave that to the various, mutually self-referencing policy wonks and pundits, whose bread is buttered by the war. Indeed, even if my bread were buttered by the war, I would still have sense to say the meal stinks and that the cook is a maniac.
My prime concern is instead the safety of Afghan civilians, those listed as informants and collaborators, who are being judged too quickly by individuals such as Julian Assange of Wikileaks. Anthropologists, and especially political anthropologists, are extremely familiar with the work of middlemen, brokers, and chiefs in colonial situations and in societies undergoing transformation from chiefdoms into states–enough to have great sensitivity and perhaps even sympathy for the impossible pressures that these people have to manage. In particular, I have spent years in the company of such collaborator chiefs and brokers, and have collaborated with them in return. About the Afghan collaborators, we do not know if one day they collaborated with NATO, and the next day with a Taleban unit. We do not understand, from far away, what their motivations may have been. The Taleban are not promising any trials either–just swift punishment once they hunt them down, using Wikileaks’ records as their hit list, and if they do not find them, they promise to impose the punishment on their families.
Can we blame the U.S. for placing Afghan civilians in these positions of danger, as David Price argues? Of course, we can: otherwise we would be forgetting the context in which all of this unfolds. But do I get to blame the U.S. for my own unethical stupidity? And in blaming the U.S., do I then turn a blind eye to the fact that those who are made to suffer, yet again, will be Afghan civilians? And if the source of the leaks to Wikileaks is to be protected, and his/her identity covered up, then why doesn’t that privilege extend to the Afghan sources of the leaks documented in these records? Is one source better, more valuable, and more human thus deserving of rights, than all of these others? What do you think?
No genius here, anthropologists are trained to think about these issues, and apparently some journalists are also mindful of them. Again, I think the records needed to be released, but not all, and definitely not in this state, and with this process. If 92,000 records were released, then that is 92,000 conversations that needed to take place among a range of Afghan specialists, Afghan human rights workers, intelligence agents, military experts, experts on ethics, and so forth. Yes, a very slow process. But then, what’s the rush? These documents are already about events that happened in most cases years ago, so why not wait several more months at least? In addition, at least a redaction process was needed, like what Channel 4 News in the UK insists on doing even with the released records, fearing that it is not ethical to republicize them in their current state–this is what they say:
There has been mounting concern among media organisations, including Channel 4 News, about the ethics of publishing some of these reports, even though the material is now openly available on the internet….We, in common with other news organisations, have redacted parts of the text, including names of individuals, which might make it possible to identify people. But the raw material is viewable online.
In four days of trawling through the files, which are at times difficult to decipher due to the use of military acronyms, Channel 4 News has discovered scores of reports referring to named informers and collaborators. Many of these reports give the exact location of the individual concerned, their tribe, the names of other family members and other biographical details which make them readily identifiable.
Even individuals that are not named can be traced through the information they’ve supplied – whether it’s from their attendance of secret meetings or from their apparently precise knowledge of covert weapons shipments or the movements and locations of top Taliban commanders.
And this is what a redacted report would look like, and that is even without the benefit of all of the conversations I mentioned above:
Why couldn’t Wikileaks do this? More importantly, why didn’t they do it, and why did three top media houses participate in this? And even more important, what argument can you make against such redaction?
Did all of these records need to be released? They are already a fraction of all records produced by the U.S. military in the Afghan war, let alone all NATO nations combined–so the argument for having a complete picture cannot be used here.
Since Wikileaks went first to the media, was there any need for the public to see all of the records, once the media had written up stories based on the records? Do we normally get to know who their sources are, and read the raw reports for ourselves? I agree, I would like to as well, but in conditions where serious bodily harm could come to that person, I am not that sanguine. In other words, could you not have released stories, to be confirmed by one or more specialists vouching that they had read the records, without releasing the records themselves? I am not saying in all cases, just in the most sensitive cases.
Feel free to post your thoughts below.
48 thoughts on “Continued: Debating the Pros and Cons of Wikileaks’ Afghan War Diary”
Aside from the fact that it was the United States that produced a situation in which there could even be collaborators, the repeated description of such collaborators as “innocent victims” (which admittedly you do not do, but you might as well have) is wrong. Collaborators are people who trade in information to save themselves, at best, or to gain advantage, at worst. Their actions lead to the kind of atrocities against innocents that have been documented over and over in the recent leak. At the very least, it is hoped by those soliciting collaborators (i.e. U.S. Army) that the information will lead them to a target for assassination or kidnapping for torture. In the latter case, the information that is then collected is used to find more people to be killed, tortured, or turned collaborator. This is how counterinsurgency works.
Collaborators are not innocents. They are effectively combatants, particularly in a counterinsurgency campaign, which is designed to gain “intelligence,” whether from informants or through torture, for the purpose of killing people opposed to the occupation. The collaborator cannot be truly pitied for bearing the consequences of their actions, as those about whom they provided intelligence so often have. To say that they should be pitied for being put in an impossible position begs the question of who put them in that position and how.
It is the U.S. government that bears responsibility for the situation. If the U.S. government is really using the kind of coercion that might justify turning collaborator (threatening torture or injury to family) then, once again, the problem is most definitely with the counterinsurgency, and not with those who air its dirty laundry. Moreover, if the United States Army was genuinely worried about the wellbeing of their collaborators, then it has the resources to remove them from danger, whether by giving them asylum in the U.S. or otherwise protecting them.
Frankly, to parse a criticism of the war of occupation in Afghanistan with a criticism of a leak that exposes the terrible cost of that war is to carry that dirty laundry for the U.S. government. It only serves to confuse others as to the most salient aspects of the reality in Afghanistan, i.e. that it is an inexcusable war of occupation whose causes and effects are entirely upon the heads of the U.S. political, military and policy establishments. You actually help to secure the political position of the people most responsible for the ongoing atrocities, when you help to channel a critical eye towards wikileaks. If there is an ethical conundrum here, perhaps its solution is that you wait until after the heat is off wikileaks before you begin a criticism of its actions because failing to do so is indirectly helping to prolong the war in Afghanistan, even if your particular contribution to the counterattack against wikileaks is of relatively little weight.
Thank you for bringing up a few critical points that bear repeating:
1- Locals do act as intermediaries, and they always have. It is a very polarized view (of the Taliban, of opponents of the war, of our government) to believe that these people are complicit, collaborators, or ideologically bound to whichever side they deal with. The liminal space of the local Afghan civilian is a place they have lived for decades, and our presence in this ongoing conflict has not changed that. Now these people, already caught in that dangerous space between, are put in even more danger by irresponsible and unethical reporting practices. This is inexcusable regardless of the ideology behind such an action.
2- It was lazy of Wikileaks to not review their data. One has to assume they read all the files, to choose which ones to publish and to establish some validity. We all fear redaction crossing the line into censorship, but releasing individuals’ names, be they soldiers or locals, is beyond contemptible.
3- Journalists and anthropologists share a responsibility to protect their sources. The fact that Wikileaks never spoke to the people in those reports does not absolve them of ethical responsibility. They may protect their “connection” in the intelligence chain, but they utterly failed in their duties to sources a few steps removed from their direct interests. Journalists may sometimes feel they are less burdened because they only speak to a subject once, and have no issues of scientific validity to be compromised by failure to live up to their duty, but those excuses bear no weight in the balance of human lives and getting ‘the scoop.’
Ultimately, the revelation does have some merit, for some of the reasons you listed. It also comes at a price, for your reasons and many more. If Wikileaks is comfortable with that price falling on U.S., Afghan, Pakistani, and ISAF governmental heads, and on the bodies of our troops, that is one thing (I suppose)… but this burden does nothing to damn those actors, and puts the pressure directly on the Afghans caught in the middle of this very complex situation.
I am not offended by espionage (Which is what this was, a corporation spying on the U.S. Government), but not all the rules and norms of the international intelligence community are arbitrary or unethical. Wikileaks went too far in the quest for a little schadenfreude, and ultimately, revealed nothing particularly telling.
I am heartened to see this website taking a balanced approach to recent events, and I hope this is a continuing trend. It is too easy to get bogged down in causes, politics, or attacks and lose sight that we need to evaluate everything (Even government, war, and HTS) with acknowledged biases, attempted objectivity, and a recognition that issues are rarely, if ever, black and white.
As for the importance of this data, there are a lot of things in there we can learn and perhaps use to add a little context and perspective to the situation in Afghanistan: First, these are men and women in the line of fire who have no time for political commentary in the context of a war zone. These reports, filtered through the military and local culture, lay out the facts as they see them. Second, they are trying to their best out there and that included shuras, MEDCAPs, and acting as intermediaries between the Police and Army of Afghanistan who are our allies in this conflict. If war was ever a simple focus of power at an enemy that died when you shot at them, it sure isn’t now.
Finally, we at home are just too far removed to understand the situation as it stands in Conflict Zones. Those we trust to send into these zones MUST be ethical, trustworthy, and compassionate and the public will know if they fail in that duty. I count among these not only soldiers and marines, but Dept. of State, anthropologists, contractors, journalists, NGOs, and the myriad of groups represented in theater.
I must admit I am ambivalent about the Wikileaks situation. I fully fault the agent who violated National Security for whatever reason. I hope they bring him or her to justice and give them the maximum sentence allowable. I do not fault Wikileaks for publishing the data, but for HOW they did it. They violated professional ethics, put a lot of people in harm’s way, and made it harder for everyone to gain rapport and trust of an already beleaguered people who hold the closest thing to “ground truth” we have.
I only hope that they take the time to treat their data and sources better in their “second run” and “insurance” files, otherwise, they are no better than those they wish to stop. Any soldier will tell you that sometimes you have to accept that people need to die, and it appears to be exactly what Wikileaks did.
I am not sure why people are voting down these comments, I thought they were quite good, written from very different perspectives, and both making a lot of serious points.
ULISES, yours is obviously the perspective that comes from the same direction as mine (you might not know this, because it might be your first time here). I have received a set of emails today, many that are angry and filled with accusations, that accuse me of being a wishy washy liberal, a corporate (?) academic, and that I carry water for U.S. imperialism. I can’t get angry with people whose politics I basically share, and I was interested, not outraged.
Ulises, the problem here is that you are repeating the same points without any sense of questioning. Let’s take this example: you accuse the collaborators of wrongdoing, of harm. You have judged them, and clearly if they get splattered, it is of no concern to you. Good for them, the fuckers deserved it. You write:
“Collaborators are not innocents. They are effectively combatants, particularly in a counterinsurgency campaign, which is designed to gain “intelligence,” whether from informants or through torture, for the purpose of killing people opposed to the occupation.”
Excuse me, but guess who leaked these records? A collaborator of the highest order: someone who voluntarily enlisted in the world’s biggest and most lethal killing machine, someone who drew (maybe still draws) a paycheque from making war happen, someone who (to butcher an old saying) ate the bread that the devil knead.
So why do you only judge, and so harshly, one set of collaborators–the Afghans–but the American militarist gets off free in your assessment? Then betray all of their identities! “Thanks for the documents, now fuck you, you get outed too, pig!”
You make two more critical errors in my view.
One, you assume that these records, and their release, is somehow anti-imperial. Nonsense, especially when Fox News triumphantly grabs hold of the same records and starts touting the Iran-Al Qaeda connection.
Second, you assume that criticism of Wikileaks is being pro-imperialist. Wow. Julian Assange should thank his lucky stars for having such uncritical defenders who are willing not just to got to bat for him, but to rush the pitcher’s mound and beat the pitcher into a bloody pulp.
BENJAMIN, thanks for posting. We seem to be in agreement about a lot concerning this Wikileaks issue. I am not at all perturbed by this, given your role in Human Terrain System–other HTS people have posted, and still post on this blog, and I have the pleasure of corresponding with several by email (and rest assured, we are not screaming at each other).
But there is this thing about “balance” that gets me, well, rather unbalanced. I usually make fun of balance, saying that I don’t like to mix lies into the truth, to get a balance of the two. I am not aware of trying, or needing to be balanced in any of my recent articles–everything comes out of the same perspective, without contradiction. In my article about the positive features of HTS as shown in the Wikileaks records, that makes HTS closely resemble that National Geographic documentary that I denounced as propaganda, it is because I am arguing that, without anything else, this too is an argument that can be made using these same fabled records. I didn’t have to make anything up. When I then turned to what can be revealed, what is hidden in plain view, if one has the right sources and insights that go beyond the records, as I did here with regard to HTS, then that is a consistent part of the same critical argument, not “another side.”
Ultimately, when Julian Assange says that his work with WikiLeaks might get “blood on our hands” I intend to hold him to that, and not just give him a blind, dumb pass. I feel that some people are more anti-war and anti-imperialist than they are pro-Afghan. To judge some poor illiterate farmer, in a country beaten up by two empires in the last 30 years, of trying to get by saying whatever to whomever, in return for some little favour, or another day’s safety, is to show a deeply inhumane disregard for their situation. Others may indeed be villainous. Who am I to say, having never even set foot in Afghanistan? But why just judge and condemn one set of sources, and praise and defend the other? It makes no sense to me.
I should add–and I had to review several sources first–that it is unlikely that Julian Assange can really disagree with these points about the ethics of releasing the names of Afghan civilian informants. He has in fact conceded them. In explaining why 15,000 documents have been withheld from public release, he said it was due to the revelation of the names of Afghan civilian informants.
Well, in what WAS released, the names of Afghan civilian informants were released. This is about holding Wikileaks to its own principles, not about attacking Wikileaks, and even less so about vilifying Julian Assange.
So my question still stands: what argument can you make against such redaction? It doesn’t seem that Wikileaks make any such argument. Why would anyone else?
What interesting webs you spin! You debate the ethics/morals of this event as though it has occurred in a vacuum – and you say you are an anthropologist! Lets clear one obstacle away with a question. Who is to say that the release of the information was not done purposefully? I mean this question literally. Who is to say . . . Who? On another question, my guess is that Assange is well out of his depth – a messenger, delivering a message. The third question is, what code lies within such an action? No amount of Pricing will help you here. You have to ask yourself – what was to be gained through such an action? Who is to say it was done purposefully (This is core) and what is the code? How closely did you read your Levi-Strauss?
It is absolutely not the case that I debate this as if it happened in a vacuum, and if you re-read what I wrote, it constantly draws on context. Perhaps you disagree with my choice of contextual referencing. Not a problem–just make it clear which context you think matters. Feel free to answer your questions here, I really don’t like being quizzed on Levi-Strauss. At least you didn’t mention Malinowski, which is a banning offense on this blog.
I do not follow you at all when you write who is not to say that the release was not done purposefully. Sorry, I thought we all understood that it was in fact done purposefully, rather than thoughtlessly. But do you mean specifically deciding to release the names of Afghan civilian informants…while not releasing other names in the 15,000 documents that have been kept back? I don’t know, what do you think is the purpose of that?
Time for just a quick point on another element relating to the politics of leaks: Yesterday I saw Andrew Bacevich on Democracy Now. Amy Goodman asked him about the wikileaks issue, Bacevich said the document’s didn’t teach him anything new (as a retired US Army colonel, he already knew wars are based on lies and that lots of innocent people are betrayed by occupying forces and killed etc.), but to me, his most interesting point was that while he voiced the usual criticism of Wikileaks and Julian, he added a new dimension to the critique saying:
ANDREW BACEVICH: “…But it’s also reprehensible when, in the summer of 2009, before President Obama had made his Afghanistan decision, that the McChrystal recommendation was leaked to the Washington Post, which effectively hijacked the debate over what the Obama administration should do about the Afghanistan war. And I don’t remember Admiral Mullen or Secretary Gates or these other people deciding that they were going to go find out who leaked the McChrystal recommendations, because I believe that that is as reprehensible as this leak of the 90,000 documents. That was a direct assault on civilian control of the military. So if you’re going to get upset about one, you ought to get upset about the other, too. ”
A nice well targeted punch.
Agreed, perfectly stated, an excellent point. There are an awful lot of self-appointed militarist gatekeepers, who want to monopolize discussion, one of them being Andrew Exum at the Center for a New American Security, who astonishingly claimed to have read all 92,000 documents in the day or so after their release. Apparently, bullshit is part of his trade.
Some very interesting discussions, especially over ethics. I’d like to toss out three observations.
1. What is “harm”, and why have we (Anthropologists) adopted an ethical principle from medicine? In medicine, the grey zone of “harm” is somewhat easier to test – what is the probability that X action will kill and/or decrease the quality of life of the patient. The grey zone is much harder to predict in anything we do since we are not only trying to predict the future but, at the same time, relying on a limiting and control of information as well as dealing with other people’s intentions and actions which we cannot control.
2. Have you noticed that many professions, Anthropology included, have adopted a variant of amoral familism as the guiding principle behind the construction of our so-called “codes of ethics”? This shows up in two ways: a) concerns for the professional “family” and protecting “our” claims to power over an area of knowledge, and b) concerns for our “research subjects” as a necessary “crop” for us to continue our monopolistic claim on a knowledge space. Let me give you two examples from right here:
[ as a note, I chose these examples from David Price’s recent comments because they are on your site ]
Now, the reason I’m raising this issue of professional ethics as a form of amoral familism (writ large), is because it contrasts with the position you are taking which transcends the para-kin “family”.
3. My final point is really a question: given a) the likelihood that the Taleban will implement their own version of Operation Phoenix as a result of the documents posted on Wikileaks and b) that Wikileaks has collaborated with a known traitor in posting them (that, BTW, is by definition – leaking the documents is treason regardless of motivation), do you believe that Wikileaks and Julian Assange should be charged with murder and/or the commission of a war crime?
Let me have the privilege of being the first one to address your questions–and I am really happy that you got involved here, I was hoping you would have something to say, and here you come with a great set of questions.
Is “harm” a concern unique to medicine? When lawyers invoke “attorney-client privilege” is it not out of a sense of not wishing to harm their clients? Similarly, journalists protecting the identity of their sources? Isn’t this idea of “harm” pertinent when speaking of a profession that involves human beings working with other human beings? That harm can become an amorphous and ambiguous term, no doubt–but we are speaking here of ultimate consequences, of the loss of life, so that most would agree that if your life chances are not just reduced, but nullified altogether, then that is harm. Originally, we might have been predicting the future, and thus possibly being proved wrong, but then Taleban spokespersons themselves verified they would be using Wikileaks for punishment. I think your questions are very good, but they seem to come after we apparently already have answers.
I liked your point #2, rather “radical” of you I might say.
The third point, is easy for me to answer, but others can surely give their own answers as well. No, I don’t want to see anything done to Julian Assange, and I think that if the U.S. government tries to capture him, imprison him, put him on trial, whatever–that they will be making him into a martyr, encouraging 10 others to take his place, and ultimately having the whole thing backfire on them while losing lots of public support. They rant as much as they do because there is nothing else they can do. Obama, Mullen, Gates, etc…they all sound like angry bloggers now. Also, as you know, the interests of the state are almost never my interests, and I have no concern for the whole national security and troop safety angle, I think it is a mass of bunk, and I have other things to worry about. All I want from Assange is a promise that he/Wikileaks will be more careful next time, and that they acknowledge their responsibility if anyone should come to grave bodily harm. That’s all.
Have you seen these, from the Washington Post?
Marc Thiessen: WikiLeaks must be stopped
Eva Rodriquez: Drone strike for the WikiLeaks founder?
I’ve been holding back mainly because I have been trying to catch up on three weeks worth of missed sleep this weekend ;-).
We’re still predicting the future Max; just with more certainty .
I raised the issue of “harm” because I find the use of that phrase – “Do no harm” – has spread in an almost unthinking manner. In addition to its spread, “harm” is often associated / confused with “hurt” (as in “You hurt my feelings! Wahhhh!!!!!). Years ago, I got into a rather long debate with a rather large number of theologians over the term “harm” but, in general, I don’t see much critical debate on it in current discussions of ethics in Anthropology.
As a general rule, I would agree with you that if someone gets killed that should, probably, be classified as “harm”. I can also see exceptions to that general rule, as in if someone came after my daughter, I would have no compunction whatsoever in killing them. And, like David, I have not recorded certain things I have discovered since, if published (or recorded) it could bring “harm” to the group I was working with.
One of the points I am trying to bring out is that “harm” can only be measured relative to an individual and / or a group, and there will always be tensions between them. What may be harm for the individual may be “good” for the group and vice versa (think about the free rider problem). This situation is compounded when we are dealing with multiple, overlapping groups.
On point 2 – of course I’m a “radical”, Max . If you don’t believe me, check out my security file ;-).
On point 3, I thought that would be your answer . I brought it up because of three things. First, it has to do with the interesting question of where does the responsibility for actions end in a chain that will probably lead to multiple deaths. Second, what is the value to society of having a whistle-blowing site such as Wikileaks when such a site is not sanctioned in any formal manner by that society. And third, because I like stiring up controversy .
Leaving aside Thiessen’s childish comments, personally, I believe that Assange should be tried as an accomplice before the fact for every death resulting from the documents he released. This isn’t because I’m “pro-American” or some such sillyness. It actually comes from looking at what happens to the fabric of societies where laws are systematically by-passed with no penalty attached for breaking them. Sanctioning the by-passing of laws also sanctions the system of legal redress under those laws for people who don’t have much other power.
Now, having said that, some people might think that I am advocating not attacking something that people feel should be attacked. Nope. I am just pointing out that if you want to change some of the actions of a system, you need, to quote Saul Alinski, “Good theatre”. So, yes, Max, I agree with you – he would become a martyr to many. Fine, let him be a martyr.
1971, New York Times Co. v. United States
Justice Potter Stewart:
Justice Hugo Black & Justice William Brennan (same case):
In addition, Julian Assange’s consistent defense is that Wikileaks’ actions are lawful and have passed tests in multiple jurisdictions around the world. It seems that the laws, the courts, and a desire for justice are on his side. Can you prove him wrong?
ok ok – though I will not give you the “quiz” answers you seek, yet I can tell you they are staring you in face. You need to work those out for yourself. Nevertheless I want you to consider: “After the defeat of Acting-Foolish, which occurs on the third day or fourth day of the Okipa, this evil character, formerly a confirmed bachelor (Maximillian, P. 343), turns into a lewd clown. He imitates rutting buffaloes and pretends to attack the young women. Several times over, he enacts a comical scense with two male dancers dressed as women, one sensible, the other foolish. First he approaches the sensible girl and offers her his corn-husk necklace, but she refuses to have anything to do with him. Then he directs his attention to the other girl, who gladly accepts his offers (See Levi Strauss, The Origin of Table Manners : 319-20).
–and water is the mediatory term.
My goodness, yes, it’s so bloody obvious, how could I miss your point. Charming, but I don’t buy it. Incidentally, I don’t think this is the right way to invoke context–first by having Levi-Strauss do our talking for us, and secondly by resorting to multiple layers of metaphor concerning materials on creation myths and the origins of table manners. I think I like Derek Walcott’s injunction against the use of metaphors: the sea is what it is, embrace it and understand it for what it is.
<–and suddenly, he realized that this comment voting thing may not be so good after all, now that the thumbs down also began appearing next to his brutish face
(NB: moved over so that it’s not 1/2″ wide…)
Well, I’m not a lawyer, but there are some fairly clear things in US law. For example, section 3 of Article 3 of the US constitution defines treason as
Arguably, and especially since the Taleban have stated that they are combing through the documents, Assange has given “Aid and Comfort” to an enemy.
While Assange is not a US citizen, at least as far as I know, an argument could be made that a non-citizen cannot commit treason against a nation to which he owes no allegiance. He can, however, by his actions of giving “Aid and Comfort” to a declared “Enemy” declare himself to be a co-belligerent in an ongoing situation of war and, since neither he nor Wikileaks are sovereign states, that would place him in the Partisan category.
And, while I would tend to agree with the Black and Brennan statement that
I do have to wonder if the guarding of these materials is done at the “expense of informed representative government”.
I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree on this one, Max.
No, in fact I think we are actually agreeing to agree. If you feel this strongly about someone who indirectly, through a release of information, may help those who eventually kill…then I can only imagine the outrage that you must feel, just like me, towards those who do the actual killing of Afghans.
War crimes trials, yes: right up and down the whole chain of command, starting with Obama, down to McChsrytal and Petraeus, all the Special Ops assassination squads (including Andrew Exum, who has Afghan blood on his hands while he preaches at Assange), down to every single soldier and marine who has ever fired a single shot at an Afghan.
By the way, if we look at it from an Afghan perspective…you and I also give aid and comfort to the enemy, by paying the taxes that support our military intervention in Afghanistan. So, I’ll see you on the prisoners’ bench, save me a spot. Just kidding of course, we already know justice will not be done.
I don’t know if I will make a separate post out of this one little item–it’s actually an extremely useful web site for searching through the Afghan War Diary, using search terms of your choosing (rather than just category, event type, region, affiliation, date)…effectively Googlizing the records.
and it’s not the only software being developed either–see the list at:
(I apologize for the delay, I was off confirming the success of my father-in-law as a biological organism.)
“Ultimately, when Julian Assange says that his work with WikiLeaks might get “blood on our hands” I intend to hold him to that, and not just give him a blind, dumb pass.”
This is a true sign of politicization of opponents and supporters of the war… when double standards and a feeling of “wit’ us or agin’ us” applies to the most egregious violations of ethics or basic human compassion.
” I feel that some people are more anti-war and anti-imperialist than they are pro-Afghan.”
This is ultimately the smoking gun of ideological myopia. I am the first to say (even to my military and DoD civilian colleagues) that our presence in Afghanistan is imperialistic (in many ways), however that does not deny the political and cultural realities that make a utopian one-world diversity any less likely (or even desirable). To paint anyone who helps us (or the Taleban) as black or white denies the reality on the ground.
I find it disingenuous of the very same people who claim to be “anti-war” (which from a natural perspective is like being “anti-breeding”) also claim the “common Afghan” (or Iraqi, or Somali, or Vietnamese) as their ally and protectorate and then vilify the people on the ground (soldiers, civilians, locals, etc) who are forced to negotiate between elements in a context of conflict.
Worse, and I argue against this every day in my own professional life, are those who then use a different set of ethics and values in regards to “the enemy” (including locals) than they would their own “people” (whomever that may be) and people they consider allies. Despite the actions or rationality of how the Taleban, or ANP, or local leaders act, this does not justify treating them any differently than we would treat violent elements resisting from within our own society.
” To judge some poor illiterate farmer, in a country beaten up by two empires in the last 30 years, of trying to get by saying whatever to whomever, in return for some little favor, or another day’s safety, is to show a deeply inhumane disregard for their situation. Others may indeed be villainous. Who am I to say, having never even set foot in Afghanistan? But why just judge and condemn one set of sources, and praise and defend the other? It makes no sense to me.”
I could not agree more. While I caution against treating every Afghan who gets involved as being a complete victim (that not only denies them agency but also denies the opportunistic value of war), the point here is that all decisions are made in a context that may be (well, is) very different than the geopolitical ‘armchair’ analysis we make from our pulpits, lecterns, and podiums.
To put it another way, the general population may speak of strategy, but the feet on the ground have to worry about tactics. This brings me to another comment you made:
“War crimes trials, yes: right up and down the whole chain of command, starting with Obama, down to McChrystal and Petraeus, all the Special Ops assassination squads (including Andrew Exum, who has Afghan blood on his hands while he preaches at Assange), down to every single soldier and marine who has ever fired a single shot at an Afghan.”
The neutering of the phrase “war crimes” to mean anyone who commits, suggests, supports, or agrees with an act of war is both simplistic and denies the very specific meaning (agreed upon internationally) of the term. War is not, in and of itself, a ‘crime’ by any sociological or political definition. While it does, admittedly, involve breaking of a country’s laws, to commit ‘war crimes’ requires the violation of certain socio-cultural norms assigned to execution of conflict not to the conflict itself. It is possible for a warrior to act honorably and with compassion, and in fact is much more common than anti-war proponents are willing to admit (and much more common than the counter-examples of criminal activity).
As you point out: “By the way, if we look at it from an Afghan perspective…you and I also give aid and comfort to the enemy, by paying the taxes that support our military intervention in Afghanistan. So, I’ll see you on the prisoners’ bench, save me a spot. Just kidding of course, we already know justice will not be done.”
We give a lot more support than that. We enjoy the fruits of a military society, vote for presidents who have YET to be truly non-violent, and provide succor to the family and military of those committed to armed conflict. Then again, I don’t see those as bad things, merely cultural extensions of natural conflict. You may disagree.
As for justice, I only suggest you look deeper into the cultural context of war and warriors (soldiers and marines specifically) just as you would into the context of Afghans caught a struggle much larger then themselves. It is simplistic to argue that we all have the choice individually to participate in violence or not, but if we all chose that path we (as a society able to criticize our own government) wouldn’t be here today. No society in history has ever decided IF physical force should be used, only WHEN and HOW.
I am intentionally avoiding some of the other debates here. Not because I do not see value, or have opinions, but because ultimately they are not my primary focus. I won’t reiterate the points from my first post, but I will say that when I said I appreciate your “balanced” approach (curse FauxNews for tainting that term) it was not to say you have not been fair in the past nor to insist you include lies in your approach to counterweight facts. I merely wished to acknowledge that in a debate that is largely political and ideological, a true scientist differentiates themselves (from other fields of social commentary) by acknowledging data and analysis that are contrary to their central thesis. I appreciate your work, even if I fundamentally disagree on several key points.
Forte said: “My goodness, yes, it’s so bloody obvious, how could I miss your point”
Well Mr Forte, you did, unfortunately also on that point its metonomy not metaphor.
Forte also said: “Charming, but I don’t buy it”
I sort of knew that already but you have caused influences in my life in ways you couldn’t even begin to imagine – and I want to set the record straight – cryptic, perhaps, but unlike you I don’t have choices.
To the matter at hand: First a question which, is very easy to answer – “if you remove ‘cultural’ blockers”: Who released the diaries?
Also PS I do not have the right to invoke L-S to make a point, hmmm – very interesting indeed!
Benjamin Wintersteen said:
“This is ultimately the smoking gun of ideological myopia. I am the first to say (even to my military and DoD civilian colleagues) that our presence in Afghanistan is imperialistic (in many ways), however that does not deny the political and cultural realities that make a utopian one-world diversity any less likely (or even desirable). To paint anyone who helps us (or the Taleban) as black or white denies the reality on the ground”.
This is wrong Benjamin. In WAR there are only two sides, your side and the other side. To deny anyone the potential of partisanship is to deny them not only the basic human right to belief and association but in most cases their only means of survival. Very few individuals successfully straddle no man’s land (metonym) even in peace time. It is very important, for Americans in particular, to be able to see the war in Afghanistan in either black or white terms, as you put it. The problem with Forte is that he attempts to attenuate moves to partisanship through focusing upon individual actions – he thinks individuals fight wars!
It is precisely this polarization that encourages conflicts to become intractable. First, it is factually wrong. In Afghanistan alone the ‘battle space’ is composed of dozens of independent actors. NGOs, government ministries, Christian and Muslim groups, Coalition Forces (of many nationalities, cultures, and SOPs), Department of State, Department of Defense, AN Police, AN Army, independent local militias, warlords, criminal cartels, Taleban, Al Qaeda, ISI, Iran… the list goes on. Each of these actors is, in effect, their own culture with differing goals, norms, languages, relationships within the network, and perceptions. If one were to somehow break down the actual goals of each of these organizations and interests and compare them, you would be amazed how few coincide. And where they do match up? The way they try to accomplish even identical goals can be at odds (ask about Doctors W/O Borders, MEDCAPs, and Local Clinics someday).
This brings me to the next place where you are incorrect. Wars are fought by individuals AND states. To deny the individual inputs into this complex situation has proven to a lot of harm not only to State interests, but to the soldiers themselves. Each soldier on the battlefield, more so today than ever before, makes countless decisions a day to determine the best way to carry out their orders. Orders from the top are intentionally vague and are refined each step of the way down to the corporal or private who STILL has a lot of control over what they do. At the command levels, your average brigade or battalion commander has leeway in their part of the overarching strategy.
While I will admit that Max sometimes contributes too much primacy to individual choice, the fact of the matter is that there is choice structured into the military command system. The reports we have all no doubt seen by now show just that. Wars are fought by individuals AND the State.
I would say everyone in the battle space is somewhere in that no man’s land. Human societies adapt, and Afghans have been stuck in the middle of superpower intervention for more than a generation now. They very clearly play the game to do what they perceive as best for themselves and their direct interests. Then again, so too do soldiers. Not every soldier wants to be there, and not every soldier wants to do every single task given to them. They do them anyway, in most cases with honor and distinction, but they do them in many ways. This goes all the way up the chain. Every commander realizes that they are in a political landscape of elders, mullahs, imams, warlords, government officers, and local charismatic leaders wherein choices are not as paternalistic or cut and dried as they thought they would be. Our commanders, especially under COIN doctrine, are just as much left to be middle men and negotiators as they are to be warriors.
Finally, I do not believe it is anyone’s “right” to oversimplify, deny reality, develop tunnel vision, et cetera when it directly affects the lives of other people. It has been “wisdom” for a long time that to fight a war you need to dehumanize the enemy. It makes them easier to kill, easier to hate. It just makes things simpler to believe that Taleban fighters wake up every morning thinking of new evil schemes like cartoon villains. The metaphysical truth aside, they do not believe they are evil and act accordingly. To reduce them to black and white dichotomies is dishonest, lazy, short-sighted, and leads to psychological and social trauma when inevitably Afghans aren’t our major concern any more, Al Qaeda has been replaced by the next threat (Al Shabbab, anyone?), and our increasingly globalized world forces contact between us and even the most extremist groups. Not to mention the logistical, strategic, and operational issues caused by this oversimplification. Conflict is bloodier, more difficult, more likely, and takes longer when we cannot see the motivations and culture driving ‘enemy’ actions. This is how Americans have found themselves in this domestic political mess, with parties becoming Black and White, lawyers turned politicians who spout polarizing rhetoric and then end up playing the same game in Washington, and little to no contextualization of the Global and National realities.
Americans do not NEED to remain ignorant of the realities. We NEED to be aware of the full context of the situation, we NEED to help people understand that not every person in Afghanistan is “for or against us,” that our goals, and the goals of our allies, are complex, and that there is an American historical context to Afghanistan that predates most of our memories, let alone attention spans. What Americans NEED is the ability to analyze for themselves, and not just be told who to hate and who it’s okay to dehumanize (Be they Taleban or Military personnel). But I suppose we all have pipe dreams…
Sorry Benjamin but I must impress it is you who have it wrong here.
First, while there maybe many different forces, each particular force has an us and them. Go talk to any of them and they will tell you that and indeed demonstrate it through their actions. In any conflict there are always multiple interests and forces at play, however, from the perspective of any interest or force, you will find an enemy – that is war my friend!
Second, wars are never fought by individuals. Individuals usually belong to organisations, states, gangs and militia etc. Wars are always fought by these latter groups. An individual cannot go to war against a country – how totally absurd! I cannot decide tomorrow that I will go and fight a war with North Korea. I can just see myself aboard my 12 foot runabout, my rifle and fishing rod at my side, and a few rations stowed away, crossing the Pacific with flags flying, singing war anthems such as “I did it my way”.
An individual joins an army and the army is directed to war by whatever master broaught it to life. Always been that way since Adam was a boy.
Americans do need to polarize, or rather admit to themselves their already existing “polarity” – indeed, their suppressed polarity. They act as though they have this omnipresent, free speech thing going but never actually get to addressing anything that is going on in the world. I wonder why?
The goals are not as you say “complex”? As I understand it the current goal is progressive withdrawal over the next few years – even sooner in Iraq? People in Afghanistan or anywhere for that matter have every right, indeed obligation, and need, to oppose American interests if and where they see fit.
My first question to Mr Forte has yet to be answered: Who leaked the diaries?
My second question to Mr Forte is, does he support a complete withdrawal of troops within two years from Iraq?
Regarding the comment:
“Finally, I do not believe it is anyone’s “right” to oversimplify, deny reality, develop tunnel vision, et cetera when it directly affects the lives of other people. It has been “wisdom” for a long time that to fight a war you need to dehumanize the enemy. It makes them easier to kill, easier to hate”.
No Benjamin, it makes them easier to kill if you have better, more effective weapons. The dehumanization you are talking about refers to actual “drilled” soldiers, airmen, seamen etc. You are refering to process of training that bonds individuals to a group and focuses their minds and energies. The same process cannot be used to talk about American society in general.
Similarly I could accuse you of oversimplifying and denying reality or developing tunnel vision, but I won’t because I am a gentleman
Sorry, Clive, but you are being silly. An “us and them” is not the same as “your side and the other side”. The first is a stance going from a singular to a multiple, while the latter is a singular to a singular.
Of course wars are fought by individuals; groups are merely inter-subjective identity constructions that only exist in the minds of individuals and the artifacts they produce (unless you want to take a really odd metaphysical position concerning group minds as independent beings). Individuals tend not to fight wars as individuals because it is a pretty ineffective form of warfare (ask the Unibomber about that one).
Totally agree, which is to say that since, if you accept the Genesis myths, Adam was never a “boy”, your initial statement is invalid. And what, pray tell, do you mean by “master”? Are you using it in the (Gnostic) sense of Archon?
Wars are always fought by individuals, and they always have a choice as to whether or not to fight. That said, there are almost always effects stemming from the choice to fight or not to fight, many of which will be imposed by other people.
ok Mark I hear you wanting to disagree with me and thats OK. Not sure if you see the glaring contradiction in your post but never mind – its the suppression I referred to above, I expect.
Nevertheless, you proposed that an ‘”us and them” is not the same as “your side and the other side”‘. Hmmmm.
GI Joe glanced tentively towards the top the escarpment where he saw two figures and a flash of something catching the fading rays of sunshine. This concerned him. He motioned to GI Barbie and whispered, “one of us or one of them”. GI Barbie looked through her binoculars but couldn’t tell so she radiod Ken who was sitting in the Camper monitoring troop movements. He radiod back saying “no they are not from our side”.
GI not yet Joe glanced at his parents. “Mom, dad I have some news. I am joining the marines”. “Whoa, hang on there boy, gasped his dad, you could end up going to war if you join the marines”. GI not yet Joe, grimaced, trying to hold back an emrging tear, “but dad, the odds are that I won’t have to go at all”. At that point GI Joe’s mother, Betty, chimed in, “But if you do go GI not yet Joe, you be sure to do us proud and keep your cute butt safe, you hear”. “I sure will mom” chirped GI not yet Joe.
About gnostics – all i can say to that is please stay on topic
Let us assume for the moment that you are not just referring to the moment of contact between engaging clearly identified enemy forces, when arguably it is really as you say, “us versus them.” All other times a simple dichotomy is insufficient to describe the reality on the ground. I can tell you that even Coalition forces do not see the war in the same way. The Australians, Germans, Tongans and others who fight alongside American forces each have their own culture (I am sure you would agree with that) and therefore their own means and ways of dealing with the battlefield. They have different command structures that diverge drastically from our own. Your “enemy “ word is misleading. Who the enemy is changes constantly.
To a Marine out on patrol the “enemy” might be a corrupt AN Police officer, might be a Taleban insurgent waiting to set off an IED, may be kids throwing rocks, may even be extreme weather. They handle each differently. They may even have complicating factors: an NGO rep who insists on coming to an unsecured area, a fellow Marine with whom he is having a disagreement, a Canadian officer who is in training with them, a local leader who wants to meet with his commander. However, when he goes back to the base, or goes out on patrol again, the kids may be his best friends (they provide intel in many cases), the police officer (or other ANPs) might be on a task with him as partners, and that insurgent with the IED may be the target of an employment program so he leaves the Taleban. On the higher level, that NGO might be a close ally of the government or the Division headquarters, the local leader may have the ear of half a province, the Canadians may end up protecting our air base (which just happened), and that fellow Marine may save his life.
From a larger perspective, we may end up needing to talk to the Taleban to end this conflict. Hard to do if we paint them as inhuman monsters. We support Karzai despite the complications and through him we HAVE to work with the ANP and ANA. We need to promote education and health services so the next generation of children don’t live in abject poverty ripe for fundamentalist indoctrination (admittedly, and perhaps be friendly to us as well).
Afghanistan’s government, think what you will of it, may also be helpful if we enter a conflict with Iran (a very real possibility), it is important in the balance of power between India and Pakistan, China and India, and the entire global picture.
Short of it? “Us versus them” makes no sense culturally, ethically, strategically or politically. It causes problems down the road and is rhetoric meant to encourage people to stop thinking about the global and historical context. Do people think this way? Yes. That does not mean we should encourage or accept it. To do so is either admitting defeat or being complicit.
As for our goals, one of our many goals is to withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan. It may end up being one of our biggest issues, as both expect us to abandon them (like we have before). I have discussed other possible goals before, but each of these goals has conditions and sub goals (such as a Rule of Law or essential services or a reduction in violence). Each of these goals is interpreted differently by all actors (To an NGO, this withdrawal does not apply to them, for example). Each of these goals is mitigated by a political context in the home country. To say we have a single goal is political short-speak intended to fit on a bumper sticker or in a pithy sound bite. Nothing more.
I believe the Individuals vs States debate was better answered by Marc, so I’ll let that rest for now.
Finally, wars are not always won by better weapons. It has been covered in depth (LTC Grossman’s books On Violence and On Combat lay this out very well) that the psychological and social aspects of combat are much more decided by proper training, enculturation and personality than better weapons. I believe the Taleban situation proves how powerful enculturation can be in a conflict, as we clearly have them out gunned and out trained.
You said: “No Benjamin, it makes them easier to kill if you have better, more effective weapons. The dehumanization you are talking about refers to actual “drilled” soldiers, airmen, seamen etc. You are refering to process of training that bonds individuals to a group and focuses their minds and energies. The same process cannot be used to talk about American society in general.”
Training goes beyond group cohesion (though that is critical). It also relates to the psychological preparation for battle field stresses, the countersocialization required to violate mores regarding killing others, the cultural and institutional pressures to perform and succeed in an individualistic competitive environment constructed around collective effort (ask about OERs and command viability someday) and a variety of very personal factors that contribute to success.
Society is very much so connected to this process. Donald Duck fought the Nazi’s and Japanese in American domestic newspapers just as often as in pamphlets dropped behind enemy lines or distributed to troops. The American public has “us versus them” so ingrained that it took a presidential fiat to recognize the equality of black troops in our military despite public outcry. I am reminded of the anti-Arab/anti-Muslim propaganda following 9-11 that was not aimed at motivating troops, but aimed at the general population of our society. This led to increased Christian fundamentalism, attacks on Sikhs and others who vaguely resemble our chosen “enemy,” calls for crusade (how ironic), and justification for two (perhaps four) wars. Our representatives voted in the PATRIOT Act, bipartisan, because our society accepted the “enemy among us” rhetoric of the administration.
One way to put it is that we, as a society, are TRAINED to dehumanize. Another way is that we dehumanize to help train our soldiers and civilians to agree with a simplified and non-contextual version of reality. Either way you put it, the basic essence of war is not killing the enemy, it is making the enemy no longer wish to fight. This means that we must make our warriors wish to fight longer than they can make their warriors do so. Killing them is a strategy of limited efficacy in the modern context.
No, I don’t accept what is being pushed here, by Benjamin and Clive, that my writing focuses heavily on individuals, or too heavily. It does when it is appropriate, and it depends on the subject matter, the focus, and the questions being debated. There are almost a thousand articles on this site, and generalizing from a few is a mistake. When it’s appropriate I have written about world systems, ethnic groups, corporations, political parties, state institutions, cultural trends, and ideas. This notion that I am all about the individual is a bit of an invention.
I was speaking to Marc about war crimes trials. Individuals are the ones tried, not cultures or social categories. To say all of us are responsible, not in some absolute sense, is to avoid infantilizing human subjects, and to render everyone powerless and disabled as if by fiat. Not my game.
Lastly, I am not denying the agency of individual Afghan informants and collaborators who may have been acting under constraint. Everyone acts under conditions that are not of their choosing, with some having more resources than others to meet the conditions that they face. The point was to not assume, the way Assange seems to in some of his comments, that they are all atrocious warlords, rich and powerful, providing misinformation that leads to air strikes against rival communities, that end up destroying wedding parties, etc. That too has happened, and I have no sympathy for such persons. I also know that they are not representative of all collaborators. I am therefore neither romanticizing the collaborators, nor the Taleban, nor U.S. troops.
It is also critical that some not be so quick to give war an ethical pass, and to exaggerate by saying that there is no political definition that states that war is a crime as such, as Benjamin says. Of course there are, and a great many, if you have ever heard of peace movements, Quakers, conscientious objectors, etc. The only legitimate position to take as a critic and as a skeptic (and I keep telling those who tout “science,” you can’t be scientific if you are not a skeptic first), is that war is a crime until proven otherwise, especially as the so-called just and necessary wars have been, at best, the extreme minority of cases. In these wars since 2001, we are specifically dealing with crimes of aggression, against Iraq which never attacked the U.S., and against the Taleban, who never attacked the U.S. Nuremberg has already established the crime of aggression as the supreme international crime.
Max, nice reply! I agree with most of what you say, and most especially with your statement that your “writing focuses heavily on individuals”. It doesn’t, at least in my opinion, and I’ve certainly twitted you more than once about being too group focused ;-).
This part, however, I do disagree with
Let me break this down and point out exactly where I disagree and why.
That depends on where you (in the sense of “you all”) are deriving your “legitimacy” from. If it is from some religious text, then skepticism may actually be a stance which de-legitimizes your position. If one is claiming to speak from a “scientific” stance, then it is important to distinguish between inductive (including abductive) and deductive stances, and only in the first instance (inductive / abductive) is skepticism a required position. Since I know, because we have talked about it many times, that you tend towards the inductive / abductive stance, as do I, then I won’t quibble further .
That is certainly one possible position, although there are others. For example, one could also take the stance, a la Hobbes, that war is the natural state of humanity. I do have some problems with the particular stance you are taking, but those problems centre on the concept of “crime”. More on this later…
All of this being justifications / evidence for your stance.
Let me just get back to my problem with the concept of “crime”. As evidence, you have provided certain specifics that, while I won’t quibble with them, do have one thing in common – they are all socio-cultural constructs, as is the concept of “crime” itself. Fair enough, modern warfare is a socio-cultural construct.
Where I start to have problems, however, is when there is an apparent confusion between “natural law” and “social law”. I’m using “natural law”, BTW, in the sense of “what actually happens in the world” and “social law” as “what should happen in the world”. Being inclined towards a Baconian style of science, I would argue that what we should be studying is both the “natural law” of war and the disjunctures between that and the “social law(s)” of war. Coming from this stance, I don’t believe it is possible to take “crime” as an absolute (natural) category against which to measure our observations; it can only be a relative (social) category.
Thanks very much Marc, interesting posts as usual, and if anyone ever accuses you of being dull…they’re lying.
My point is much simpler: skepticism in the face of all claims to truth. It doesn’t entail rejection or disagreement, not necessarily anyway, and not in advance. It’s just about asking that one “prove” one’s case.
For example, and relating to the issue at focus in this debate, Pentagon spokespersons, government officials, etc., are all repeating the assertion that the Wikileaks release puts U.S. soldiers–already sent to a war zone–in harm’s way and jeopardizes their security. They assert it, they never explain it, or try to prove it. I would like to know how they can know this to be true, what needs to happen that can be used as evidence for this position, and how they can tell when troops’ security is *more* in jeopardy since they are already fighting in a war zone (and Wikileaks didn’t send them there). Which of the shots received when taking small arms fire is a regular round, and a Wikileaks’ inspired round? My position is that they cannot prove this, and will not even try. It is a statement that is meant to have a political effect.
No problems with that, Max, especially since you put “prove” in quotes [GRIN].
I fully expect there to be attempts at such a “proof”; I don’t think it is politically feasible for there not to be. I also expect that some of those attempts will be pretty convincing, especially if we get reports that Afghans identified in the documents are being killed by the Taleban.
“Proofs” relating to ISAF casualties, OTOH, will have to be much more inferential and, IMO, will be much less compelling. Personally, I have no doubt that the risk to units has been raised, but that’s just a personal opinion and definitely not a “proof”.
For example, and relating to the issue at focus in this debate, Pentagon spokespersons, government officials, etc., are all repeating the assertion that the Wikileaks release puts U.S. soldiers–already sent to a war zone–in harm’s way and jeopardizes their security. They assert it, they never explain it, or try to prove it. I would like to know how they can know this to be true, what needs to happen that can be used as evidence for this position, and how they can tell when troops’ security is *more* in jeopardy since they are already fighting in a war zone (and Wikileaks didn’t send them there). Which of the shots received when taking small arms fire is a regular round, and a Wikileaks’ inspired round? My position is that they cannot prove this, and will not even try. It is a statement that is meant to have a political effect.
This is precisely my point Mr Forte. Who leaked the diaries? That is the question and at this point in time it is the most important question.
Also Wikileaks is a “website” – it cannot send anyone anywhere – to war or to peace! The people who operate Wikileaks know that. Assange can sit there and say anything he likes – it matters to no-one and he knows that also. He could be an immoral, dangerous, co-opted stooge or he could be the most ethically oriented, good thinking, independent, people’s warrior, on the planet. It doesn’t matter!
For instance, if I wanted to leak some information I could post on any social networking/blog site among thousands. I don’t need to post to Wikileaks. People communicate via myriad types of code across various websites as it is.
To focus attention upon arguments for or against a Wikileak’s action merely diverts attention away from the who, how and why of the leak in the first place. This is what you haven’t explained – you expect we all appreciate your motivation and justification? I don’t know? Maybe you don’t give a rat’s arse? So be it! Not my blog! But you steadfastly abstain from saying who leaked the diaries?
Apologies for end quoting above
My post begins with This is precisely my point Mr Forte. Who leaked the diaries? That is the question and at this point in time it is the most important question.
Ok Clive, finally we can get down to an argument that is not waged on a personal level, but about the issues of concern here. You keep asking who leaked the diaries, as if I am supposed to know an answer other than the one given to all of us, or as if you do but don’t want to share it. What do we know about who leaked the diaries? Nothing at all. Assange insists he does not know the source. Manning has not been charged for the release of these particular records, and in any case they are far fewer in number than the cables he boasted of having acquired.
So the simple answer right now is: we do not know.
What case can you build on that?
[I apologize for the delay, I have the best access during the weekdays.]
Max (7AUG): “No, I don’t accept what is being pushed here, by Benjamin and Clive, that my writing focuses heavily on individuals, or too heavily. It does when it is appropriate, and it depends on the subject matter, the focus, and the questions being debated. There are almost a thousand articles on this site, and generalizing from a few is a mistake. When it’s appropriate I have written about world systems, ethnic groups, corporations, political parties, state institutions, cultural trends, and ideas. This notion that I am all about the individual is a bit of an invention.”
Me (6AUG): “While I will admit that Max **sometimes** contributes too much primacy to individual choice, the fact of the matter is that there is choice structured into the military command system. The reports we have all no doubt seen by now show just that. Wars are fought by individuals AND the State.”
I don’t believe I was accusing you of being “all about the individual”, if that is what came across, I apologize. What I meant by my statement was that blaming individuals for their participation in state-sponsored violence is sometimes counterproductive and overly simplistic. If this is not your view, I apologize for painting you with that brush. I merely inferred from some of your own words that shared that position. Perhaps it is primarily in this thread that the focus has been there, or perhaps I am misreading, both are possible.
I have already responded to the content of this quote, but it was comments like this that gave me this impression (emphasis mine): “War crimes trials, yes: right up and down the whole chain of command, starting with Obama, down to McChrystal and Petraeus, all the Special Ops assassination squads (including Andrew Exum, who has Afghan blood on his hands while he preaches at Assange), down to *every single soldier and marine* who has ever fired a single shot at an Afghan.”
Again, I apologize if I misinterpreted your intent.
I do agree that individual actors retain agency at all stages of cultural and social integration, but it is more a matter of degree than mere existence. I have the impression you believe ultimately all people should be “tried” for war related activities, regardless of context, power, or societal factors shaping choice.
Max 7AUG):“I was speaking to Marc about war crimes trials. Individuals are the ones tried, not cultures or social categories. To say all of us are responsible, not in some absolute sense, is to avoid infantilizing human subjects, and to render everyone powerless and disabled as if by fiat. Not my game.”
My first thought with this is that we do try societies. The world has judged every single Nazi and found them wanting, even the rank and file soldiers who never raised a weapon at a civilian and the military officers who distinguished themselves honorably and with distinction despite the overarching evil of their regime. As a writer friend of mine put it, “[In stories] it’s always okay to kill Nazis.” [Sorry for the Godwin].
We also judge a war as “just” by international courts (the international trial and execution of Saddam Hussein was a tacit approval of the invasion), public opinion (the invasion of Afghanistan was supported by the American elected officials and is still supported by many states and groups, regardless of the short attention span of the modern public), and history (Many revolutions, such as France, the U.S., etc are seen as just and in fact world-changing). We may not sentence a state in exactly the same way, but international sanctions, embargoes, and approved declarations of war are much the same thing.
One of the things that bothers me about this type of conversation is that it is so easy for people to talk past each other [wry grin]. For example, Max and I have had this (mostly) friendly discussion going on for years now on what science “is” and “should be”. We both start from fairly similar positions and diverge pretty sharply later on. This divergence, and the fairly common start point, actually explain our little exchange over war crimes and judging societies.
All true, but I think you may have left out one; we also judge a war as “just” by effect. Consider, as case exemplars, Carthage, Henry VIIth’s insurgency and the fate of the CSA. This judgement by effect also, IMO, plays into the common law of war and, hence, into the entire concept of war crimes (e.g. reprisals).
Marc 9AUG: All true, but I think you may have left out one; we also judge a war as “just” by effect. Consider, as case exemplars, Carthage, Henry VIIth’s insurgency and the fate of the CSA. This judgement by effect also, IMO, plays into the common law of war and, hence, into the entire concept of war crimes (e.g. reprisals).
I am not sure I entirely follow. I can see vaguely where you are heading, but I would rather be clear before I agree :)
Sorry, I was writing that while getting phone calls and frantic emails from students [wry grin].
Basically, I would argue that there are three types of war crimes: statutory at the organizational / national level (e.g. UCMJ), statutory at the international level (e.g. the Geneva Conventions), and “common law” agreements that play out at the level of the battlespace. Of these three, only the common law form are based on immediate effect and rapidly enforceable. They do not deal with the “should be” but, rather, with the “is” of combat.
Thus, for example, if one side in a conflict uses a hospital or mosque/church as an armed point, under the common law of war, that point looses its “protected” status and what would normally be considered a war crime (e.g. bombing a hospital) is no longer one. The same would hold for the law of reprisal; if one opponent breaches the common law rules of war, say by torturing and crucifying members of the opposite force, then it would be perfectly legal to order the slaughter of everyone in that unit. Indeed, it would be hard if not impossible, to stop their slaughter.
This is justification by effect at the operational level, but it also plays out at the strategic level. The annihilation of one side in a war is generally considered as “justified” if that side is eliminated. The destruction of Carthage is probably the best example of this, but we saw a very similar justification used on NAZI Germany aimed at the party / ideology rather than the German peoples.
Justification by effect is often contrary to statutory laws of war which, IMO, just shows that there is often a massive divergence between those who come up with the statutes and those who have to fight under them. For example, banning land mines, while it sounds wonderful, will not happen in actuality as long as land mines prove to be a useful and effective tool (and a big “Thank You” to Tom Kratman for that example). The “punishment” for breaking the statutes is too far in the future, if it even happens, for it to have any deterrent effect. Consider, by way of example, how long it has taken to bring Charles Taylor to trial, or how many are still awaiting trial for the Rwanda genocide.
Hopefully that is a little clearer [wry grin]
Oh I agree entirely, on several points. There is a disconnect between the lawmakers and the people on the ground living under those stresses and constraints. The same is true for law enforcement as well.
As a nation, we are perhaps unique as we are essentially a warrior society with a very disjointed segment of the population with no concept of wartime conditions AND we have some of the most stringent ‘rules of engagement’ that prevent our troops from full efficacy at the cost of moral and ethical consistency (a good thing, IMO).
It is what I describe as “The Paladin’s Dilemma,” to be an ethical warrior (which is possible), a Paladin must maintain a strict code of honor and thereby limits their options on the battlefield and off. A villain, on the other hand, need not impose limits and therefore has a tactical advantage in all cases. The temptation, then, is for the Paladin to abandon those rules when they could mean losing the war or the people around them. Sometimes this occurs. By and large, however, we have a lot more Paladins in our armed forces than villains. As the society that determines (to a large extent) what the rules of engagement are (Through codified means, like Geneva; or informal means, like definitions of ‘torture’) we need not abandon those restrictions but understand the cost each new rule has on our soldier class.
As long as certain tactics are effective, such as mines or torture, there will be people who fail to live up the code or ‘make shortcuts’ because they have prioritized moral edicts in a way different from those who have the luxury of armchair quarterbacking. It is a simple answer to say that people in the field who have to make these choices are there by choice, but just like law enforcement, a military is necessary and force is sometimes needed in the natural competition for resources inherent to the interaction of organisms.
We need to help our soldiers maintain the code, make techniques such as land mines no longer effective, and realize that most of us ‘back home’ have the privilege of the moral high ground without ever really having to test our resolve.
I think I can see where you are going with your justification of effect, namely that sometimes things will happen in the battlefield that in sterile conditions we may not find ethically palatable but can be seen as justified given the situation. We sometimes use the “Crime of Passion” defense to mean “we would do the same thing in your shoes, right or wrong” and the “Jus’ Needed Killin’” defense to describe an intractable and unreasonable enemy (very few people mourned for Jeffrey Dahmer, for example). Add on top of that the old adage “he who writes the history books, wins” and I am reminded of medieval Japan, wherein a person was considered ‘right’ if they were ‘successful’ even if what they were doing at the time may have been questionable. Of course, annihilation is a lot harder these days, and technology means that everyone gets a chance to tell their story, and this may be the greatest reason why we need to re-evaluate our traditional approaches to war. Redefine what it means to “win.”
So “we” are the good guys (Paladins), and “they” are the villains. Maybe the new name for predator drones should be paladin drones. Sorry, I am not entirely scoffing here, but this is largely the official version of the preferred version of self offered by the military, and it does not at all square with what we know about facts on the ground and how the recipients of all of these megatons of American ethics and restraint view their captors. The same applies to “just wars”–our wars are almost always just, and we can even invoke international law when it comes to invading Afghanistan, even when international law was the least of the interests of the invaders, who acted unilaterally and on the thinnest of pretexts (short memories abound).
When you say, Benjamin, that “We sometimes use the ‘Crime of Passion’ defense to mean ‘we would do the same thing in your shoes, right or wrong’ and the ‘Jus’ Needed Killin’’ defense to describe an intractable and unreasonable enemy”–you did not add that “we” only use that set of excuses for ourselves…and we have seen this countless times on this blog when debating about Don Ayala. If this quote from you were used by you to explain how the Taleban are right in what they do, and how they do it (and if not “right,” then understandable)…I am sure you would lose your security clearance at the very least, if you still have one. That reminds me: are you still in HTS?
As an example of the above, YouTube is absolutely littered with “comments” on every imaginable video of an American bombing in civilian areas, with cheers, obscenities and hatred directed against Iraqis and Afghans, with absolute ghoulish blood lust, as if the viewers had suffered some personal harm from these complete strangers on the receiving end of airborne death. Yes, they are quite prepared to accept their side’s “crimes of passion”–indeed, it seems that “being American” in this context is itself a crime of passion. Now turn it around: look at how pious, sanctimonious and shocked they become when a suicide bomber takes out a team of CIA and Blackwater people who were responsible for the drone strikes that killed so many civilians. What they could never conceive is that any attack on a CIA target is a justified act of counter-terrorism. It’s not just the warfare that is “asymmetric,” it’s the value system created to justify it that is lopsided. It’s not just the warfare that is “irregular,” it is also the logic constructed to defend it.
An “unreasonable” enemy? What exactly is that? What kind of “reasonable” reception were you expecting?
Now, if you have said we are good at convincing ourselves of the need for ethical warfare, and we are good at convincing ourselves that ultimately this is our foundation, then I would have agreed with you. We have wonderful convictions.
Max, Benjamin, I’ve honestly never liked using the “Crime of Passion” defence for what goes on in a war. To my mind, it gets into too many sets of mutually contradictory justifications flying around and, inevitably, seems to end up with something resembling a “mine is bigger than yours” type of argument. Max is pointing towards that with his reference to YouTube videos, and it is a classic in the history of PSYOPs and propaganda.
War, as my friend Wilf keeps reminding me, is about focused violence, including killing, to achieve specific political ends. It is inherently politically polarized around both the political ends and its conduct. This situation is, IMO, magnified in an insurgency / counter-insurgency operation where the primary battlespace is in the minds of those caught up in the conflict including the politicians who started the wars and those who inherit them. And, yes, you are absolutely correct about the effects of technology on the conduct of these wars in terms of narrative spread, Benjamin.
“So “we” are the good guys (Paladins), and “they” are the villains. Maybe the new name for predator drones should be paladin drones. Sorry, I am not entirely scoffing here, but this is largely the official version of the preferred version of self offered by the military, and it does not at all square with what we know about facts on the ground and how the recipients of all of these megatons of American ethics and restraint view their captors. The same applies to “just wars”–our wars are almost always just, and we can even invoke international law when it comes to invading Afghanistan, even when international law was the least of the interests of the invaders, who acted unilaterally and on the thinnest of pretexts (short memories abound).”
“Unilaterally” is a strange concept, considering the number of allied forces that continue to participate in the conflict. I refer to Afghanistan in particular. I do believe that a vast majority of our warriors try to be ethical by mores or morality. To treat every person who has ever committed a state-sponsored act of violence as a craven criminal is just as insincere as to ignore that bad people and mistakes often muddy the waters of what are, in the end, good intentions.
I did not mean to imply that either side has the claim on villainy or purity. As I have said before, no one wakes up in the morning thinking of being evil. What separates “evil” (in my mind) is the way one treats their enemies and the civilians caught between. When the U.S. is found to have killed civilians, even by accident, we pay reparations (yes, money is a solution in our value system… Not necessarily theirs) and it is considered a “scandal.” The same is not generally true for our allies and enemies in this (or any) conflict.
“When you say, Benjamin, that “We sometimes use the ‘Crime of Passion’ defense to mean ‘we would do the same thing in your shoes, right or wrong’ and the ‘Jus’ Needed Killin’’ defense to describe an intractable and unreasonable enemy”–you did not add that “we” only use that set of excuses for ourselves…and we have seen this countless times on this blog when debating about Don Ayala. If this quote from you were used by you to explain how the Taleban are right in what they do, and how they do it (and if not “right,” then understandable)…I am sure you would lose your security clearance at the very least, if you still have one. That reminds me: are you still in HTS?”
I absolutely agree that these ‘excuses’ are applied hypocritically by all parties. I was referring to how everyone uses these defenses, especially in international contexts.
I am not directly involved with HTS. My training ended last November.
“As an example of the above, YouTube is absolutely littered with “comments” on every imaginable video of an American bombing in civilian areas, with cheers, obscenities and hatred directed against Iraqis and Afghans, with absolute ghoulish blood lust, as if the viewers had suffered some personal harm from these complete strangers on the receiving end of airborne death. Yes, they are quite prepared to accept their side’s “crimes of passion.” Now turn it around: look at how pious, sanctimonious and shocked they become when a suicide bomber takes out a team of CIA and Blackwater people who were responsible for the drone strikes that killed so many civilians. What they could never conceive is that any attack on a CIA target is a justified act of counter-terrorism. It’s not just the warfare that is “asymmetric,” it’s the value system created to justify it that is lopsided. It’s not just the warfare that is “irregular,” it is also the logic constructed to defend it.”
Well, I am sure I don’t need to tell you how the attacks on 9-11, the humanitarian workers last week, and countless incidents between were seen as attacks on national identity, socialized concepts of fairness and security, and collective ideas of the self. On the other hand, this is a war, both sides assume (as all humans do) that given the same set of ‘facts’, any deviation in interpretation must be the result of some fundamental failure in logic. All sides in a war (or any argument) assume that if the other side was reasonable, moral, and rational that there wouldn’t be a war in the first place.
“An “unreasonable” enemy? What exactly is that? What kind of “reasonable” reception were you expecting?”
For the record, I don’t believe I claimed which side was objectively ‘reasonable’. Only that the defense of effect was commonly used.
“Now, if you have said we are good at convincing ourselves of the need for ethical warfare, and we are good at convincing ourselves that ultimately this is our foundation, then I would have agreed with you. We have wonderful convictions.”
Now we are back on the same page. I think everyone on all sides does this. Heck, doesn’t have to be a war. We all believe our side to be more ethical, reasonable, and knowledgeable (especially about social context) than the other, even in online debates. Otherwise, why would we fight?
Marc, I can see your concern for “crimes of passion” as an innacurate term for wartime violence (especially criminal acts). I suppose I need to find a better way to describe the focused violence your friend speaks of and the very real adrenaline, ideological dehumanization of the enemy, and unit loyalty issues that sometimes lead rare individuals to “cross that line.”
Hi Benjamin, I wish you good luck on finding a term that covers it – I’ve been looking for one for years now [wry grin]. There seems to be a line or zone which some people cross pushed by emotional stress, and then come back to consensual reality (at least, to their cultures’ version of it). Others seem to cross over completely and move into a totally different mind set dominated by an interpretive system that is totally divergent from their cultures’ consensual reality; a “Damascus Road” type of “conversion as it were.
I remember, years ago back when I was running my game design company, watching people who were self declared pacifists taking the most amazing casualty figures (in the game) in order to achieve their “goals”. I also saw the same thing happening back when I used to be heavily involved in politics: people would get so caught up in their goals that they would commit almost any act to achieve them.
I agree that there is often a line people reach when their ideological goals are put into a true fight-or-flight high stress situation. As many soldiers will say, “When we are in the field, we don’t think about politics, or feelings, or nationalism… we just want to survive.” In a sense, in that naturalistic environment it can be just as tempting to “go native” (read: become inured, addicted, myopic about violence) as it can be for anthropologists to do the same when confronted with immersion into high stress cultural contexts. Just as Anthropologists who “go native” (and defend the validity of doing so) are relatively rare, so too are our warriors who do so. It does happen, though, but is not indicative of the whole.
It occurs to me that it may be pertinent to mention that while I refer to the “heat of the moment” or deployed soldier in these examples, the same could be said for people in positions of command. The loss of a person, whether a warrior or noncombatant, hits commanders really hard, and that may be a very severe stress.
I have noticed some of the same interesting effects of violence on people who claimed to be ideologically opposed to it. I work for a role-playing game organization periodically and I play a lot of the games myself. These games often incorporate violence, but those who play concepts centered around pacifism or non-violence seemed to have the highest body counts, often with no cognitive dissonance whatsoever. I have also known more than a few pacifist military and ex-military people. It would be an interesting question to pursue methodologically.
Benjamin, just on the point of unilateralism: is it in dispute that the decision to invade Afghanistan was a unilateral American one? I understand very well that a coalition of the willing was cobbled together after the fact, that the UN gave its blessings, also after the fact. But is anyone denying American leadership in all of this?
Thanks for the continued discussion, lots of good points above.
This was/is clearly an American-led military action. “Unilateral” implies that there was no support socially, militarily or politically before and during the initial stages. While I would be the last to quantify that support, it definitely existed. I specifically refer to international support. There were many Afghans (for many reasons) who supported our attack on the Taliban government as well.
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