And There It Goes! Nothing to Report

Having spent a few hours now with both the raw files, and Wikileak’s Iraq War Diary Dig, I am coming up with nothing at all that involves any mention of the Human Terrain System, Human Terrain Teams, anthropologists, social scientists, scholars, academics, researchers, or any documents with any names of any HTS employees who were deployed to Iraq. And there may be a good reason for that: this time Wikileaks has gone to the other extreme, in over redacting documents to the point that they are virtually useless for anyone not interested in cryptic items where you have to guess at what might have occupied any of the many blank spaces left from the excessive deletion of all sorts of information. Names of units, names of places even, and sometimes even the numbers of civilians killed, have been deleted. As CNN itself reported, even the Pentagon reveals more. The best reports produced so far are, unsurprisingly, from Wikileaks’ several media partners who had months to pore over the originals, and who collectively, with Wikileaks, decided what to eliminate. Their reports are compelling, and make sense; the documents themselves, on the other hand, are quite different. As in the case of lower level Wikileaks staffers who were shaken up by a spate of negative, petty, gossipy media reports, it seems that the top level has been sufficiently spooked by the Pentagon and lost its nerve. Unfortunately, the centralization of these leaks in the hands of one group alone–Wikileaks–means the rest of us have no chance to conduct a “re-do.” Perhaps Bradley Manning’s defense will benefit from this, as his lawyer(s) can now argue that no harm resulted from the actions he is alleged to have taken in leaking these files. Also benefiting from this is John Stanton–whose reports now remain the sole and exclusive source of printed insiders’ leaks from HTS members who were in Iraq.

If I am given any reason for revising my observations and opinions above, I will do so here.

6 thoughts on “And There It Goes! Nothing to Report

  1. I have to say this as an incredibly premature and hasty judgement of the latest wikileak. The number of issues and sheer amount of data that these people have had to deal with is absolutely immense – especially seeing as we are effectively talking about a group of enthusiastic amateurs.
    The balance between transparency and harm minimisation is obviously something we have to debate – but criticism also must be tempered with an understanding of these issues and, more importantly, enough time for a proper analysis! It took you a matter of hours before you called the whole thing “BS”!

  2. Well, it is neither premature nor hasty, as we see being explained by several organizations in the post that follows this one. In fact, you have switched topic here, moving into a discussion of the constraints operating on Wikileaks, that they are enthusiastic amateurs, etc. I agree with all of those points. But understanding the issues does not mean that I have to agree with their approach, and the sense of futility in trying to use these documents, for which we have been waiting for such a long time, only to find them effectively defaced is what caused me to express my anger in calling it BS. The documents have been great, for the media that had unfettered access to the originals. The rest of us get to play fill in the blanks.

  3. Fair points Max. I suppose I wonder what you would suggest instead? I know giving full access to a number of news organisations, many of whom have played their part in spinning the Iraq war from the start is far from 100% secure – and represents to many an ideological affront. But on the other hand, these groups have the resources and expertise to deal with this type of data – and I would argue that they have seldom shied away from the important issues and further, that giving them this responsibility has had an effect of dragging their coverage to the right side of the debate on the war – if only for one or two editions!
    I for one, would rather the documents were released in this redacted manner and poured over preliminarily by the major news organisations – hopefully in time solutions will be found to problems of access. At least now we know that the information is SOMEWHERE – one wonders, for example, what would happen if the ICC requested un-redacted copies of certain documents from either WL or the US?

    I’m in agreement with you that the situation is far from ideal for those with only a look at the censored version of the documents – but I think that for now this was the right move to make. Un-redacted these documents would have certainly caused harm – WL has enough responsibility as it is, we can’t expect them to play judge and jury as well.

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