Chennai: Later part of July 2010 saw unprecedented activity in the world media, and set the proverbial cat among the pigeons. Wikileaks– a relatively unknown organization till then- released 92,201 internal records of actions by the U.S. military in Afghanistan between January 2004 and December 2009, into the public domain. Dubbed as ‘the biggest leak in intelligence history’ it graphically represented the way Americans conducted their “war to liberate Afghanistan from Taliban.” The situation was exacerbated when Wikileaks, undeterred by pentagon’s warning not to publish any more papers, released 391,832 similar reports called ‘Significant Action in the war (SIGACT),’ this time about the American war in Iraq.
The content of Wikileaks’ revelation contradicts the statements made by
American officials through the years, that they did not have any information about civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan. The reports which were written by solders from war field, describes shootings, roadside bombings, and the execution-style killings and targeted assassinations that left bodies in the streets of Baghdad at the height of sectarian violence that pushed the country to the brink of civil war. What is also exposed in these disclosures is the fact, that suspects were deliberately handed over to the Iraqi torture squads, and their plight was conveniently over looked.
Curiously though, the response of the media ranged from a mooted coverage of war crimes, inspiring a well intentioned and helpless silence at the best, to a derisive yawn of insensitivity at the worst. The world failed to even acknowledge the America’s dubious conduct in the war, particularly when it claims that it is never an aggressor, but is always a defender of liberty and equality along with other virtues, and never tires of preaching to the whole world about the sanctity of human rights. The media is now engrossed with the ridiculous debate of whether it was ethical to publish those records.
The ongoing debate is structured as if the very act of violence on a flimsy pretext is less heinous than the act of releasing the papers which chronicle those acts into the public domain. Pentagon’s contention is that because of these exposed documents lives of American soldiers are in peril. In an opinion piece on the Fox News site, Christian Whiton while calling upon US president to declare people associated with Wikileaks as enemy combatants, expressed his dismay by saying “How much will our information-collection capabilities have to be diminished, and how many of our friends and collaborators around the world must die, before President Obama and his friends on Capitol Hill start caring more about national security?” Will Mr. Whiton elaborate, about who those friends are and what they collaborate on? Perhaps they may be collaborating in some subversive plots in the greater interest of democracy and liberty for rest of the world.
In an article in Guardian, Daniel Ellsberg, who in 1971 leaked confidential Pentagon papers chronicling Vietnam war, contends that information revealed by Wikileaks does not endanger the safety of any American either in Iraq or in Afghanistan, and since July 2010 not a single life was lost owing to the publishing of secret documents. Instead, he says, that Pentagon should be held accountable for its activities and if 15000 American lives were lost instead of Iraqi lives the response of American government would have been different.
One more notable development of these expose is the role being played by media in character assassination of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. In an article in Salon, Glenn Greenwald says that Assange is being victimized just like Daniel Ellsberg during President Nixon’s time.
Even though the New York Times defended itself against the criticism of its coverage of the issue and also on the issue of attacking Assange, one issue remains unanswered. Does Pentagon want the whole world to believe that there was no violation of all the principles that America stands for, by its army in Iraq and Afghanistan? Did anyone really belive that Uncle Sam invaded these countries to distribute chocolate candy? War is a dirty business, and even America should not have unreasonable expectations, that in this age of instant information its atrocities can be camouflaged. Once the juggernaut of war machine starts to roll, collateral damage is unavoidable. It is the responsibility of the government, to keep the objective of the war on track, and to hold accountable the people responsible for their lapses. Rather than trying to gag the media it will be in the larger interest of civil society that American government takes some corrective measures.
Media houses, whose influence is disproportionate, should not fall into the trap of jingoism and should sensitise the societies so that proper checks and balances remain in the system.