The Importance of the WikiLeaks Afghan Documents

Pentagon Papers, or background noise?

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK

    The news organization WikiLeaks, led by Julian Assange, upended the national discussion on the war in Afghanistan by releasing more than 90,000 official U.S. government documents on Monday that provide a ground-level accounting of what's happening in that war-torn nation. Will the document dump fundamentally change the way America views this conflict, much like the Pentagon Papers redefined the public's understanding of the Vietnam war?

    • Richard Tofel of ProPublica writes that the WikiLeaks documents, while somewhat useful, don't have the resonance of the Pentagon Papers because they don't present information that was previously unknown. "In terms of important disclosures, it's not even close," he says, continuing that, "In 1971, in contrast, the Pentagon Papers revealed a host of important discrepancies between the public posture of the U.S. government with respect to Vietnam and the truth -- from the Truman administration, through the times of Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson."
       
    • Spencer Ackerman of Wired magazine's Danger Room blog asserts that the documents remain important, even if they don't contain explosive allegations. "There’s a bias in journalism toward believing that what’s secret is inherently a hive of hidden truth. But it can also create a misleading expectation that leaks represent huge new revelations," he says, adding that, "When remembering that we’re looking through a soda straw and not a wide-angle lens, the WikiLeaks trove looks a lot like a daily diary of the deterioration of the Afghanistan war."
       
    • Adam Kirsch of the left of center New Republic says that the leak shows how new media organizations still rely on the bank of trust and expertise that traditional media outlets possess to validate and disseminate their findings. "Wikileaks’s highest value is transparency, but the leak suggests that transparency is moot without authority. Perhaps this truth will start to dawn on Assange and the many other new media figures who, with their gleeful attacks on the mainstream media, are helping to undermine the authority of institutions like The New York Times in ways that the U.S. government never has or could."
       
    • Jonathan Foreman, writing for the right of center National Review's Corner blog, hopes the documents will force America to deal with the possible deceptions being made by ally Pakistan. "It is possible that the publication of documents that provide actual evidence — rather than rumors — of the role of ISI personnel in Taliban planning, logistics, and strategy will give the West greater leverage in dealing with Islamabad and might force Pakistan’s political elite to confront the reality of the ISI’s secret activities. If so, that would be a silver lining to what is otherwise a military disaster abetted by the U.S. and British media."