Monday, August 16, 2010

On Wikileaks: who owns your army?

Wikileaks has been releasing reports from the U.S. military which detail specific operations, notable contacts with enemy combatants and daily reports. The majority of the documents are of the latter mundane variety, but some have shown special forces operations which are aimed at finding and killing specific members of Al Qaeda and the Afghani and Pakistani Taliban. Those operations have garnered the most attention, but killing key members of your adversarial army is par for the course in guerrilla warfare. The documents are mostly years old, and essentially relevant only by showing the limited progress in this war.

During the July, 26 press briefing, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs summed up the fact that the wikileaks news was already known:
"I don’t know that what is being said or what is being reported isn’t something that hasn’t been discussed fairly publicly, again, by named U.S. officials and in many news stories. I mean, The New York Times had a story on this topic in March of 2009 written by the same authors."
This sentiment was echoed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates in a July 29 interview. According the the New York Times:
"Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, Mr. Gates portrayed the documents as 'a mountain of raw data and individual impressions, most several years old' that offered little insight into current policies and events."
However, many military and congressional persons have decried the Wikileaks post as harmful, treasonous and potentially deadly to troops. Michigan Republican Mike Rogers went as far as to call for the execution of U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning, who is accused of giving the documents to Julian Assange of Wikileaks. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, claimed that the release of the so called Afghan papers could already have had dire consequences.
"Mr. Assange can say whatever he likes about the greater good he thinks he and his source are doing, but the truth is they might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family."
It is this idea which I would like to dismantle, and for two reasons. One is that it is an outright lie, and two is that I dislike seeing logical fallacies used to hide bad data and ideas which are then presented to the public.

To begin, we need to accept that the President, both personally and through his press secretary, and the Secretary of Defense have admitted that these documents are all but irrelevant. They contain no current intelligence or significant tactics which were not already known. This alone makes statements to the contrary less powerful.

Next, we need to recognize that Adm. Mullen has started his statement by begging the question. The proposition put forth by Assange is that information pertinent to the Afghan war is public domain, especially regarding civilian deaths. Instead of addressing this issue, Adm. Mullen simply passes it and states that Assange has civilian blood on his hands. Begging the question means that you have conceded the point of your opponent and attempted to sidestep the argument. Therefore, we know that pertinent information should be public domain. Emphatically. We also know that Adm. Mullen does not want that fact put forward.

We should now look at the statement regarding the blood of Afghan families or U.S. Soldiers. First, this is the fallacy misleading vividness. By using highly descriptive and emotional words, Adm. Mullen intends to make his argument seem stronger than it really is. More importantly, we look at what it would mean to have blood on one's hands. Civilians deaths at the hands of Coalition Forces since 2001 is between 10,172 and 12,969. That doesn't include over 20,000 deaths due to indirect Coalition actions. This gives us two key pieces of evidence. It is acceptable for Coalition forces to kill civilians in direct combat, and any Coalition action which leads to civilian deaths, as well as Coalition soldiers, is fine. If Julian Assange releases information which may, but probably won't, lead to civilian deaths it is treasonous and murder.

We can now take what we have gleaned from Admiral Mullen's statement and give his words their accurate expression: Our Coalition forces are allowed to kill civilians, but this information is not to be shared with the American and Coalition public.  Public discussion of Coalition-caused civilian deaths leads to more more civilian death and is treasonous; ergo we do not discuss this.  

So we need to finish by determining who owns our army. The U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that they are allowed to kill tens of thousands of civilians, but the American citizens are not allowed to know this--or more civilians will die. American citizens OWN the American Armed Forces, not the Joint Chiefs or the other top brass. We OWN the information which is relevant to the war in Afghanistan. We pay for the creation and maintenance of our standing army, we pay the salaries of the officers who lead those forces, we elect and pay the officials who decide if a war is needed and we are due all accurate information in regards to our forces and the wars we fight.

National security does not mean job security for the Joint Chiefs of Staff by managing information which is detrimental to their positions; nor is it classifying information which makes a war look unwinnable as "secret". National security is the protection of the nation. If our security will be best served by leaving Afghanistan, that information is to be given to the citizens. We own the army and the president, we own the weapons and the bases and the officers who lead our wars, and we own the neutral information which tells us if our war is worth fighting. The very essence of democracy demands that the citizens have control of their military and represented officials. This war does not belong to the Joint Chiefs.  We have merely payed to have them trained for the specialized task of fighting and payed for the tools which they need to wage war.  Information regarding wars, political leaders and national security is the belonging of every citizen; and the government works for us.  We are the owners of this country, our government representatives are merely stewards who act in our place when we ask them to do so. 

If the Joint Chiefs believe that: they are fighting a war, killing U.S. and Afghan soldiers as well as civilians, and the public being informed of this is treasonous; I have to ask you: who really owns your army?

1 comment:

  1. Hey Adam,

    Jabril here from Bending Towards Justice... great post, I really enjoyed reading it. It brings up a lot of interesting questions. I agree completely with your point that the country belongs to the citizens and that the government's power is derived from the consent of the governed. And therefore, as you put it "government works for us."

    Regarding the military - the president is the commander in chief of course, and I wonder from your perspective does he have a duty to disclose to the public every decision he makes? What about his battlefield strategies?

    Does prudence advise against this or is it the case that the people are the ultimate authority and as such the government should always disclose everything?

    What about issues that the people are divided about? Should that information be put to a vote or is it more prudent to delegate certain powers - such as commander in chief - to individuals, who are themselves subject to political checks and balances (elections, term limits, impeachment etc)?

    I don't have an answer but you post certainly brings up very interesting questions. On the one hand the government's legitimacy is derived from the willingness of the people to be governed. But within that willingness on the part of the people is an understanding that being governed includes giving up certain freedoms in exchange for the benefits of the system....I am just thinking out loud really. The post is great though and I look forward to reading more as they are published.