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The France24 Debate: was WikiLeaks right to release Afghan war documents?

Text by Eric Olander

Latest update : 2010-07-28

On France24 program “The Debate” WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange responds to criticisms about the release of Afghan war files. Critics contend the publication of such documents was irresponsible; Assange argues they are blaming the messenger.


The full impact of this week’s release of 92,000 classified U.S. military documents from the war in Afghanistan on the whistle-blower website WikiLeaks is still being evaluated. Politicians, academics and journalists among others are sifting through the vast sea of data that is now being described as one of the largest intelligence leaks in United States history. Strong opinions, though, from all sides are beginning to emerge over WikiLeaks' decision to distribute the information on the internet. Particular attention is being focused on WikiLeaks' founder and Editor-in-Chief, Julian Assange.

In an editorial published in the New York Times on Monday, Andrew Exum from the Center for New American Security, a research institute based in Washington, said Assange’s decision to publish these documents was irresponsible:
“ muddying the waters between journalism and activism, and by throwing his organization into the debate on Afghanistan with little apparent regard for the hard moral choices and dearth of good policy options facing decision-makers, he is being as reckless and destructive as the contemptible soldier or soldiers who leaked the documents in the first place.”
On FRANCE24 program “The Debate” WikiLeaks' founder said that reactions such as Exum’s

Key findings from the WikiLeaks “Afghan War Diaries”

  • The C.I.A.’s paramilitary operations are expanding in Afghanistan
  • The Taliban has used portable, heat-seeking missiles against Western aircraft
  • Americans suspect Pakistan’s spy service of guiding Afghan insurgency

happen whenever the site releases information that exposes corruption and other compromising data. Furthermore, Assange asserted that Exum and other critics have another agenda. “This is just the usual rhetorical trick to divert the strength of the message by not looking at what it says but trying to color the message by attacking the messenger," he said.

Other critics of WikiLeaks contend that without context the huge trove of data holds little meaning. “The problem with these 92,000 documents is that there is no context for them.  This is not really a story, as such; this is really a massive dumping onto the agenda of 92,000 bits and pieces. It’s not publishing in the normal sense at all,” said Yale University professor Julian Howard.   
Without hesitation, Assange challenged Howard and other academics, saying that it is “their job” to provide the context for this kind of information, not WikiLeaks’.  “We’ve done our job. We’ve collected this material, we’ve protected the source and we’ve got all of this into a more-or-less human readable condition,” he said, “people can criticize it if they want to or they can go to work. I suggest they get to work.”

Date created : 2010-07-28


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