In one of the largest leaks in U.S. military history, Wikileaks has released over 90,000 classified documents to the New York Times, the Guardian, and Der Spiegel. Much of what is revealed won’t exactly come as a surprise. I doubt, for example, that most people will be shocked to hear that Pakistan, which is receiving more than $1billion a year from the U.S., has been aiding the Taliban insurgency. What is significant about the documents is that they reveal a systemic incongruity between what the military knows and what they’re telling the public and media. Some of the highlights include:

  • Reconnaissance drones, which are used to survey and strike targets and whose use has doubled under President Obama, are mired in technical problems and glitches that contradicts the official portrait painted of them as a reliable panacea for the war. 38 drones have crashed on combat missions in Afghanistan and Iraq and because each drone is packed with advanced technology, each crash necessitates dangerous retrieval operations by troops, often into Taliban held territory.
  • Task Force 373: a “black” unit, independent of the chain of command, that receives its orders directly from the Pentagon and has been tasked with the extrajudicial killing or capturing of 2,000 senior Taliban and Al-Qaida figures without trial. According to the Guardian: “[The leaked documents] raise fundamental questions about the legality of the killings and of the long-term imprisonment without trial, and also pragmatically about the impact of a tactic which is inherently likely to kill, injure and alienate the innocent bystanders whose support the coalition craves.” The documents reveal numerous cases where civilians were killed or wounded by TF-373. These cases were often covered up in official statements to the press. In one incident, TF-373 called in an air attack on a village, despite the Taliban appearing to have already retreated from the area. After the bombing, the military released a press statement claiming to have killed several militants, with no mention of civilian casualties. The leaked documents, however, reveal the press statement was a lie and a secret memo documenting the casualties of the attack reads as follows: “12 US wounded, two teenage girls and a 10-year-old boy wounded, one girl killed, one woman killed, four civilian men killed, one donkey killed, one dog killed, several chickens killed, no enemy killed, no enemy wounded, no enemy detained.”
  • NYT: “The Taliban have used portable heat-seeking missiles against allied aircraft, a fact that has not been publicly disclosed by the military. This type of weapon helped the Afghan mujahedeen defeat the Soviet occupation in the 1980s.”
  • The Afghan police force, which the Pentagon is spending billions on to train, is largely viewed as incompetent and corrupt by Afghanis. According to the NYT: “The reports recount episodes of police brutality, corruption petty and large, extortion and kidnapping. Some police officers defect to the Taliban. Others are accused of collaborating with insurgents, arms smugglers and highway bandits. Afghan police officers defect with trucks or weapons, items captured during successful ambushes or raids.”
  • Hundreds of civilian casualties, coalition information on which has often been either false or misleading. In one incident, Polish troops, possibly in a revenge attack, mortared a wedding celebration, killing 6 civilians. Although those troops were eventually put on trial, most incidents of civilian casualties are not investigated. Under General McChrystal, efforts were made to try to lessen civilian casualties. His replacement, General Petraeus, is, however, expected to loosen “restraints aimed at cutting civilian deaths.”

The general picture revealed by the documents is that the war has been far less of a success than is portrayed by the Pentagon or the White House. The insurgency, for example, has been far more effective than is portrayed by the military. According to the documents, the insurgents are often controlling the pace and direction of the war and bleeding the U.S. military in what the NYT calls “a war of small cuts.”

In response to the leak, the White House is accusing Wikileaks of putting lives at risk, a claim that is contradicted by the Guardian, noting that “most of the material, though classified “secret” at the time, is no longer militarily sensitive. A small amount of information has been withheld from publication because it might endanger local informants or give away genuine military secrets. Wikileaks, whose founder, Julian Assange, obtained the material in circumstances he will not discuss, said it would redact harmful material before posting the bulk of the data on its “uncensorable” servers.””

(via ihatethismess)

The International Press Institute (IPI) came out with its six month “death watch” report today. The good news is that the number of journalists killed so far this year has gone down (38 in 2010 compared to 43 at the same point last year). The bad news is that Latin America has overtaken Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East as the most dangerous region for journalists to work in. Honduras and Mexico, specifically, have become the most dangerous countries, with eight journalists killed in Honduras and seven killed in Mexico by the end of June. Furthermore, the article doesn’t mention this, but Mexico’s tally has actually increased to ten since June. It comes as no surprise that most of these journalists were reporting on corruption, although it is a bit disturbing to know that globally corruption has now overtaken war as the most dangerous subject for journalists to cover (although, admittedly, there’s bound to be some overlap between what constitutes corruption and war, especially in Mexico).

On Tuesday I posted on the murder of Mexican radio reporter Marco Aurelio Martínez Tijerina, who was tortured and shot to death last Saturday. Turns out Martínez wasn’t the only journalist killed in Mexico that day. Guillermo Trejo Alcaraz, a local cameraman in Chihuahua city who also supplied video material for the Chihuahua State Commission on Human Rights (ECHR) was also killed Saturday. He was shot to death by masked gunmen after leaving the offices of the Omnia newspaper. That brings the number of journalists killed in Mexico so far this year to 10, making Mexico the deadliest country in the world for journalists. To put that in comparison, so far this year two journalists have been killed in Afghanistan and one in Iraq. The only country that comes close to Mexico’s death toll is Honduras with eight journalists murdered.

The Committee to Protect Journalists is reporting that Mexican radio reporter Marco Aurelio Martínez Tijerina was shot dead Saturday in Montemorelos. Combined with the eight journalists killed in Mexico so far this year, Martínez’s death brings the death toll to nine, making Mexico the deadliest country in the world for journalists in 2010. The continued threat to journalists, combined with the fact that Mexico has one of the worst records in the world of bringing crimes against journalists to justice, has lead to widespread self-censorship by Mexican journalists. At least one newspaper, Zócalo de Saltillo, has stopped reporting on organized crime altogether after one of its journalists, Valentín Valdés Espinosa, was killed in January.

For those of us outside of (and within) Mexico, this self-censorship and the dangers posed to journalists is important to keep in mind when following the ongoing Drug War in the media. The fact is we do not and cannot entirely know what is happening in the Mexican Drug War because of these dangers. Most of the information we are getting is coming not from journalists on the ground who are investigating the situation, but from journalists who report on what government and military sources tell them. Knowing that journalists have become unable and (understandably) unwilling to report critically, political and military officials are given an obvious opportunity to manipulate information on the Drug War for their own benefit and at the expense of public knowledge.