The Obama White House was quick to condemn the publication Sunday evening of more than 91,000 secret documents detailing the monumentally misguided and frequently failed attempt by the United States to occupy Afghanistan.
National Security Adviser James Jones took the lead in attacking WikiLeaks for making the details of the war available to the American people—who are, ultimately, supposed to define the direction of US foreign policy—by declaring: “The United States strongly condemns the disclosure of classified information by individuals and organizations which could put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk, and threaten our national security."
Despite the fact that the "Afghanistan War Logs," which are being published by the New York Times, the Guardian and Der Speigel, detail the mess in Afghanistan, and point to the bigger mess that will be made if the occupation is expanded as the Obama administration proposes, Jones offered a classic don’t-confuse-us-with-the-facts response. "These irresponsible leaks will not impact our ongoing commitment to deepen our partnerships with Afghanistan and Pakistan; to defeat our common enemies; and to support the aspirations of the Afghan and Pakistani people."
The echo you are hearing is that of the Nixon administration responding to the publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971. Indeed, as Dan Ellsberg, the military analyst who leaked the Pentagon Papers says: "I’m very impressed by the release. It is the first release in thirty-nine years or forty years, since I first gave the Pentagon papers to the Senate, of the scale of the Pentagon papers."
We can only hope that Obama and his aides have read enough history to recognize that Nixon’s over-reaction to the Pentagon Papers began a process that would lead—at least in part—to a House Judiciary Committee vote to impeach him and the only presidential resignation in the country’s history.
It happens that, on the eve of the publication of the Afghanistan logs, I was with Ellsberg. We were in Cleveland at the Progressive Democrats of America conference, where a terrific documentary on Ellsberg—The Most Dangerous Man in America—was screened and I then interviewed the man who exposed the truth about the Vietnam War.
Ellsberg is a fan of WikiLeaks in particular and whistleblowers in general. He argues that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange "is serving our democracy and serving our rule of law precisely by challenging the secrecy regulations, which are not laws in most cases, in this country."
“I’ve sort of been waiting for somebody to do this for forty years," he says of the release and publication of the Afghanistan War Logs.