Measuring Blood on Hands in the Wikileaks Controversy

Tom Englehardt questions Joint Chief of Staff Chair Mike Mullen's accusations that Wikileaks has blood on their hands because info they leaked could lead people to kill Afghan informants or American soliders. Some excerpts on why Mullen might not be the best spokesman for that position of scrupulous moral responsibility for deaths possibly caused because of command decisions you made:

[Mullen] was, for example, chairman in July 2008, when an American plane or planes took out an Afghan bridal party — 70 to 90 strong and made up mostly of women — on a road near the Pakistani border.  They were "escorting the bride to meet her groom as local tradition dictates." The bride, whose name we don’t know, died, as did at least 27 other members of the party, including children.  Mullen was similarly chairman in August 2008 when a memorial service for a tribal leader in the village of Azizabad in Afghanistan’s Herat Province was hit by repeated U.S. air strikes that killed at least 90 civilians, including perhaps 15 women and up to 60 children. Among the dead were 76 members of one extended family....

Mullen was still chairman in April 2009 when members of the family of Awal Khan, an Afghan army artillery commander on duty elsewhere, were killed in a U.S.-led raid in Khost province in eastern Afghanistan.  Among them were his "schoolteacher wife, a 17-year-old daughter named Nadia, a 15-year-old son, Aimal, and his brother, employed by a government department."....

Mullen remained chairman when, in November 2009, two relatives of Majidullah Qarar, the spokesman for the Minister of Agriculture, were shot down in cold blood in Ghazni City in a Special Operations night raid; as he was — and here we move beyond the WikiLeaks time frame — when, in February 2010, U.S. Special Forces troops in helicopters struck a convoy of mini-buses, killing up to 27 civilians, including women and children; as he also was when, in that same month, in a special operations night raid, two pregnant women and a teenage girl, as well as a police officer and his brother, were shot to death in their home in a village near Gardez, the capital of Paktia province....

And this represents only a grim, minimalist highlight reel among rafts of such incidents, including enough repeated killings or woundings of innocent civilians at checkpoints that previous Afghan war commander General Stanley McChrystal commented: "We’ve shot an amazing number of people and killed a number and, to my knowledge, none has proven to have been a real threat to the force."  In other words, if your basic Martian visitor were to take the concept of command responsibility at all seriously, he might reasonably weigh actual blood (those hundreds of unreported civilian casualties of the American war the Guardian highlighted, for example) against prospective blood (possible Afghan informers killed by the Taliban via names combed from the WikiLeaks documents) and arrive at quite a different conclusion from Chairman Mullen.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • ||

    So, is the argument here that our forces have brought harm to a bunch of Afghanis, so its no biggie if Assange does the same?

    Or, are we saying that all those people who were opposed to the Afghanistan war because of its inevitalbe civilian casualties should have been ignored, because at the time those casualties were just "prospective blood" on our hands?

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: RC Dean,

    So, is the argument here that our forces have brought harm to a bunch of Afghanis, so its no biggie if Assange does the same?

    "And why worry about a speck in your friend's eye when you have a log in your own..."

    Matthew, 7:3

    The point is that he should be careful before judging others. Documents don't kill people, murdering assholes like Mullen certainly have.

  • ||

    The point is that he should be careful before judging others.

    Bah, it's the same grade of logic as that which pretends that non-soldiers don't have the right to have an opinion on war (pro or con).

  • Les||

    The argument is neither of those things. The argument is that it's very fair to say that Wikileaks could have put Afghanis in danger because of carelessness in redacting their names, but that people who have had a hand in actually (as opposed to potentially) killing innocent Afghanis are not the right people to preach about having blood on one's hands. People like Mullen rarely have the humility to sit down and shut up when they really ought to.

  • Paul||

    Or, are we saying that all those people who were opposed to the Afghanistan war because of its inevitalbe civilian casualties should have been ignored, because at the time those casualties were just "prospective blood" on our hands?

    Assange implies this through the logical end of his own statement-- even though I wouldn't accuse Assange of believing it.

  • ||

    "Some excerpts on why Mullen might not be the best spokesman for that position of scrupulous moral responsibility for deaths possibly caused because of command decisions you made:..."

    It's hard for me to understand why two wrongs make a right here too...

    I'm not saying that what Wikileaks did was wrong, but if it was, I don't understand why other people doing the same thing in another way would make it okay.

    That's like saying that heroin addicts shouldn't criticize drunk drivers, but really, driving around drunk is an irresponsible thing to do. ...even if heroin addicts criticize it...you know what I mean.

  • Old Mexican||

    [Mullen] was, for example, chairman in July 2008, when an American plane or planes took out an Afghan bridal party [...] They were "escorting the bride to meet her groom as local tradition dictates." The bride, whose name we don’t know, died, as did at least 27 other members of the party, including children.

    This made my stomach turn.

    Maybe they deserved it, like those Hiroshima dead. I expect someone to use the same argument to defend the above, otherwise let me question your sincerity.

  • ||

    Maybe they deserved it, like those Hiroshima dead.

    The bomb dropped on Hiroshima was aimed and hit a military target. The Japanese military of the 1900's had a tendency to put their bases in civilian centers.

    It was and has never been about "deserved". It was about taking out a military target and intimidating an enemy into surrender for the sake of saving our own men and our own resources from a protracted bloody war.

  • ||

    Especially considering our experience on Iwo Jima.

    Especially considering they had a few days after Hiroshima to surrender before Nagasaki was hit...

    Especially when you consider they surrendered afterward...

    I think I'd feel differently if they hadn't surrendered. Then someone might say it was for nothing.

    It wasn't for nothing.

  • ||

    As if bombing and invading the coutnry and fighting house to house or starving it to death via blocade was somehow a better alternative to the bomb.

  • ||

    It's also harder to imagine a better friend than the United States after the war.

    I'm not saying anybody should be glad they were nuked, but losing to the United States wasn't exactly the end of Japanese civilization.

  • RyanXXX||

    The blockade would have been morally justifiable, though. Not so sure about the nukes

  • Apogee||

    Also, at that time, the US was indeed at war with the country of Japan. We at now at war with a rogue insurgency in Afghanistan, not with Afghanistan.

    There weren't factions of Japanese that hated the emperor and had been forced to support the war effort, like the Afghanis general dislike of the Taliban and Pakistani influence.

  • AA||

    "like the Afghanis general dislike of the Taliban and Pakistani influence"

    If this is the case then why aren't the Afghani's helping more instead of sitting around and watching us do their work.

  • ||

    OM, would you have preferred to starve them to death?

  • Jerry||

    Phillip Agee must be turning around in his grave!

  • Dello||

    "Mike Mullen's accusations that Wikileaks has blood on their hands because info they leaked could lead people to kill Afghan informants or American soliders."

    And he's absolutely right.

    NOBODY would have ANY reason to kill an American soldier if it weren't for Wikileaks...

  • Daniel||

    We get it, you're not too keen on that war in Afghanistan.

    Mullen is either right or he's wrong that Assange put Afghan lives at risk. What happened under Mullen's command has nothing to do with that assertion. It's just a gratuitous slap at a policy you don't like. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

  • tarran||

    Assange isn't directly putting anyone's lives at risk. He merely published a whole bunch of documents.

    Now, if you wonder why the people reading those documents are going to be motivated to go out and kill people, then we're looking at the actions taken by men under Mullen's command...

    In other words, if Assange is guilty of setting up a bunch of collaborators for being murdered, Mullen is, by any rational used to hold Assange guilty, far more guilty.

  • Cytotoxic||

    Oh right, it was peace and butterflies before Mullen got there. Nobody would want to hurt anybody if it weren't for meany Americans and their guns.

  • ||

    You forgot to blame Ronald Reagan.

    Everything that's gone wrong in the world since the 1970s is ultimately the fault of Ronald Reagan.

  • tarran||

    Logic fail;

    The collaborators, informers etc are at risk because most of the population has a great deal of animosity toward the U.S., which is, of course, the result of the U.S. using air power to pacify the countryside.

    The Taliban are murderous thugs, granted, but they are viewed by many there more favourably than the U.S. army is, mainly because the Taliban slaughter with a purpose, and the U.S. slaughters arbitrarily with much more devastating weaponry.

    If the United States weren't killing people, destroyng farms in the name of the War on (some) Drugs(tm) or torturing and/or disappearing people kidnapped and turned in for a bounty, perhaps the locals would be
    a) more prone to collaborate
    b) more willing to protect collaborators
    c) be more hostile to the Taliban.

    And, the wikileaks release would be about as interesting as the release of the latest batch of flag promotions.

  • ||

    "The collaborators, informers etc are at risk because most of the population has a great deal of animosity toward the U.S.,"

    No. Not because there is a small dedicated enemy committed to killing and terrorizing the population. No, it is because the majority of the population hate us. Any links to show that other than your hopes and dreams?

    The majority of the population and this country don't like MS 13. But if I was informing on them, I wouldn't want that made public.

  • Mexican Footbal Announcer||

    The Taliban are murderous thugs, granted, but they are viewed by many there more favourably than the U.S. army is, mainly because the Taliban slaughter with a purpose, and the U.S. slaughters arbitrarily with much more devastating weaponry.


    Just about all of this is the opposite of being true. The Taliban is hated much more than international forces. The whole thing *is* like the dynamics of a Baltimore street gang vs the Baltimore police, where the former are terrorizing assholes that the population loathes, but the latter have either been totally ineffective and/or pulled off enough dick moves in the past to be not trusted by the population.

  • Kolohe||

    damn, that's a joke name from a week ago

  • tarran||

    Just about all of this is the opposite of being true. The Taliban is hated much more than international forces. The whole thing *is* like the dynamics of a Baltimore street gang vs the Baltimore police,

    I think that really depends on what part of Afghanistan one is talking about. Certainly the Taliban are hated in the non-Pashtun areas of the country.

    Among the Pashtun's, on the other hand, the Taliban are pretty popular.

    Moreover, the puppet regime in Kabul is notoriously corrupt, which endears it to no one. The U.S. thus is seen to be imposing a corrupt, venal govenrment while the Taliban stand for upright morality and good governance.

    Personally, I would take the corrupt puppet state over the Taliban any day, but I'm not a Pashto with their fucked up primitive tribal culture.

  • RyanXXX||

    Insurgencies don't survive (let alone THRIVE) without civilian support. The fact that the Taliban is fighting at all contradicts your claim

  • ||

    Is it just me or are Doherty and Moynihan having a little blog war?

  • ||

    Ah, good old ad hominem as a first result. And people wonder why the antiwar side couldn't win an argument.

  • ||

    Of course, before the war actually happened, we had to measure the "actual blood" killed by the Taliban far more harshly than the "prospective blood" that the war might kill, and come to a very different conclusion than afterwards.

    Nice of Englehardt to attempt to provide a rationale for why the American people are right to support wars before they occur and turn against them later. Why "prospective blood" doesn't count for much, no matter how well anticipated.

  • hmm||

    Afghanistan has been a mess of mistaken deaths starting with Ahmad Shah Massoud and not protecting him in 2001. So the last people who should be talking smack about putting Afghan lives at risk in this shitty Afghan war is the US.

  • Kolohe||

    Massoud's the man, but someone set him up the bomb three days before 9/11/2001.

  • ||

    So the last people who should be talking smack about putting Afghan lives at risk in this shitty Afghan war is the US.

    umm i think my list would at worse put the US third from last:

    last: Al'Qaeda
    2nd from last: Taliban
    3rd from last: US

    If you don't agree i would like to know how you rationalize that?

  • tarran||

    I would argue that the U.S. is actually guilty of doing to the Afghans what Al Queda did to the Iraqi's: indiscriminate slaughter of allies or neutrals.

    That to me is the significance of the leak. It explains to a large measure why so much of the population hates the occupation force and views the Taliban as an improvement.

  • ||

    "I would argue that the U.S. is actually guilty of doing to the Afghans what Al Queda did to the Iraqi's: indiscriminate slaughter of allies or neutrals."

    And you woudl be completely full of shit. If the US actually engaged in wholesale slaughter with the fire power we have there would be millions of Afghan dead rather than the few friendly fire incidents you like to bitch about.

    The anti-war side would be taken more seriously if they could ever make a coherent argument.

  • slayer of pancakes||

    He didn't say wholesale, he said indiscriminate. As in, not putting enough effort into making sure the slaughter happens to the right people.

  • tarran||

    with the fire power we have there would be millions of Afghan dead rather than the few friendly fire incidents you like to bitch about.

    Way to miss the point, Captain Bunchedpanties!

    One, it's not just friendly fire incidents, such as when U.S. forces killed the family of a friendly warlord. It's the killing of numerous non-combatants. Moreover, it's not that U.S. forces are screaming "get some" while shooting farmers arbitrarily.

    Rather U.S. forces are depending on air power, which is far less discriminating than a rifle man on the ground, to make up for a lack of riflemen, and the use of guys peering through a video screen to target people living in a society with a wholly alien culture leads inevitably to the U.S. killing people who, under local cultural norms, weren't fair game.

    To me what's telling is that we aren't seeing a repetition of what happened in Iraq, when Al Queda so pissed off the local tribal leaders with its campaign of wholesale slaughters that the local tribes turned on Al Queda and drove them out.

    This isn't happening in Afghanistan. My understanding is that it's quite the opposite: the Taliban are increasingly tolerated, while the American soldiers seem to be ceding more and more territory to their enemies.

    I don't find this surprising since the U.S. and their local auxiliaries have killed 10,000+ people.

    In effect we're like 9/11 times 45.

  • ||

    The question for me is: has there been any independent analysis which has determined that the Wikileaks got anybody killed, or will do so? The fact that the government claims it is so means less than nothing; the government is not exactly a disinterested party.

  • ||

    And sometimes I've wondered if this isn't a scam of some sort, given that the pro-war-with-Iran crowd quickly seized on leaks that appear to help their cause ("proof" that the Iranians are killing American soldiers in Afghanistan).

    Not to mention that this will provide a nice part of the Dolchstosslegende of the neocons, to explain away that the war was lost solely due to a "stab in the back".

  • ||

    Has it ever occured to you that it really was a leak and that the Iranians are killing our soldiers in Afghanistan? I know they are brown people. And you are a libertarian and as a result think all brown people shit rainbows and would never never do anything wrong. But if you are going to believe the leaks you do like, you also have to beleive the ones that gore your sacred cow of Iran being a peaceful groovy place.

  • RyanXXX||

    You think the Iranians want to see the Taliban back in power? The same group that tortured/killed Iranian diplomates in 90's and regularly butchers native shiites?

    Reminds me of when people said IRAN was behind Al Qaeda in Iraq, with no mention of our big "friend" Saudi Arabia.

    And if we have a right to mess around in Afghanistan to protect our "interests", don't the Iranians? They have much more at stake, considering that they are a bordering country

  • ||

    Has it ever occured to you that it really was a leak and that the Iranians are killing our soldiers in Afghanistan?

    Yes, it has. I guess you didn't see my first post. That's why I asked about independent confirmation.

    It's a matter of basic logic that some of the leaked documents could contain incorrect conclusions--even assuming absolutely no skulduggery. Are you really arguing that every single document out of such a large pile is 100% correct?

    I understand this is an emotional issue for you. But I've never said that Iran is a "peaceful groovy place". I just don't accept everything the government tells me without question.

    And I know you're sufficiently well educated not to need a history lesson on government lying.

  • ||

    Sorry, I meant to add a couple of other things:

    I am also maintaining a skeptical attitude toward leaks purporting to describe war crimes. Although war crimes have probably occurred, I think that specific incidents should be investigated before we start hauling soldiers before courts-martial.

    And just as I can suspect pro-war zealots, I can suspect anti-war zealots as well even though I'm in the anti-war camp. Zealots are, well, zealots. It's not impossible that a few faked up docs could be slipped into a big doc dump.

    Finally, with a doc dump this big you also have to be careful about picking any one document out by itself. As those of us who have served in the military know (IIRC you fall into that category), initial reports can be fragmentary and even wrong. Not necessarily because of skulduggery or even incompetence, but just the normal course of things. You've got to make sure that you've read the whole chain of updates.

    I'm just not ready to swallow any of this without looking first. I'm sorry that offends you.

  • Warty||

    And you are a libertarian and as a result think all brown people shit rainbows and would never never do anything wrong.

    This is uncalled for. I hate the swarthy.

  • Michael Dukakis||

    My people were little people.
    Little swarthy people.

  • ||

    But for a lack of an 's' and a 'h' there so go you. Could be self loathing, or in this case, 'self sloathhing'

  • Sidd Finch||

    It's amazing how often the internets say "ad hom u doochenozzle lulz" but hasn't bothered to figure out what it means or when, paired with a noun, it's a Bad Thing.

  • Borepatch||

    Let's see now - we're just like the Taliban, huh?

    Taliban:
    - Stone women to death
    - Make men all grow breards
    - Outlaw music
    - Outlaw sports
    - Hold mass executions in sporting stadiums
    - Give refuge to al Qaeda

    US:
    - Make some mistakes in targeting, while sacrificing hundreds of our citizens under onerous rules of engagement designed to minimize civilian casualties

    But the dude is some general, and works for the Fed.Gov, so he's clearly an asshole. Or something.

    Every now and then, Reason runs a piece mystified why more of the country doesn't get behind the "clearly superior" libertarian agenda. There's some righteous display of IQ going on here for that.

    And guys like me are with you on probably 90% of your agenda, and this has me spitting nails.

  • RyanXXX||

    Ah, the beauty of strawmen.

    You completely ignored the post's essential argument: Wikileaks may very well have "blood on their hands," but the person to point the finger at them IS NOT a high-ranking American general. Pot calling the kettle black, see?

    If you don't see the logic in that, I don't know what can be done with you

  • ||

    Wikileaks may have blood on their hands? That´s not what I´m reading. When has Reason addressed the Afghan wikileak? Far easier to accuse the military of having more blood on their hands than Assange, not of course by direct argument but by linking to an antiwar site.

  • RyanXXX||

    No "accusation" is necessary. It's crystal clear to anyone paying attention that the military has more blood on its hands than wikileaks.

    These people who are SOOO concerned about civilian casualties when wikileaks is "responsible" barely mutter a peep when the military wipes out entire villages

  • Borepatch||

    RyanXXX, the logic is absolutely irrelevant to the question "What does a libertarian say we should do to the people who harbored our attackers?"

    This is probably the biggest reason that libertarians enjoy their 2% of the vote. But I guess pointing out that the General is a big poopy head makes you feel better.

    If you can't see that, I don't know what can be done with you.

  • RyanXXX||

    What should we have done after 9/11? BRUTALLY gone in and decimated the Taliban, left Tora Bora in rubble, and killed Bin Laden before he could slip into Pakistan. Sending in a handful of special forces and CIA to work with corrupt warlords, and teach the population about democracy and women's rights, was not the way to go.

    We should have been out of Afghanistan by 2002.

    Besides, we are not fighting those people now. We are fighting a new batch of insurgents who have been driven to take up arms by our occupation. The original Taliban leadership and Al Qaeda are safely in Pakistan.

    Should we attack Pakistan for "harboring" them as well?

  • ||

    JCS is conducting a war, and innocents will be killed unvoluntarily in any war.

    Assange could have leaked parts of the Afghan wikileaks without putting peoples´ lives at risk. He chose not to. Maybe he thinks they are worth sacrificing to end the war in Afghanistan, maybe he doesn´t care, but he can´t just wash his hands without explanation.

    The post reeks of moral relativism, and I am well aware that the poster does not express any opinion and just links to it. I suspect this is Reason editorial policy - avoid directly addressing issues that are controversial even in libertarian circles.

  • JOR||

    "The post reeks of moral relativism. . ."

    Whatever else might be wrong with it, this post has at its core the exact opposite of moral relativsm. (Moral relativism is the refusal to judge A and B by the same universal standard; people who complain that posts like this are relativistic are really complaining that they aren't relativistic enough).

  • nfl premier jerseys||

    Sounds Great!!What you had mentioned is quite reasonable! Beautifully written article sir.
    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    nfl premier jerseys
    Dallas Cowboys premier jerseys

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement