The Afghanistan Papers v. The Pentagon Papers: How A Whistleblower Worked Much Better Than Endless FOIA Litigation

from the people-are-dying dept

On Monday morning, the Washington Post released The Afghanistan Papers, an incredible (though, tragically, not surprising) collection of unpublished notes and interview transcripts revealing that the past three administrations -- Trump, Obama, and Bush -- all lied consistently and repeatedly about how bad things were going in Afghanistan, pretending that various actions were succeeding, while the reality was they knew it was an unwinnable war.

“We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing,” Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar during the Bush and Obama administrations, told government interviewers in 2015. He added: “What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.”

“If the American people knew the magnitude of this dysfunction . . . 2,400 lives lost,” Lute added, blaming the deaths of U.S. military personnel on bureaucratic breakdowns among Congress, the Pentagon and the State Department. “Who will say this was in vain?”

And, as part of that, there was the concerted effort to hide this reality from the American public:

Several of those interviewed described explicit and sustained efforts by the U.S. government to deliberately mislead the public. They said it was common at military headquarters in Kabul — and at the White House — to distort statistics to make it appear the United States was winning the war when that was not the case.

“Every data point was altered to present the best picture possible,” Bob Crowley, an Army colonel who served as a senior counterinsurgency adviser to U.S. military commanders in 2013 and 2014, told government interviewers. “Surveys, for instance, were totally unreliable but reinforced that everything we were doing was right and we became a self-licking ice cream cone.”

John Sopko, the head of the federal agency that conducted the interviews, acknowledged to The Post that the documents show “the American people have constantly been lied to.”

For fairly obvious reasons, this release is being compared to the Pentagon Papers, a similar trove of documents that revealed how officials knew the Vietnam war was a lost cause and deliberately misled the American public about it for years.

There is one stark contrast between the two, however: how they came out. The Pentagon Papers came out because whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg leaked them to the press (for which President Nixon then tried to destroy his life in a bunch of different ways). The Afghanistan Papers, on the other hand, are coming out because of a years long FOIA battle by the Washington Post to get these documents released, against the wishes of the US government (who still was able to black out a bunch of information):

For all the talk about how whistleblowers and leakers should "use the proper channels," every time we see the "proper channels" in action, they seem to only open up opportunities for the government to delay, hide things, and continue whatever destructive (but embarrassing) policy they have in place. There is a place for whistleblowers to call out this kind of misconduct, and as Ellsberg himself has been saying for years, the growing attacks (by each administration) against whistleblowers and leakers has much more to do with government embarrassment, rather than any legitimate attempt to "protect national security."

Filed Under: afghanistan papers, daniel ellsberg, dod, doj, foia, forever war, leaks, pentagon papers, transparency, whistleblowing


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Dec 2019 @ 12:11pm

    Remember it's illegal to read that article

    You almost got me there, but thankfully I remembered the wise words of Chris Cuomo and avoided committing a crime.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      OGquaker, 11 Dec 2019 @ 12:08am

      Re: Remember: it's all for our prophet of profit

      2,400 US military deaths & 400,000 US dead from Afghanistan opium in the last 18 years, killing 90% White Americans.

      In a deal with the UN, the Taliban reduced opium production by over 90% (to about 8,000 hectors) by 2001.
      Between 2002 and 2018 opium production in Afghanistan rose to 300,000 hectors, protected by the US occupation.
      What about SE Asia in the 1970's, or crack cocaine ( killing 90% Black Americans) & Eugene Hasenfus in 1986? Go figure. What about American TV oozing with anti-hero drug pushers and an anti-hero US President?

      The Greek State funded a vicious fatalistic public Theater, Wall-street funds a hopeless ear-splitting torrent of phantasm killing. May i suggest you pop your pill & watch Sergio Leone's "Once Upon A Time In America" ?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 10 Dec 2019 @ 1:27pm

    Iraq, interesting place..

    And we thought we could do it better..
    Looking on the outside you dont get the problem there..
    40 muslim groups fighting each other over tribal ideals..

    You killed my Mothers bother from a different mother, on the 3rd day of 20 years ago, before he was born.. So now Im going to kill you.200 year old grudges.
    Groups where killing each other was common/practiced, holey and you could get a wonderful life if you did it,.

    a ruler trying to hold all this crap together.. And if there was a Killing/grudge.. it was as easy as killing both parties. Because that was going to happen after 1 killed the other, and the family sent others to kill the one still alive.
    This person had to have 5 other people that looked like him, wonder around the country..(what we are told)
    The people hate him, but they could LEAVE at any time. The borders were open, they were not restricted from leaving.

    OTHER groups tried to enter his nation and he Stopped as many as he could from coming and getting his people EVEN more pissy, and fighting Them also..
    He had a fair military and police force that were capable..and probably paid pretty well, to keep this rabble controlled.

    USA wouldnt help him because he had help from Russia, and also HE wouldnt Cow/tow to the USA..nor Russia. And I think Russia liked those people THERE, only THERE. Let them fight among themselves, with HIM as a Ref. keeping the balance.

    He had oil.. he kept trying to improve the country be Others kept destroying stuff, as if they loved living in Huts. The conditions and weather there is NOT the best.

    We blamed him for all kinds of things, with little to say or show and finally went after him. Insted of Circling Afghanistan Borders to keep those we were looking for, Trapped, we started a 2nd war. ANd enlarged the Border area we had to cover.

    We really walked into a war, "created" a 2nd, with little idea of how to capture 1 person.. In an area where walking across the border WASNT A PROBLEM.. As easy as walking across the border in any state in the USA.. "get a car, its easier"

    That is the basic.

    Now if you really want some fun...HOW and Why did we go after Bin Laden??
    Anyone remember the 10 year war with Russia, and the USA backing Afghanistan?? We supplied and taught them. AND MADE PROMISES..
    At the end of the war... Bin Laden asked us to fulfill the promises of fixing his country..(a couple billion at most).
    Mr. Bush sr. said NOPE..we cant do it. In about 1990. And in the next 10 years we had some strange things happen. But our presidents didnt want to Go after Bin Laden,,(yes we had explosions in and around the Towers in those 10 years)..
    We had Tapes played on TV and news, from bin Laden, with Gov. translations.. Hardly ever heard the words he was saying..(wish we could get thos tapes, ALL OF THEM).
    Then after 10+ years(??) a group actually got our attention. 9/11.

    But who knows the History of the twin towers..
    Being a 40+ year old building.. it had been used by our gov. and the WTO. It was the highest point in the USA to receive Basic radio signals from around the world.(Love our spies, dont you?)(remember BASIC OLD cellphones?? then using a SAT phone was NOT an easy thing, to bulky)

    If you have any contentions with this info, State them.. IMO, it is fairly simple and Should be fairly accurate, considering Im not a gov/military person.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Dec 2019 @ 1:33pm

    I thought this great country wad formed to get away from the lies of another? Why is it now one of the worst ehen it comes to honesty and integrity, with dishonesty of governments and security services taking the frontline along with anything that can screw the people? Are we worth so little that we dont even get respect? Keep things hidden from unfriendly nations but not your own people, surely! Everything that happens now seems to be just for protecting the few rather than the many!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 10 Dec 2019 @ 1:52pm

      Re: fool me once, fool me twice... ?

      .... Whistleblowers are supposed to be unnecessary in our sacred democratic republic 'cause we elect the best & brightest as Presidents & Congresspersons -- and those noble Federal officials selflessly pursue the public interest, never even dreaming of deceiving the citizens (?)

      But of course these kind of official lies are standard Federal practice in all U.S. wars ...and domestic policy as well.
      The rubes never seem to learn -- politicians fool most of the people most of the time.

      The lesson is to never trust government officials.

      (and WashPost has been a cheerleader for the Afghan War from the start)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 10 Dec 2019 @ 2:21pm

        Re: Re: fool me once, fool me twice... ?

        People fool themselves. People vote for the least bad option. Very few people operate on a rational and evidence-based decision-making process for voting and political involvement, or anything really. Local and state govs lie all the time also. Probably at a relatively higher rate.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 11 Dec 2019 @ 5:08am

          Re: Re: Re: fool me once, fool me twice... ?

          "People vote for the least bad option. Very few people operate on a rational and evidence-based decision-making process for voting and political involvement, or anything really. Local and state govs lie all the time also. Probably at a relatively higher rate."

          A self-reinforcing cycle. The citizenry can't be arsed to actively nail their representatives to the ground for lying and the representatives are thus encouraged to lie better rather than admit to faults.

          If we raised children the same way we train politicians every child would end up a sociopath who couldn't tell the truth if you put a gun to their head.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        R/O/G/S, 11 Dec 2019 @ 2:12am

        Re: Re: fool me once, fool me twice... ?

        The New York Times was a similar cheerleader for war in the 1960s.

        Patterns in big media ownership....

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 10 Dec 2019 @ 2:17pm

      Re:

      I thought this great country wad formed to get away from the lies of another?

      No, i don't think it was lies, but any story of how the US was formed is... just another story.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      ECA (profile), 10 Dec 2019 @ 2:17pm

      Re:

      When you keep people in the dark, Who is then responsible in a gov. where the PEOPLE are supposed to be in charge or WHO is to represent them??
      Did WE the people want the last 4-5 wars in the last 10-20 years??
      did those wars do the People, any good? Or Just the rich, reap the rewards??

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Dec 2019 @ 3:33pm

    The Afghanistan Papers, on the other hand, are coming out because of a years long FOIA battle by the Washington Post to get these documents released, against the wishes of the US government

    Mission accomplished.

    (who still was able to black out a bunch of information)

    Mission accomplished?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Personanongrata, 10 Dec 2019 @ 5:42pm

    Less than Zero Credibility

    There is a place for whistleblowers to call out this kind of misconduct, and as Ellsberg himself has been saying for years, the growing attacks (by each administration) against whistleblowers and leakers has much more to do with government embarrassment, rather than any legitimate attempt to "protect national security."

    Hiding this kind of misconduct behind the pitch dark veil of national security and states secrets doctrine has much more to do with covering up the myriad of criminal acts (eg war crimes, torture, assassination, total surveillance, profiteering, etc) carried out by generals, admirals, politicians, government agents, political appointees than protecting government from embarrassment.

    How can a non-living/breathing entity (ie government) be embarrassed?

    Italicized/bold text was excerpted from Thomas Jefferson's:

    Fair Copy of the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798

    in questions of power then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the constitution.

    http://tjrs.monticello.org/letter/177

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Dec 2019 @ 7:09am

    Two words

    Julian Assange.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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