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the Washington Post released The Afghanistan Papers, an incredible (though, tragically, not surprising) collection of unpublished notes and interview transcripts revealing that the past three administrations — Trump, Obama, and Bush — all lied consistently and repeatedly about how bad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):
.@washingtonpost sued twice for release of these docs over 3-year FOIA battle that continues. 2,000 pages of unpublished notes & transcripts from 428 interviews were released. Docs ID 62 interviewees. Post still seeks 366 names that remain blacked out. https://t.co/AiFLiZuSy4
— Marty Baron (@PostBaron) December 9, 2019
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.”