Wikileaks: An Antidote for the Pentagon’s Long History of Burying the Truth?

My Lai Masacre

My Lai Masacre

Excuse me if don’t start drooling with enthusiasm at the recent disclosure that the Pentagon and Wikileaks have been talking to each other about proper handling of further disclosures on our occupation of Afghanistan.

The Pentagon wants to protect our occupation forces from suffering more casualties and Wikileaks wants to be accepted as a mainstream player in international information dissemination. Each of these is a reasonable, logical aspiration as a philosophical construct. But each is voiced in a real world context that reveals distortions in the logic and the reasonableness. The easy way to reduce the number of occupation troops being wounded or killed is to remove them from the country they are occupying. Trying to control and censor reporting on the killing will neither eliminate it nor eliminate the patriotic motivation of the locals who inflict attacks on the occupiers.

The British instituted the Stamp Tax, in part, to make publishing criticism of their colonial policies prohibitively expensive. The Stamp Tax didn’t stop Sam Adams, Patrick Henry and others from revolting against the British. Censoring Wikileaks won’t stop Afghanis from revolting against our occupation.

Similarly, Wikileaks won’t achieve respectability by emulating corporate media and burying information and stories that offend the powerful. Television news supplanted print because TV networks were willing to give the Civil Rights movement lead story status while newspapers buried stories about “uppity coloreds” on their back pages. When the Pentagon lied about what was happening in Vietnam, TV networks didn’t editorialize, they simply broadcast accurate pictures that revealed the lies.

By even engaging the Pentagon, Wikileaks risks being co-opted by specialists who define the terms of discussion. Even before the first of the leaks was posted in July, war planners lined up Republican bloggers to condemn Wikileaks for putting “our troops” at risk. Men who are paid millions each year for writing screeds about how soldiers are whiners if they complain about inadequate body armor or weapons were now paid to condemn Wikileaks for revealing the conditions in which those soldiers learn about the inadequacy of the their tools.

These writers condemn Wikileaks for being selfish. They say that Wikileaks didn’t give any thought to the lives of troops that might be lost, or of the Afghan civilians who were providing “intelligence” to the U.S. occupation army. But not one of these writers ever said that the Bush-Pentagon no-bid contracts, faulty body armor, and reduced medical care and veterans’ benefits for those who come home were selfish.

These writers say that it is selfish to reveal the slaughter of civilians, when war contractors don’t want that information made public. But none suggests that it is selfish to decide to invade a nation, slaughter its civilians, install a puppet government universally derided as completely corrupt, and constantly lie to the taxpayers who pay for this excrescence.

Wikileaks tells us that it is planning to publish more secret Afghan information. Between the July leaks and the next round, a freedom of information request revealed a secret the Pentagon and the Republican Party wanted to keep. In 1972, General John LaVelle was demoted and forced out of the Air Force after being “revealed” as the officer responsible for illegal bombing of civilian areas in North Vietnam.

In August 2010, almost half a century later, documents were released that proved that General LaVelle had been falsely accused to provide a benefit to Republican candidates. The victim was a General, a man with 33 years of service to his country. Cashiered to aid the political fortunes of Tricky Dick Nixon and his cronies. Actually, the proof that LaVelle had been falsely accused and sacrificed to the needs of Republican politics was found three years ago, but remained hidden during the Bush administration.

That the Pentagon was willing to sacrifice a general with 33 years of service, from WWII to Vietnam, to help Republican politicians tell lies about wars was hardly a new or unique event. Vietnam also saw Lieutenant Calley picked to take all the blame for the My Lai massacre.

But we are told that Vietnam can’t be compared to Afghanistan. The Pentagon has learned so much since Vietnam – learned to be accountable and to act responsibly. Just ask the family of Pat Tillman. Remember Pat Tillman – killed by U.S. troops, in Afghanistan, by three shots to the head, fired, in daylight, by a U.S. soldier less than 30 feet away?

And the first thing that the ‘new, improved, more accountable’ Pentagon did was what? Bury the investigation report; Falsify records; and Issue press releases claiming that Tillman had been killed by Afghanis. For years after the event, Pentagon generals lied to the Tillman family, lied to Congress, lied to the public.

A lot different from Vietnam? NOT. This is the same conduct that always comes from the generals who profit from wars. The same thing that happened with Tillman and LaVelle and Calley happened during the Korean War when U.S. troops massacred civilians at No Gun Ri. It is the same thing that happened when our troops slaughtered women and children at Wounded Knee and then pretended that the “savage Indians” had attacked the soldiers.

In Iraq, U.S. troops attacked and slaughtered civilians and razed much of the city of Fallujah. This was done in retaliation for the killing, by Iraqi insurgents, of Blackwater mercenaries. A couple of years later, other Blackwater mercenaries drove their armored trucks into a public square and machine-gunned more civilians. For both the assault on Fallujah civilians and the Blackwater public square murders, the ‘new, improved, more responsible’ Pentagon issued press release lies, denying the facts and videos broadcast by the world press.

In Fallujah, U.S. troops used White Phosphorus weapons on civilians. Such weapons are outlawed by international rules of war. Our government denied reports of such use, even while the Pentagon was bragging about it in private discussions. New; Improved; More responsible.

Now, Wikileaks is being condemned for revealing what our troops are doing in Afghanistan. But revealing it to whom? Surely the Afghans already know that we are slaughtering their civilians. Republican commentators and bloggers routinely chastise the Afghanis for being insufficiently grateful for our attention, just as they chastised the Iraqis.

The world knows what we are doing. Our victims know what we are doing. The people to whom Wikileaks is speaking is US, the U.S. citizens who don’t get this information from our own corporate media. Yes, this is different from Vietnam. During the Vietnam war, our own media provided coverage of what was really going on. That’s different from today’s wars.

That difference helps focus on what is really ‘new and improved’ about the Pentagon. The new Pentagon has developed tools for much more effectively containing media coverage and limiting disclosure of what our troops do. Wikileaks is not covering that part of the story.

tom_hall_2.jpgWhat could be helpful for Wikileaks to do would be to release information on how our generals and colonels make their money. What war contractors do they invest in? What war profiteers hire retired officers or pay serving officers for “consulting services?”

An old adage about news coverage was “follow the money.” It could help us understand the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan if we could read fewer battlefield reports and more reports about how many officers in U.S. military service make money from military contractors. Helping us understand this aspect of the war machine could establish Wikileaks as much more than just a new, mainstream media player, without having to cozy up to and negotiate with the Pentagon.

Tom Hall

Published by the LA Progressive on August 23, 2010
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About Tom Hall

Tom Hall is a family lawyer in West Los Angeles. He is from Boston, and was raised in Friends Meeting at Cambridge (Quakers) to think that religion was a progressive force. During the Vietnam War, he organized draft counseling centers and worked with groups training people in techniques for disciplined nonviolent demonstrating. After the war, he became just another yuppie working to make a comfortable life. The Bush administration shocked him back into social concerns. Now he’s working to see that the Obama administration lives up to its progressive promises. Tom can be reached at ProgBlog@aol.com