Tuesday, July 27, 2010

When Corruption Is Outlawed, Only Outlaws Will Be Corrupt

We hear a lot about how corrupt Hamid Karzai's government is, and I imagine much of it is true: Karzai is, after all, our creature, our man in Kabul. Almost by definition, a leader installed by invaders is going to be corrupt. If the US had thought Karzai would have too much of a mind of his own, we'd have looked for someone else. It's also useful that such a person should be at least somewhat dirty, so we'll have an excuse for taking him down (or letting him fall) when we choose to do so.

So, when Democracy Now reported this morning that
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has ordered an investigation into a recent NATO air strike that reportedly killed as many as fifty-two civilians, including women and children. Karzai called on NATO troops to "put into practice every possible measure to avoid harming civilians during military operations." Afghan officials say the civilians died when a NATO helicopter gunship opened fire on a compound where they had taken shelter after fleeing an expected firefight between Taliban fighters and NATO troops. US military officials have rejected the claims of the Afghan government, saying there is no evidence civilians were injured or killed.
I had to snicker derisively. The US denial is of course tantamount to an admission of guilt, since the US military always lies about its atrocities. (So does every military and every government, of course, but there's all this American Exceptionalism around.)

The same thing goes for the Obama administrations's efforts to downplay this weekend's release by Wikileaks of a huge batch of documents about the US war in Afghanistan, which "provide a devastating portrait of the war in Afghanistan, revealing how coalition forces have killed hundreds of civilians in unreported incidents, how a secret black ops special forces unit hunts down targets for assassination or detention without trial, how Taliban attacks have soared, and how Pakistan is fueling the insurgency." The White House first complained that this was a threat to US security, citing a "potential national security concern" and then declaring that "there’s no broad new revelations in this". All quite familiar. (It's not just the White House, of course. The AP reports that Senator Jane Harman, D-CA, claimed (via) that "Someone inadvertently or on purpose gave the Taliban its new 'enemies list.'" That's a lie, since no one in the US government could have vetted all the material in the time before Harman's remark, and the newspapers which reported on it collaborated with the White House to remove identifying details. Not that I could get all that excited if it were true, since those collaborators provide the US with information for our atrocities.)

(P.S. July 28: The London Times claims that it found identifying details in the documents; Julian Assange of Wikileaks denies it; "Robert Riegle, a former senior intelligence officer, said: "'It's possible that someone could get killed in the next few days.'" Of course, people are getting killed in Afghanistan all the time, often by US troops or predator drones using intelligence given by Afghan informants.)

Amy Goodman's interview with Guardian editor editor David Leigh shows another familiar pattern: the White House worried that the released material would endanger Afghan collaborators, people who had worked with the US. But as Leigh says,
Well, I’ll say it again: we had already decided, on Spiegel, on the New York Times and on The Guardian, what we were going to do, and we were going to take out names that we thought might be in danger of reprisals. And we decided not to publish certain intelligence reports that describe that kind of thing. So all those decisions had been taken. So the White House was pushing at an open door when it said, "We don’t want people to be in danger." So they’re not—they’re congratulating us for something we had already decided to do.
As Glenn Greenwald says, "But best of all was DN's report of an appearance by former hacker Adrian Lamo, who'd turned in Bradley Manning, the alleged whistleblower for Wikileaks' earlier release of the video of a US massacre in Iraq. Lamo spoke at a Hackers on Planet Earth conference and got a rough reception:

    ADRIAN LAMO: I think that the government behaved themselves better than a lot of people would give them credit for. To set the record clear, I am not an informant. I’m a witness in a criminal case. It’s not that different, in my eyes, from being a witness in any other case that could involve potential loss of life.

    EMMANUEL GOLDSTEIN: Adrian, I mean, you say it’s—you know, it’s been a pleasant experience for you, you know, working with the government on this, I guess. But Bradley Manning, the alleged leaker, is currently sitting in prison in Kuwait, I believe, and he could be locked up for the rest of his life. How do you feel about that?

    AUDIENCE MEMBER: Tortured!

    ADRIAN LAMO: I think that it’s a little bit ludicrous to say that Bradley Manning is going to be tortured. We don’t do that to our citizens.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER: Guantánamo!

    ADRIAN LAMO: I mean, obviously it’s been much worse for him, but it’s certainly been no picnic for me. And I knew from the get-go that it was going to be a low point in my interactions with the community. And I—

    UNIDENTIFIED: Yet you could have ignored him. When he first contacted you, you were not obliged to ever answer him. You could have simply ignored him, and none of this would have ever happened.

    ADRIAN LAMO: And Mr. Manning could have ignored the diplomatic cables, and he could have ignored the collateral murder video, but he followed his conscience, as I did mine.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER: From my perspective, I see what you have done as treason.

It's best if you watch the clip and hear it for yourself, though. When I listened, I echoed the audience response to Lamo's claim that the US doesn't torture its citizens: