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“War Diaries 2.0″: Is Wikileaks Moving Down the Learning Curve?

[ 11 ] October 23, 2010 |

In a number of respects the Iraq War Diaries constitute a repeat of the Afghan War Diaries – a massive data dump bringing to light few unknowns but casting knowns in much sharper relief. And as in July, Julian Assange is predictably being hailed or harangued by different corners. However, a few things that are different this time ’round:

1) Assange was previously criticized, including by me, for protecting his sources but exposing the names of vulnerable individuals named in the documents themselves.* In July Assange claimed this was justifiable and at any rate couldn’t be helped. In his newest public statements, however, Assange has bent over backward to insist he did a more careful redaction this time, “beginning with everything blacked out and then carefully deciding what to put back in.” My cursory examination of some random documents suggests it may be true. While I withhold judgment until either I or someone else has looked through a larger number of them, I do feel generally a bit less uncomfortable than I was last time he unleashed a dump like this – if only because he acknowledges the norm of limiting collateral damage in war reporting as well as war fighting.*If he has in fact internalized some ethical standards prominent among human rights defenders, it may help him avoid a backlash from the very individuals whose work he aims to support.

2) Based on his statements, Assange now seems to understand what constitute “war crimes.”

“There are over 300 recorded reports of coalition forces committing torture and abuse of detainees across 284 reports and over 1,000 cases of Iraqi security forces committing similar crimes,” WikiLeaks added. “There are numerous cases of what appear to be clear war crimes by U.S. forces, such as the deliberate killing of persons trying to surrender.”

Indeed, those would be war crimes – as compared to some of his earlier claims. In short, Assange is developing a clearer understanding of international law and discourse, something that will help him frame the significance of what he is trying to do and may raise his credibility within the human rights community.

3) Wikileaks’ mode of information dissemination is also much more sophisticated this time. The Afghan War Diaries site was fairly rudimentary, a simple portal through which individuals could download the entire set of files. Warlogs.Wikileaks.org includes a search engine with a topic model, and in the absence of a search presents documents from the files seemingly at random.* (I like the tool that automatically expands acronyms.) Most interestingly is the separate page where individuals can comment on bits of the logs without downloading the whole, flagging specific documents and providing commentary. I don’t know yet how this will affect the way in which the data is interpreted but it will be interesting to watch. Truly, “War Diaries 2.0″.

4) Finally, the answer to the question in the title may ultimately be based less on learning from external critiques and constraints and more on internal dynamics within the organization itself – which are also in constant motion. An excellent source to follow on what Wikileaks is, as opposed to what it does, is here.

More observations about the media coverage and the archive itself over the next few days.

*However, see my addendums to this point at Duck of Minerva.

Comments (11)

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  1. Dave says:

    Nuke the troops.

    • kgarione says:

      We Australians are getting dragged into all the US wars, because we are a loyal friend. As a loyal friend we are now asking – why does the US run around the world, telling people what to do ? I think you have enough to deal with at home

  2. tenacitus says:

    When Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers at least half of what was released was known or suspected by people who were paying attention. The same could be said about Iran-Contra. However its good when these matters come to light since governments and the corporations that work for them can be held accountable. I also believe transparency is better than concealment.

    As to the redaction; after the way the Pentagon & other organs of the US govt treated their informers, translators, and agents I am guessing that they really don’t care about their assests being redacted but wanted to use that as a means of discrediting Assange. After all this technique has been used on people such as Ellsberg, Agee and others.

    • Oscar Leroy says:

      Some people just have to have the truth pounded over their head before it even begins to sink in. Hopefully documents like these will help with that.

      • soullite says:

        I’d wager that this is exactly what the media relies on when it prints a single story on any given subject and lets it fall down the memory hole only to scream “OLD NEWS!!!!!” when its brought back up again.

  3. toast says:

    Hi Charli, again.
    I’m sorry, but I wish you were as smart as you think you are. Sometimes you might try to look beyond the books of “law” (written by whom?) and try to be human. The scale of violence and death promoted by coalition forces in the Middle East really doesn’t leave you with much justification for turning on Assange, and the perhaps 10 people he has put in jeopardy. (Though every source I’ve read has said that the effect against informers, what have you, has been zero.) I understand that Assange can annoy people (myself included) but he’s just the messenger. Focusing on him, and the legality of what he does, just averts attention away from the information he turns over.
    Good job, well done.
    Toast
    At least I didn’t use any curse words this time. But if we weren’t all so far removed from the reality over there, we would all be swearing our silly heads off. all the time.

    • strategichamlet says:

      “I’m sorry, but I wish you were as smart as you think you are. Sometimes you might try to look beyond the books of “law” (written by whom?) and try to be human.”

      Condescend much? Do you treat all bloggers you disagree with like this?

      “just averts attention away from…”

      Yes! The blogging about anything but what I consider to be most important makes you morally inferior fallacy. Sneers that easy just never die.

  4. [...] with Wikileaks’ release of Afghan war records earlier this year, the Iraq release is, to quote Lawyers, Guns & Money, “a massive data dump bringing to light few unknowns but casting knowns in much sharper [...]

  5. tenacitus says:

    Toast & StrategicHamlet I agree with both of you. However what Charli does reminds me of a book I read 15 years ago about Islamic Economics.

    When I read the book there were some parts that were really thin. The thin parts mainly dealt with the practicalities of interest free lending. However the most important thing was that a muslim economist was trying to apply ethics to a system that we can easily say is immutable. That book was a good first step for muslim economists who want to see if they can put their money where their morality is.

    Though I think that the basic premises of Project Minerva and many related IR projects are fatally flawed I think that developing a ethics to war and finding practical ways of increasing human security is a good thing. So I think that its good for us to have these posts.

    However if academics are not careful they just become sock puppets for the establishment and the people they claim to want to help will catch on very quickly. After all many people now look on the academics who worked on MK-ULTRA stuff as either unethical or antihuman in some way.

  6. [...] Getting Better at What it Does Charli Carpenter of the blog Lawyers, Guns and Money notes that Assange and the WikiLeaks team seem to be getting [...]

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