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A Few Positive Externalities from the Afghan War Diaries.

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This is my last post on Wikileaks for a bit because I’ll be on the road with my son for a few days. So far, I’ve been making the case that the potential negative externalities of the “Wikileaks Papers” outweigh the potential value of the “revelations,” and I stand by those claims.

However for balance I’d like to acknowledge some bright sides to all this as well:

1) Researchers Can Now Better Measure The Impact of Military Operations on Civilians. My ethical qualms with its collection and dissemination aside, I’m personally and professionally very excited by the data in this archive. It may not have revealed much substantively new about the course of the war, but what’s new and important about micro-data like this is it provides is exactly what analysts have needed to accurately calculate things like the ratio of civilian to combatant deaths from drone strikes – an elusive number that may influence the debate over whether such weapons are proportional. In fact this is the perfect data source for a paper I have long wanted to work on, and thanks to Assange I and my colleagues may now be able to. How fabulous.

2) Growing Sentiment Towards a Norm of Civilian Casualty-Counting. AsI mentioned in my last post, one of the gaps in international humanitarian law is that (to my knowledge) there is no written requirement that an occupying power disclose incident reports of civilian casualties. However a growing movement of activists argues that this should indeed be considered a rule of war, and this is an argument with which I have been in whole-hearted agreement. We keep count of the number of US troops killed abroad; we should keep count of the number of local civilians who die in our wars. So should other countries. The Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict has asked the Pentagon to name a high-level official dedicated to the human costs of war, but so far there is no such individual tasked to collate accurate records of civilian deaths. Nor does any standardized mechanism exist at the international level. Better record-keeping is indispensable not only to helping us understand the true cost of our wars, but in evaluating and improving civilian protection measures. I’m heartened to see that so much of the positive reaction to Wikileaks centers on the value of this particular data, as it suggests we may be inching toward a wider expectation that governments include such mechanisms for tracking and reporting these numbers in their defense ministries.

3) Public attention to Afghanistan. I don’t think the attention is going to sway the US to leave Afghanistan sooner; I’m not sure it should, and in fact Julian Assange himself doesn’t argue that the US should up and leave right away. However any time the US public can be prevailed upon to drag its attention away from Chelsea, Lindsay and ViewGate long enough to consider the facts on the ground for our troops and the people whose country they’re trying to rebuild, I have to say that’s something.

It’s not enoughin my view, but it’s something.

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