A self-serving insider perspective of wikileaks?

24 Oct

In an opinion piece for Al Jazeera, Grenier, a retired CIA veteran suggests that the recent wikileaks reveals few surprises. Furthermore, the greatest potential harm lies in promoting ‘tendentious interpretations’ i.e. a particular viewpoint or cause that is especially controversial. In particular, he opined that there are two significant areas of consideration with regards to the wikileaks release: the contents and the impact of the documents released.

On the contents, he argued that there is nothing significantly revealing. For instance, he argued that there is nothing groundbreaking with the killing of civilians as a result of contact with US troops or ‘escalation of force’ incidents.

He also argued that it is hasty to conclude or lay the blame at US personnel who only saw torture evidence (not the torture acts) and reported them dutifully. After all, what were they supposed to do? he asked.  I quote,

‘It seems disingenuous to me to suggest that the fact that few such investigations were ever conducted is the fault of the Americans.  There is more than a little irony in the fact that it is precisely those who are most likely to characterize the US military presence in Iraq as an unwanted military occupation, trampling on the sovereign rights of Iraqis, who in this instance suggest that US military personnel should have behaved like colonialists.  In dealing with an Iraqi system in which abuses by security forces were rampant at all levels, what were US forces to do, practically speaking?  Should they have taken over every suspect police station?  Should they have indicted and tried those suspected of prisoner abuse?  In whose courts?’

The argument, it appears, according to Grenier, is the US officials’ hands are tied. The blame is levelled back to the Iraqis who had no one but themselves to be blamed for those abuses.

Yet, in his sleight of hand, he fails to acknowledge that the invasion of Iraq by the American administration meant they were basically occupiers. And since its troops are still in Iraq, they are effectively responsible for what is happening within it. This is in accordance with international law which is explicit that any occupation carries with it certain responsibilities, especially in protecting the human rights of innocent civilians.

Furthermore, this is a classic retort that has often been pedaled by colonisers throughout the centuries. In fact, it is still used by the Israelis to denounce Palestinians and deprive them of their statehood. It seems, based on this spurious reasoning, that violence which a people perpetuates on itself, can be divorced from the larger context of the nature of the occupation.

That ultimately, is the blind spot that Grenier falls prey to. When he analyses the wikleaks through his expertise and experience of a surveillance expert, it is inevitable that his concern will be narrowly limited to what he knows best. There is nothing wrong with listening to expertise. But in this case, Grenier’s arguments appear self-serving.

On the impact of the leaks, he suggested that it may prevent others from making ‘truthful reports’ and that the largest possible harm may only be the aggregate picture that it is painting. This is the argument that it may be subject to ‘tendentious’ interpretations. This is another fallacious retort since any published information can be interpreted in various ways (though subject to the constraints of the facts). I fail to see the difference between how people may interpret similar declassified information whether they were released by the American administration or wikileaks as long as they were verified to be accurate.

But mostly, I find fault with the argument that there is nothing new with the wikileaks disclosure. At the top of my head, this information leak can serve many useful purposes such as allowing analysts and scholars to study the nature of warfare in the 21st century, reinvigorate the debate on the nature of the occupation in Iraq, analyse the makeup of the American empire or even understand the importance of open information.

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