The New York Times and two other prominent newspapers in Britain and Germany released secret US military and intelligence reports today. The tens of thousands classified reports, referred to en masse as the “Afghan Papers,” offer the American public a deeper look into its government's handling of the occupation in Afghanistan from 2004 to 2009.
The release of the Afghan Papers, which have received widespread attention and condemnation by US spokespersons, bears similar resemblance to the NY Times’ 1971 release of the “Pentagon Papers.”
The Afghan Papers have led some to believe that the online whistleblower site Wikileaks—the source that obtained the papers and distributed it to the media—has overstepped its watchdog role by exposing sensitive information and endangering lives. Julian Assange, the director of Wikileaks, has frequently asserted the importance of information and holding power accountable to the people.
Whereas US officials and pundits will raise serious objections to classified leaks due to threats to “national security,” the alternative to more openness is secrecy, unaccountability, and a history that sadly repeats itself. Today, the New York Times honored its duty to inform American citizens and report on some of the main findings of the Afghan Papers. The newspaper was also cautious and explained that it withheld some sensitive details like methods of intelligence gathering, names of informants, etc.
The release of classified documents that hide the reality of American foreign involvement should not be ultimately denounced. The circulation of critical information is essential to a functioning democracy. Citizens need accurate and in-depth information in order to make decisions and take action. Military conflicts are plagued by injustice, especially protracted occupations. The leak of the Afghan Papers is perilous not because it threatens our shared national security. The leak exposes the brutality of war and endangers a bipartisan American commitment that is unwavering in its militarism and desire to control the world.