A disgruntled Pentagon spokesman, Geoff Morrell, recently vented about WikiLeaks’s behemoth bequest to the media of 70,000 classified documents. Morrell told the Associated Press: “If doing the right thing is not good enough for them, then we will figure out what alternatives we have to compel them to do the right thing.”
I thought at once of Spike Lee’s film, “Do the Right Thing,” in which the owner of a Brooklyn pizzeria that has only Italian movie stars on its “Wall of Fame” is reprimanded by one of his black patrons for not including an African-American. All hell breaks out when the shop owner refuses to post a picture of a black celebrity on his wall. One wonders who the Pentagon might feature on its Wall of Fame—Osama bin Laden?
Its appeal, on Thursday, to WikiLeaks to “do the right thing” and hand over, or permanently delete, whatever classified documents remain in its possession is based on voiced concern by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Admiral McMullen, and others in intelligence that these leaks jeopardize the safety of our troops in Afghanistan as they contain the names of Afghan informants.
Of course, it’s not just safety, but morale others piped in. After all, it’s not exactly good for morale to find out that your government is concealing the real number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan nor is it good not just for the troops, but for national morale to learn that Pakistani spies are lunching with Taliban leaders. In the end, it’s a real game changer to find out that all fire may be friendly fire, so the Pentagon wants accountability, and possible criminal liability, from WikiLeaks for their disclosures of secret material.
But, WikiLeaks is not the first to endanger covert intelligence operatives. Where is the Pentagon’s lust for holding those accountable who leaked the identity of an undercover CIA agent, Valerie Plame-Wilson? Was it good for the morale of intelligence agents to know that their identities, and their lives, have been politicized? Why is it that the congressional subpoena of Karl Rove was allowed to slip through the cracks? How is it that Rove, and those for whom he provided cover, managed to escape prosecution? Does the executive branch have lifetime immunity from criminal misconduct?
More to the point, placing the media spotlight on WikiLeaks, and its Australian founder, Julian Assange, provides effective cover for other news of potentially graver consequence. For instance, we now know from an AP exclusive report that a handful of so-called high value detainees were brought to Guantanamo Bay in 2003 ” years earlier than previously disclosed then “whisked” into secret overseas prisons deliberately so that they would be deprived of access to attorneys.
As a prominent lawyer says, “This was all just a shell game to hide detainees from the courts.”
And, speaking of shell games, all the Pentagon and media focus on WikiLeaks’ transgressions has managed to keep people from asking whatever happened to nearly $9 billion in Iraqi funds for which the U.S. Defense Department is unable to account.
In a recent audit of how DoD money has been spent, the U.S. Special Investigator for Iraq Reconstruction according to AP, now says that “over 95 percent of $9.1 billion in Iraqi oil money tapped by the U.S. for rebuilding the war-ravaged nation” has yet to be located. These funds are separate and distinct from more than $50 billion Congress appropriated for rebuilding that country.
Why is there no outrage over what amounts to a slush fund for military contractors, oil companies, and war manufacturers?
WikiLeaks has graciously offered to let the Pentagon review, and redact, more than 10,000 documents that they now have in their possession. The Pentagon doesn’t appear to be the least bit moved by their offer. A spokesman for the Pentagon reportedly said they are not interested in what they call “harm minimization,” so WikiLeaks told the Associated Press, on Saturday, that they are going forward with the release of another more classified documents because “that’s what we do.” Furthermore, WikiLeaks insisted that the release of this information is in the best interest of public safety.
This time I have to agree with the Penagon. WikiLeaks should “do the right thing” and stop releasing state secrets, when there are no more state secrets to release.
JAYNE LYN STAHL is a widely published poet, essayist, playwright, and screenwriter, member of PEN American Center, and PEN USA.