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Reverberations from the WikiLeaks release of classified U.S. Iraq war documents continue. The nearly 400,000 secret records document thousands of civilian deaths, offer disturbing evidence on abuse and torture of prisoners, and have raised political tensions in Iraq. Iraq’s prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, claims his political opponents are using the documents to block efforts to form a new government – a process critical to overall U.S. strategy: What the latest WikiLeaks release of classified information means for Iraq, the U.S. and national security
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The nearly 400,000 classified military documents recently disclosed by WikiLeaks offer some new details on civilian death tolls, prisoner abuse and day-to-day military operations in Iraq from 2004 to 2009. But, so far, the impact and importance of the release has been difficult to gauge. Joining me to talk about what new light these massive files shed on U.S. operations in Iraq and questions about the WikiLeaks organization, Paul Pillar of Georgetown University, joining us by phone from Boston, Stephen Walt of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Before we begin our discussion with those two individuals, we're joined here in the studio by Geoff Morrell. He is press secretary for the Pentagon. Little later on in the program, we will be taking your comments and questions. Good morning to you, Geoff.
MR. GEOFF MORRELLGood morning, Diane. Thanks for having me.
REHMThanks for joining us. Geoff, this was said to have been the largest leak of classified military documents in history. Tell us what's in those documents.
MORRELLWell, Diane, actually, this was the largest leak that we've ever experienced back in July when WikiLeaks first released in the public domain 77,000 classified documents related to the Afghan war. And what we learned in the immediate aftermath of that was that the Taliban and other terrorist organizations were mining those documents, trying to find information about vulnerabilities that they could exploit and how our forces operate in the field. We don't yet know if, indeed, that has provided them with the wherewithal to be more effective against our fighters, but that's our fear.
MORRELLSo, lo and behold, last week, they went ahead and released another 400,000 documents, these related to the Iraq war. So we now have nearly half a million classified secret documents in the public domain for our adversaries to use potentially against our forces. And that's just really shameful.
REHMWhen you say it's shameful, I can remember asking Bush administration officials and, indeed, Obama administration officials on the air, how many individuals, how many civilians, how many non-civilians in Iraq have been killed? I was told again and again that the Pentagon, the White House kept no such records. Now, we are being told that to the contrary, such records were being kept, and more than 100,000 individuals in Iraq have been killed during the war.
MORRELLYeah, I think this is one of the biggest misconceptions to come out of the release of these documents, is that somehow there was some omniscient count that we had of a war dead in Iraq or Afghanistan, for that matter -- although I think we have a much better sense in Afghanistan now. But we -- our forces were not everywhere at once. I mean, you remember that country nearly devolved into a civil war in 2006 and '07. And so what we did keep track of in these tactical field level reports was what we saw, what we came upon, what we were involved with, the things that we could firsthand account for. And that would in no way represent the totality of deaths that took place in Iraq over the last seven years.
MORRELLSo we did keep track of that, which we could attest to firsthand. But, you know, there was much Shia on Sunni violence and vice versa going on for years and years outside the reach of our troops, outside of our visibility. The government of Iraq has tried over the years to come up with counts to the best of their ability -- many outside organizations have as well. They vary greatly as far as I can tell over the years, but we have never professed to have some sort of, you know, clear understanding of the total death count in Iraq. And I don't think these documents suggest that either.
MORRELLI don't. I think what they tell you, Diane, is what we saw, what we were involved with, what we witnessed firsthand. It does not account for all the death that may have taken place, not involving our forces but involving the sectarian violence and other violence that was going on for years and years in Iraq.
MORRELLAnd I would underscore one point, Diane, that this information, we did provide to the Congress, you know, over the last few years -- our best understanding of the death toll as we were witnesses to it -- but never proclaiming that this was some sort of, you know, definitive count by any means.
REHMSo -- pardon me -- what you're saying is that the U.S. military witnessed this death count but that what you were doing is separating Shia and Sunni casualties on each other from U.S. military attacks on either civilians or military?
MORRELLNo. I think -- I'm sorry if I'm not being clear enough here. What I'm saying is these are tactical field level reports. These are our troops coming in contact with various situations, situations they maybe have been involved in which led to casualties, or situations where they happened upon the aftermath of Sunni-Shia violence or any number of other situations they could come across in the course of their operations. And it's them reporting up the chain of command what they saw, what they witnessed, the evidence and the aftermath of an attack perhaps not involving them. And so, it's just our firsthand account of what we've seen. But we don't see the totality of all the violence that's going on in Iraq. So this count is just based upon our initial ground level contacts with the aftermath of this violence.
REHMTell me what the Pentagon sees as the danger in the release of these documents.
MORRELLI think they're multi-dangers here. I mean, in the release of the Afghan documents -- I mean, remember that they did this a little differently, this organization did back in July, where they posted on the Internet 77,000 documents unfiltered for all the world to see and certainly for our enemies to mine, including the names of many, many Afghans who were and are cooperating with us, making them obviously the targets potentially for reprisal attacks. They seem to have learned from that mistake to some degree because in this document dump, they have redacted the names of thousands and thousands of Iraqis who are mentioned in them.
MORRELLWhat they have not been able to do, at least to our satisfaction -- and I don't believe they have the wherewithal to ever do this -- which is to redact these documents to such an extent, Diane, that it would hide from the world how we operate, our tactics, techniques and procedures. So our...
REHMGive me an example, if you would.
MORRELLWell, what I'm speaking of is our fear is that our enemies can look at these documents and see patterns of behavior, can connect the dots in terms of how we respond in -- when we're engaged with small arms fire, when -- what are our -- what is our standard operating procedure in the aftermath of an IED attack, how we cultivate sources on working with Iraqis or Afghans, the capabilities of our equipment, response times, things of this nature. These and -- listen, we are dealing with -- and have been for years -- a knowing, thinking, adaptive enemy.
MORRELLThey are -- they know that this is a treasure trove of information that they can mine and make them smarter and better fighters. And people say to me, Diane, well, you can't point a single American force who you can definitively say has been killed as result of the Afghan document release in July, and I can't. But we don't know, Diane, that our enemy has not gotten smarter and that the attacks that we've been witnessing and sustaining recently have not been by a force that has been better educated as a result of these documents.
REHMTell me how you compare or contrast the release of these documents to the release of the Pentagon papers by Daniel Ellsberg.
MORRELLI mean, I sort of laugh at the comparison because as you know, this is -- these are tactical field-level reports that were -- that really don't reveal anything strategically about what we were doing in Iraq or Afghanistan for that matter. I think as The Washington Post in their editorial today pointed out, there is nothing new revealed in these documents. What you have is more detail underscoring themes we already knew, that civilian casualties were high, that there was extensive Iranian meddling going on in Iraq, that checkpoints were a particularly hazardous duty for us and so forth.
MORRELLThese were things that we talked about for years that the press reported on for years. With Ellsberg and the Pentagon papers, of course, I mean, this was a Secretary of Defense-commissioned, inside, secret review of how the war started and how it devolved and so forth, which revealed that the government and its elected leaders had been lying to the American people about why we were there. These are issues -- civilian casualties and others -- that we've been talking about for years.
REHMThen why is the Pentagon so upset?
MORRELLWe're upset quite simply because we fear the release of this information could get our forces killed.
REHMCan you point to one incident where such information and its release has led to the killing of one U.S. troop?
MORRELLI think I just answered that, Diane, but I'm happy to articulate it again. And that is that we fear that the troops -- that the enemy has been using this, and that they have become smarter as result of it. And the attacks our troops are sustaining may have been as a result of the fact that these guys are now smarter than they were before it. Now, clearly, they've had the wherewithal to attack and kill us before. But we don't know that their attacks are any more effective as a result of this information being in the public domain.
MORRELLAnd when I see these arguments, for example, that, oh, these are specious arguments by the Pentagon that the administration has proclaimed that the Iraq war is over, so what are they worried about the well-being of their forces? Well, first of all, we still have forty-seven odd something thousand forces in Iraq, and they aren't just sitting behind walls on forward operating bases. But, secondly, the information that you can learn about how we operate in Iraq can be used elsewhere where our forces are operating as well.
REHMGeoff Morrell, he is press secretary for the Pentagon, assistant secretary for defense for public affairs. Thank you so much for joining us.
MORRELLThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd we'll take a short break, right back.
REHMAnd now joining us here in the studio, Paul Pillar, he is a former CIA National Intelligence officer. He's at Georgetown University. Stephen Walt is professor of international affairs at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He joins us from Boston. And from London, we're joined by Daniel Ellsberg, author and former Defense Department staffer, best known for exposing a 1,000-page secret study of the Vietnam War in 1971 that became known as the Pentagon Papers. We are going to take your calls throughout the rest of the hour. Join us on 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Paul Pillar, if I could start with you, you've written recently that direct harm is only part of the story, that there can be considerable indirect harm because of the release of these papers as well. Explain.
MR. PAUL PILLARThat's right, Diane. And it's not only the wholesale kind of dump of classified material as we've had with the WikiLeaks affairs, but even more selective leaks. Each leak contributes to an atmosphere, an expectation and a climate of more leaks. And it makes our government and other governments operate in a way in which they expect more leaks. So, Diane, I was in the civilian bureaucracy for 28 years, and I had lots of observations of things being closely held, more closely held than they should have been for the good of policymaking because of the fear of leaks. So agencies or individuals are not included in deliberations because the people who are controlling the deliberations want to keep them closely held, and perspectives are not brought to bear on policymaking. Some deliberations are not held at all because of the fear of leaks.
REHMNow, what about the argument that, on balance, these leaks do or do not advance public understanding of what the issues are?
PILLAROn balance, I don't think they do because, almost by definition, a leaker is someone who is a disgruntled rule-breaker with an axe to grind.
REHMIs that how you would characterize WikiLeaks?
PILLARWell, I don't know what WikiLeaks' motivation is when you have this dump of 400,000 documents. I think it's -- maybe it's publicity. Maybe it's setting a new record for the biggest disclosure. I think this comes into play more with the selective leaks where someone has a particular point of view that they want to get across. So it doesn't really help overall public understanding.
REHMPaul Pillar of Georgetown University. Stephen Walt, you have a different view.
MR. STEPHEN WALTYes. I mean, I think Paul raises some very good points about the corrosive effect when leaking becomes widespread. It is a little bit disingenuous of -- you know, at this point, the Obama administration to be as irate about these leaks, given that government officials in -- top officials leak all the time, often with impunity, and we've seen some cases in recent months about that. But I think one has to try and balance that against the public's right to know what its government is up to. Government agencies have lots of incentives to cover things up, in particular to cover the things up when they're not going well, when there are potential failures or when there's been wrongdoing, or even to misrepresent what they're doing.
MR. STEPHEN WALTAnd I think one of the things that we see in this latest set of releases -- and I agree, by the way, that they're not revelatory. They don't completely alter our picture of what was happening in Iraq. But they do provide an enormous amount of detail, and they suggest that some parts of the official story that we've been told for the last several years weren't entirely correct and may have been actually misrepresented. And given that, you know, the American taxpayer is paying for this, and the Americans are going to be held responsible for this, and Americans are going to have to judge how others see us based on what they know about what our own government has been doing, I think the net effect of some of this is actually positive.
MR. STEPHEN WALTAnd we have to be very careful in trying to squelch it. If I make one other point, you know, if I thought that Congress and the press were doing an energetic job of investigating what our past behavior has been and holding people accountable, then I'd think there was less value in having an organization like WikiLeaks spreading this kind of information around.
WALTGiven that I haven't seen much of that in recent years, I guess the net effect of this may actually be positive for the sort of long-term understanding of American foreign and defense policy.
REHMStephen Walt, he is professor of international affairs at Harvard University. And turning to you now, Daniel Ellsberg, first of all, I know you're in London. Why?
MR. DANIEL ELLSBERGI was here to stand with WikiLeaks here in this release, which I think serves a very definite, positive public interest here. And...
REHMYou say you've been waiting a long time for information that actually makes a difference. Yet you've heard Stephen Walt say, Paul Pillar say what's been released really does not amount to all that much.
ELLSBERGWell, that does not -- first of all, I do agree with what Stephen Walt has said. And I thought, Diane, your questioning was very pointed and appropriate. I have to say that -- as I say, I have been waiting a long time for someone to take the risks of acting at risk, as the source of this has done. Anyone who released this information had to know that they were risking being where Bradley Manning is sitting right now, accused -- whether rightly or not -- in prison and facing life in prison. That is, he's said, allegedly, that he was ready to spend life in prison or even be executed for sharing this information in order to share this information with the people, the American public.
ELLSBERGAnd I recognize the same state of mind in which I had 40 years ago and which did not then represent the feelings of a disgruntled individual with an axe to grind, other than I thought that it was for the interest of my country to stop killing Vietnamese and to end the Vietnamese War. And I have a feeling, very strongly, of identification with whoever this source was. And if it was Bradley Manning -- if that's proved to be the case -- why, I admire him. But I have to say, Diane, that I'm feeling more emotion than I expected to feel in this. I recognize by that, my still feelings of identification with the executive branch that I served for quite a while, and my feelings of shame and disgust at hearing current officials like Morrell blow smoke about matters of human life here and war and peace in the way that he did...
REHMDaniel Ellsberg, tell me what you believe these documents reveal...
ELLSBERGYes. Well, it's not a matter of belief...
REHM...that the American public needs to know.
ELLSBERGIt's a matter of simply reading the documents. Morrell said the other night that -- on the Larry King show -- which I was on -- that he saw no war crimes in these documents, in these 400 -- saw no evidence of war crimes. I was -- I found myself just disgusted at that statement. If he wants better information on that, he can find it within his own building. He can go to his Judge Advocates General of (unintelligible)...
REHMTell me what war crimes you believe have been committed.
ELLSBERGYes. You don't have to be a lawyer to know that drilling with electric drills, pulling out fingernails and cutting fingers -- this is rather consensually understood to be torture, which is to say a crime under international and domestic law, as is the failure to investigate or to stop the practice by Allies and...
ELLSBERG...to refuse to send over suspects to people -- as these clearly reveal, they're just as much crimes as the torture itself.
ELLSBERGAnd the record there is very clear. He could get that from Colin Powell, who as former chairman of the Joint Chiefs and former secretary of state at the time in the Bush administration when this was going on, strongly objected to the redefinition of these as not being torture and that they were illegal.
REHMAll right. I want to turn now to Stephen Walt. Can you talk about the torture revealed in these WikiLeaks documents?
WALTWell, again, I -- yes, I can say. First of all, I think there are two things that come out of this, the extent of sectarian violence -- and we knew there was obviously serious sectarian violence in Iraq in this period, but the scope of it, I think, has increased by reading -- when you read through these things. Second, the fact that Iraqi security forces were engaged in widespread torture is documented here. And the fact that some American units may have been involved in that, at a minimum turning a blind eye to the Iraqi abuses, possibly colluding in various ways, turning prisoners over to units that they knew were engaged in torture.
WALTThis -- again, the documents suggest, perhaps, well after the so-called surge, well after the period in which General Petraeus took over, and allegedly American tactics shifted into a more sort of hearts and minds direction. So, again...
ELLSBERGAnd last year, under President Obama, when he said he had ended such practices -- in other words, he's as implicated -- and if he did not know of this, it's time for him to purge himself of complicity. If he did know what was in these reports, as he obviously could have and should have, and Secretary of Defense Gates as well, if he did know, they are undoubtedly complicit in the violation...
ELLSBERG...both of international and domestic laws (unintelligible) ...
REHMPaul Pillar, I want your thoughts on this.
PILLARWell, I would object just as strongly as your other guests, Diane, to some of the offenses and excesses, both -- well, especially by Iraqi forces. But to the extent that the U.S. was complicit in them….
REHMComplicit, how? That word is vague.
PILLARWell, I mean, I actually should back away from that word because, I think, what we're seeing here was possibly turning a blind eye to certain...
REHMBeing present but turning a back on?
PILLARWell, I think, as it rises in many other cases, it's a matter of turning someone over to or acquiescing in the custody of someone who we know...
REHMHow about being present at?
PILLARWell, I'm not sure whether, you know, we have a new story there or not.
REHMWell, what does WikiLeaks tell us?
ELLSBERGRead the reports. They were present at. Yes.
PILLARWe need to back off back to the subject of how much overall we have learned about the conduct of the war. And I really haven't...
ELLSBERGOkay. Can I...
REHMHold on, Daniel. Hold on, Daniel. Go ahead, Paul.
PILLARThe large, large scope of the Shia-Sunni violence, the excesses that were committed -- and, of course, we knew our own forces were committing them, Abu Ghraib and the like -- but even more so Iraqi forces. This is not news. You know, this is additional detail, whether or not specific cases should be investigated. No doubt, there are many specific cases that should be investigated. We have no reason to think they aren't.
PILLARBut in terms of educating the public, I don't think we have a new story here.
REHMIt seems to me that what you're putting at the headline, both you and Mr. Morrell, are putting as the headline is Shia-Sunni violence, and putting as the under story, the torture that did go on either with U.S. forces present or complicit. And it seems to me that that's where the questions arise. Stephen Malt, what do you make of that?
WALTWell, I think the larger question here is to understand the full nature of the kind of conflict this was. I mean, I think of this actually also in terms of the United States being able to learn the right lessons. And I think the fact that we had a rough picture that things were bad over there is not enough. You want to have as much detail as possible about just how bad they were and just what the nature of this conflict was. We are not going to learn the right lessons as a country unless we really do understand that when you get involved in this kind of a counterinsurgency campaign, it is a very rough business. It is a very nasty activity. Your own forces are almost inevitably going to get involved in this.
WALTTrying to win these things often involve some behavior that we would normally consider quite reprehensible. And you already have in this country, people attempting to sort of spin what happened in Iraq and say that, you know, this was actually -- you know, maybe we made a few mistakes early on. But after Abu Ghraib, we cleaned up our act, and things were not real trouble. And they're, of course, trying to say much of the same thing about Afghanistan, that we're, you know, adopting a counterinsurgency strategy that really is quite bloodless.
WALTAnd I think what these documents help us understand is that even if you're trying to fight a sort of clean counterinsurgency campaign, you're not going to be able to. It's going to be quite nasty. And some of your local allies -- in this case, various Iraqi groups -- may have misbehaved even more with American forces, perhaps directly involved, but certainly aware of what was happening, and, as we said before, turning a blind eye to it.
REHMStephen Walt of Harvard University. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Paul Pillar, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said that the leaks were politically motivated and are now hampering the government from coming together. Does he appear to be correct?
PILLARWell, I think he is responding to the somewhat embarrassing situation this has presented for him. This has become a bit of an issue in the politicking going on to form a new Iraqi government. The opponents of Prime Minister Maliki have pointed to some of this, just as politicians here point to some new revelation with some detail in the same sort of way to try to make the charge that Mr. Maliki is not doing a very good job of managing his security apparatus, and he may not be. And so Maliki responds with the charge that it's politically motivated. I rather doubt that, you know, the WikiLeaks people, or whoever who was involved in the leaking, had a specific motivation with regard to Maliki versus his political opponents.
REHMIn fact, Daniel Ellsberg, the editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, has said he timed the release to U.S. midterms. But it has not seemed to engage U.S. voters. Would you agree?
ELLSBERGI'm sorry. I didn't quite -- I'm having a little trouble hearing that. Could you just repeat that question?
REHMSure. The editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, has said he timed the release to the U.S. midterms. Do you think that this issue...
ELLSBERGPardon me. He has not really said that. He said he noted that they were coming out, and it would be fine if it brought the war into the discussion, which I would agree with as an American. It's ridiculous that the war has not been an issue in these campaigns, but that would -- did not determine the timing. He has denied it.
REHMDo you think that the release of the documents will engage the American public?
ELLSBERGI hope they will, but not, as you say, if the spinning is effective against them. I must say I agree very much with what Stephen Walt has said. I'm disagreeing much more than I expected to find with Paul Pillar. Several times, you asked me what the news was in this and several -- and him -- and several times, Mr. Pillar has said that what they revealed, let's say, about the civilian casualties along with torture, is not news and is a detail. What I heard from Jeff Morrell was -- when I talk about blowing smoke -- is that his answer to your question about civilian casualties was the casualties are really much larger than they revealed in these reports.
ELLSBERGThey're not the last word. That's undoubtedly true. We can point to it. But, in fact, where the Iraq body count here in London has consistently -- has reported figures based on old news reports of civilian casualties, which has led them to a figure much higher than the Pentagon's.
REHMDaniel Ellsberg, he is author and former Defense Department staffer. Short break, we'll be right back.
REHMWelcome back. And here in the studio is Paul Pillar, former CIA national intelligence officer. On the phone with us, Stephen Walt, he is professor of international affairs at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. And on the line from London is Daniel Ellsberg, author and former Defense Department staffer. My first e-mail is from Dave who says, "I have a hard time with these leaks. On the one hand, my dad was in Afghanistan for years. I want the troops safe. On the other, I want clarity in this war. We, the people, are on the hook to pay for this war at some point. And we have already been in there for far longer than is reasonable." Paul Pillar.
PILLARThat is a heartfelt comment...
PILLAR...from someone who has a family member experiencing exactly the sort of things or hazards that Geoff Morrell was talking about. Clarity is exactly what we want and need in public discussion of wars, like in Afghanistan and Iraq. And the clarity doesn't come so much from getting down into the weeds of what are the most recent revelations, but rather the larger issues which have been out there for quite some time, especially with the Iraq war -- the subject of the most recent revelation. And I am still at a loss, having heard our discussion up to this point, as to what the main lines of policy debate are that have been changed in terms of the rationale for the war, which, by the way, did involve a lot of deception on the part of selling the Iraq war. But these leaks have absolutely nothing to do with the reasons for the deception, which had to do with rhetoric and the salesmanship of the previous administration.
REHMHere's an e-mail from Phyllis -- this one for you, Stephen Walt. She says, "Geoff Morrell says the danger of the leaks is that they make our enemies smarter. Isn't the real importance of the leaks that they make American's smarter, so we not only know in more detail what our troops are doing and who ordered them to do it, and thus gives us the tools necessary to hold top officials accountable for what they do?
WALTI have a lot of sympathy for the view expressed in that e-mail. I mean, I think it is certainly a possibility that leaking a classified information can jeopardize military operations and jeopardize national security in that way. Of course, it is not surprising that Geoff Morrell emphasized that over and over again, even though he acknowledged that he could point to any specific detail. He would just make the general point that our enemies might get smarter by so-called mining these things. The -- then that danger does exist, although I think it is often overblown. It's certainly the position you would expect a Pentagon press secretary to make.
WALTOf course, our enemies get smarter just by interacting with us, too. They don't have to read these things. They're out in the field, and they're learning about what we do, you know, every day, unfortunately. I think it is also true, though, that the American people do get smarter when they learn more about any of the things that their government is up to. That you don't want to jeopardize future military operations by having them leaked, there's other forms of classified information that it would be dangerous if it was publicly known.
WALTBut in general, when we're -- particularly when we're looking in the rearview mirror at things we've done in the past, I think, in general, we want to know as much as possible so that we understand what we've done wrong, what we might have to do better in the future, and in particular, we also understand how the rest of the world sees us because we have an accurate picture of what the United States has been doing in other parts of the world.
REHMAll right. Daniel Ellsberg, Julie says, "I consider myself a fairly educated person. However, I don't understand what the leakers want Americans to do as a result of this information. I'm against the war in both, but I support our troops, don't want them put in any danger." What is your take?
ELLSBERGYes. Let me give two very concrete proposals in connection with these documents. First of all, as Paul Pillar says, these are not the Pentagon Papers, but that has -- that cuts two ways. As field-level reports, they confront the Congress and the courts and the administration and the public with a challenge that the Pentagon Papers did not. The Pentagon Papers didn't reveal field-level war crimes. They were higher level documents. What they revealed was -- you know, I won't go into that at the moment.
ELLSBERGBut what these documents actually reveal is two things, a pattern of criminal behavior and a variety of ways in the connection with the continued torture and turning over for torture, which is essentially a violation of law. That's an immediate challenge then to the government that has covered them up. And when Paul Pillar said he hopes they were investigated -- actually, the words that recur over and over again in these reports precisely are not to be investigated. Do not investigate. When the -- when it's committed by our allies in which we have, actually, a legal obligation to investigate, the words are, do not investigate.
ELLSBERGSecond, on the civilian casualties, what these reveal are casualties that are the result of our actual practice of firing at cars that are coming towards checkpoints manned by our people, which commonly and more frequently than not -- I mean, most of the time -- result in the deaths of innocent people. These are not reported in the news on the -- but they add up. They add up to 15,000 deaths that were not previously reported.
ELLSBERGIn addition to -- let me just finish this, if I may.
ELLSBERGThat is what has been described as a detail several time by Mr. Pillar by getting into the weeds. Fifteen thousand deaths unreported by the press or the Pentagon before is 30 My Lai massacres...
ELLSBERG... which is three -- is five 9/11s. And I cannot regard that as detail.
REHMOkay, Paul Pillar.
PILLARAnd the question is what effect this has on public debate...
WALT...in public policy. We already -- if I could, please, finish my thought. We already are -- have an established policy under the current administration which has us out of Iraq by the end of 2011. President Obama, despite some pressure in the other direction, has expressed his commitment to stick to that withdrawal date. I don't see any way in which these leaks change the public debate or change the policy that will in a -- that -- in a way that will change that commitment to the war.
REHMAll right. I'll take a call from Haverhill, Mass. Good morning, Richard.
ELLSBERGYes, but I (unintelligible)...
RICHARDYes, thank you. And Diane, you know, we live in a democracy. And when Barack Obama first got in, he said, we've got to look forward and not back. Well, I think Prof. Walt was hinting that if we had a Watergate-type committee set up in the Congress, which shirked the responsibly on this, we might have found out a lot of these truths that are coming out now. If we don't go that vote, at least we could have a truth commission because if we don't know why and what the lies -- how we got in the war and the torture, you know, we'll never learn.
RICHARDAnd also, Diane, I would like to say that when a new administration comes in, I think there's an unwritten understanding that this -- we won't go to -- into certain areas that were criminal from the previous administration. And, you know, I'm thinking of, you know, wireless wire tapping is still going on, and I've heard reports, maybe that there's still torture going in the Bagram Air Force base in Afghanistan.
REHMAll right. Stephen Walt, do you want to comment on the idea of an investigation?
WALTI think, you know, having a more official investigation into various mistakes that the United States has made over the past decade or so would be a good thing. And I believe the Obama administration made a mistake when it did sort of say, we're not going to look backward. We're only going to look forward. I think what we're seeing, by the way -- and Paul Pillar mentioned this at the very beginning of the program -- we have an increasingly permeable world where it's harder and harder to keep secrets. And I think, you know, government officials have to recognize that they can sweep things under the rug for a while, but not forever.
WALTPaul noted that that has some down -- that's had some negative consequences to it, and I think he's right. But getting more information out also has some positive consequences because it allows us to learn from past mistakes. My concern with Iraq and also with Afghanistan is that, in a sense, the American people have been given a sanitized version of this war, that -- these are uglier wars than we really realize. Yes. People who follow these things closely are aware that counterinsurgency is a pretty nasty business, but I don't think the American people are as aware of just how ugly these are.
REHMAnd why do you think that is, Stephen? Why do you think that the reporters, that the press, that the media which has been there...
REHM...has not been able to report accurately and fully?
WALTWell, first of all, back in the Bush administration, we have, you know, statements made by very top officials like Secretary Roosevelt and some of the commanding generals, suggesting that the war was going much better than it really was. And one of the details we get out of these latest revelations is that even at the moment that they were sort of spinning a more positive story, the story on the ground that people were reporting up from below was that it was quite ugly and that, you know, that was known, but we were not being told that.
WALTSecondly, I think that reporters in the field, particularly those who are embedded with units, are uncomfortable maybe reporting everything that they see and may not see everything that's happening. And certainly, you know, all organizations, including American military organizations, don't like to acknowledge failure, don't like to acknowledge wrongdoing. I think that's a human quality that we have to recognize.
REHMPaul Pillar, a sanitized version.
PILLARI agree with an awful lot that Steve said. One thing I want to stress right now is we've been proceeding in most of this discussion -- until Steve just mentioned the point of embedded reporters -- as if leaks were the only way in which the public ever gets to know once-classified information. That is simply not true. We have established procedures for doing that, and especially if you had something like a official commission or inquiry of the sort that was mentioned, then a great deal of previously classified information comes out.
PILLARWe have a Freedom of Information Act that was passed back in the 1960s. It's been amended several times since then. It provides for judicial review to challenge the decisions of the executive branch. Leaking is as this highly selective and -- I'm sorry -- often very tendentiously motivated way of getting out information is by no means the only way in which the information gets out to the public.
REHMPaul Pillar, let me ask you about the death of Pat Tillman and how that was actually covered up by the military itself until, finally, there was a leak.
PILLARWe could go back and point to any one leak here or one leak there, where on balance, we can say, well, now we know. I don't think even in that case it made a whole lot of difference. General McChrystal, as you recall, was personally implicated in this. This did not keep him from becoming a commander in Afghanistan, even though this leaked information was already out there. So again, it's the question of what difference does it make to important policy decisions in the end.
PILLARAnd it's hard to see what difference it makes.
REHMTo Concord, N.H. and to Bill. Good morning. You're on the air.
BILLYes. Hello, Diane.
BILLLove your show. And I was reading about, after the WikiLeaks publications that, you know, the deputy prime minister of England has taken almost immediate action and said that, you know, we need to look into this. These are serious charges. They have a minimum of troops over there compared to what we have. We've heard nothing from our government about looking into it. All they're doing is finger-pointing.
ELLSBERGYes, that's certainly true. That's an unfortunate contrast. The British, in general here, seem to take the issue of law and international law seriously in a way that very few Americans do. But I really feel like -- and by the way, when it comes to understanding what the practices are and the operational practices of our troops, it is not news to the Iraqis, the shooting of civilians that goes on when an IED is approached or the people are tortured -- the victims of all that are well aware of that. The reaction is to the reality that -- not to the cover-up or to the news to the American people. But several times, I really feel -- I feel I've been cut off here a couple times, Diane. I'm sorry. I really want to say on the question of what these leaks are and are not. No.
ELLSBERGThey are not the -- reveal the lies that got us into the war and manipulation. That was, of course, done -- I have often said that I regretted that I had not released, that I had not leaked the documents that were in the Pentagon papers when they were in my Pentagon safe in 1964, '65, when they actually could have played a role in averting the war and all the deaths that followed. I expected to congratulate Mr. Pillar for his later apologies for his role in the deception that went on that got us into this war in the disgraceful National Intelligence Estimate of 2002, in which he's taken responsibility for not only preparing that, but in preparing a white paper. In effect, it was a declassified version that was put out.
PILLARI have done no such thing.
ELLSBERGIt was highly -- pardon me -- let me finish this. It was highly misleading on this. He did well to apologize, but the fact is that had it been leaked or...
REHMBut, Daniel, I don't want to -- Daniel, I really don't want to go all the way back to 2002. We're trying to focus right now on the WikiLeaks. And I want to take one last call from Little Rock, Ark. David, you're on the air.
DAVIDWell, hi, Diane. You know, there's never a complete winner in a war. Any participant in a war loses some of their dignity and their standard of living and their innocence. But, you know, what we need to do is use this information as a sunlight disinfectant and get the truth out. You know, always get your negative information out as fast as you can, as clear as you can, and take a -- you know, self-responsibility for it and move on. And when I hear these Pentagon guys assembling and talking about ground level tactics, (word?) reports and all this stuff, well, you know, none of this is news to the enemy. They know everything that's in that report. They've got people watching everything we do. They study our tactics. They know our tactics. So when this guy says it's about them learning our tactics and getting our troops killed, well, that's just a boldface lie to me.
WALTYes. Well, again, as I suggested throughout most of this program, I think in general, getting more information to the American people rather than less is a good thing. There are going to, clearly, be some exceptions to that. But I think one of the virtues in democracy is that when the public is well informed, it can openly debate different issues. They are likely to reach better decisions over time.
REHMStephen Walt, do you think this is going to end up in a congressional hearing?
WALTNo, I doubt it. First of all, because I think next -- you know, in the next couple of weeks, there'll be an election that will tip the Congress in directions that make it even less likely you'd get something like that. But more importantly, unless you believe that we're never going to contemplate doing anything like Iraq or Afghanistan again -- and I'm afraid I can't be assured of that...
WALT...then you have to worry about what lessons the United States draws from this. But the more we learn about this (unintelligible)...
REHMAll right. Stephen Walt, he's professor of international affairs at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, Paul Pillar of Georgetown University, and, of course, Daniel Ellsberg, who joined us from London, thank you all so much. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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