Thursday, 29 July 2010

The Wikileaks war logs won't end the war - we need to turn opposition into resistance

As with the case of Ian Tomlinson, which I wrote about yesterday, the release of the Afghanistan war logs by Wikileaks has caused establishment embarrasment and outrage, but not much else. If we don't act upon it, it can be quietly shelved and forgotten about as time passes.

I haven't yet had time to go throug the 91,000 leaked documents which make up the "Afghan War Diary." In all honesty, given the sheer volume of documents and the other activities that take up my time, I probably won't.

However, others have, and in the mainstream media alone you can find detailed features and articles from the Guardian, the New York Times, and Der Spiegel. According to the Guardian's editorial pages, "the collective picture that emerges [from the logs] is a very disturbing one."
We today learn of nearly 150 incidents in which coalition forces, including British troops, have killed or injured civilians, most of which have never been reported; of hundreds of border clashes between Afghan and Pakistani troops, two armies which are supposed to be allies; of the existence of a special forces unit whose tasks include killing Taliban and al-Qaida leaders; of the slaughter of civilians caught by the Taliban's improvised explosive devices; and of a catalogue of incidents where coalition troops have fired on and killed each other or fellow Afghans under arms.

Reading these logs, many may suspect there is sometimes a casual disregard for the lives of innocents. A bus that fails to slow for a foot patrol is raked with gunfire, killing four passengers and wounding 11 others. The documents tell how, in going after a foreign fighter, a special forces unit ended up with seven dead children. The infants were not their immediate priority. A report marked "Noforn" (not for foreign elements of the coalition) suggests their main concern was to conceal the mobile rocket system that had just been used.
This is just a brief summary. The logs in full make it possible "to compare the reality on the battlefield in such a detailed manner with what the US Army propaganda machinery is propagating," as Der Spiegel puts it, and it would appear that they "paint a gloomy picture."

But what of the anti-war movement?

The Stop the War Coalition asks "how much longer can the British and US governments maintain the fiction that the war in Afghanistan is ... one of the most noble causes of the 21st century?"

But, whilst the leaks have created a storm, "a war of ever escalating carnage drags on, with rising civilian and military casualties and growing instability in the region." Their response is "to raise the level of campaigning so that the government, parliament and the media are forced to respond."

The problem is that "the overwhelming view of the British public, that the time to bring all the troops home from Afghanistan is now" has persisted for a long time. These war logs aren't the first leaks to offer "an embarrassment to a government and military" or "reflect badly on much of the media, which - without any independent investigation - simply churns out the line of the politicians and military waging war."

And still, these practices persist. The responses to the documents, from security risks to sabotaging relationships between intelligence agencies, have simply refused to address civilian casualties and war crimes. They are simply not an issue on which the US fears any consequences.

With good reason. The recently vindicated EDO decommissioners, whose actions caused significant damage to an arms factory which supplies the Israeli military, are in an extremely small minority.

The broader anti-war movement seems capable only of countless marches which have already failed to have any significant threat whatsoever. Alongside these marches, there is none of the non-violent direct action, harbouring of deserters, or mass resistance by soldiers which made the opposition to Vietnam so succesful.

Raising awareness of the issues around this war and transforming that into opposition is important. But it can't be the only thing we do. The point is to organise that opposition into genuinely radical resistance.