Published on
the Albany Times-Union (New York)

Let's Get to the Truth About Afghanistan

Bob Franken

Let's get this straight: The biggies at the White House and Pentagon charge that the massive WikiLeaks about the Afghanistan misadventure are harmful to the national interest.

At the same time, the President's mouthpiece, Robert, Gibbs insists there are "no new revelations."

Will someone explain, then, why they're harmful?

For that matter will someone explain why "no new revelations" are classified "secret" in the first place?

Actually, allow me: Secrecy is a disease that spreads to nearly all those who are infected by a security clearance. They are suddenly consumed by a desire to look down upon us mere mortals who are not part of the in-crowd.

Imagine their fury, when their power trip is interrupted. Some begin foaming at the mouth. Phrases spew out like "criminal act," "danger to U.S. personnel" and "exposing sources and methods."

They say very little about possible criminal acts by those whose conduct is shown to be deadly or embarrassing and crudely covered up. They have even less comment concerning what it shows about how the war in Afghanistan has been conducted and whether we should even stay there.

To use a phrase from a previous deception, the proper answer to whether we should go forward or cut our losses and retreat is anything but a "slam dunk," one way or the other. To use a word from still another deception, this could well be a "quagmire."

Afghanistan is too much like the Vietnam war. The sooner the United States pulls out of the swamp, the better. To others, there are good reasons to continue the fight on Osama bin Laden's turf and finally crush al-Qaida on its own stomping grounds.

The arguments get twisted up in the knotted entanglements of policy debates over terrorism and how far a civilized country can go to combat it. Far too often, we've discovered that the secrets are dirty secrets. Think torture of prisoners overseas or wiretapping in the United States.

There are also valid disputes about how moral or immoral it would be to leave the region to dangerous oppressors who could well return the country to the brutal dark ages of oppression because we had retreated in the face of their war of attrition.

And there is another discussion, the very somber one about whether pulling out would be an abandonment of those who have sacrificed their lives.

As that debate rages, shouldn't Americans get as much information as possible to decide, for instance, whether those who operate in our name should deal with a Pakistan intelligence service that may have served as a double agency?

Maybe there are good reasons. Maybe not good enough. We should know as much as possible.

It is obviously true that sometimes secrecy is imperative. But all too often, material is closely held by those who wear their exclusive access like a badge of honor. Time and again, we've discovered that what's hidden is dishonorable. The darkness has obscured embarrassments, deceptions and worse. We shouldn't be amazed when we find out that the government's overuse of the "secret" classification is a way of concealing the mistakes of those who own the "secret" rubber stamp, those in the club, who use it like a club.

What we're seeing and hearing from them is the indignation of the suddenly accountable. Their self-importance has been deflated. This should go way beyond bruised egos. Now that some of the locks have been broken, they might be forced to answer questions about how well they're doing their jobs and whether they're worthy to be the keepers of the keys.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do.

Bob Franken writes for Hearst Newspapers.

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