The leak of 90,000 secret military files has emboldened critics of the war in Afghanistan, who raised fresh questions Tuesday about the viability of the increasingly unpopular US-led campaign.
Meanwhile, the activist who still has another 15,000 documents that he plans to release — after editing out names if there is “a reasonable chance of harm occurring to the innocent” — is relishing the spotlight, bragging to a German magazine that he enjoys “crushing bastards.”
“In a SPIEGEL interview, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, 39, discusses his decision to publish the Afghanistan war logs, the difficult balance between the public interest and the need for state secrets and why he believes people who wage war are more dangerous than him,” John Goetz and Marcel Rosenbach report.
“I enjoy creating systems on a grand scale, and I enjoy helping people who are vulnerable,” Assange said. “And I enjoy crushing bastards. So it is enjoyable work.”
SPIEGEL: You have said that there is a correlation between the transparency for which you are fighting and a just society. What do you mean by that?
Assange: Reform can only come about when injustice is exposed. To oppose an unjust plan before it reaches implementation is to stop injustice.
SPIEGEL: During the Vietnam War, US President Richard Nixon once called Daniel Ellsberg, the leaker of the Pentagon Papers, the most dangerous man in America. Are you today’s most dangerous man or the most endangered?
Assange: The most dangerous men are those who are in charge of war. And they need to be stopped. If that makes me dangerous in their eyes, so be it.
The New York Times said in an editorial Tuesday the documents made public by the website WikiLeaks “confirm a picture of Pakistani double-dealing that has been building for years.”
The Times said President Barack Obama will have to deal firmly with Islamabad in response to the most controversial files, which indicate that key ally Pakistan allows its spies to meet directly with the Taliban.
“If Mr Obama cannot persuade Islamabad to cut its ties to, and then aggressively fight, the extremists in Pakistan, there is no hope of defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan,” wrote the daily.
Americans are increasingly weary of this costly war,” wrote the Times, one of three media organizations, along with German magazine Der Spiegel and Britain’s Guardian, to have received the documents weeks ago from WikiLeaks.
Some members of Congress questioned Obama’s Afghanistan strategy, as well as an as-yet unpassed 37-billion dollar funding bill for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, following the leaks.
Democratic Senator Russell Feingold said the disclosures “make it clear that there is no military solution in Afghanistan.”
Meanwhile, Democratic Representative Jane Harman, who chairs a Homeland Security intelligence subcommittee, said the documents “reinforce the view that the war in Afghanistan is not going well.”
The 92,000 documents released Sunday, dating from 2004 to 2009, triggered an outcry from nations fighting in Afghanistan as the Pentagon scrambled to uncover the source of the security breach and whether it would endanger lives.
US experts were working to see if the huge cache “could jeopardize force protection or operational security, or even worse still, the national security of this country,” Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told Fox News.
In addition to the Pakistan allegations, the leaked files maintain that the deaths of innocent civilians have been covered up, and that Iran is funding Taliban militants eight years after the 2001 US-led invasion ousted the radical Islamic regime from power.
The bombshell revelations triggered outrage, with a top NATO general calling for increased vigilance against such leaks as the White House slammed them as “irresponsible.”
The coalition needed to be aware that some “documents are pushed out into the open via leaks, but that obliges us even more to work with the greatest care,” said General Egon Ramms, who is in charge of NATO forces in Afghanistan.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs warned that the leaks had put the names of service personnel and military operations in the public domain, but played down the likely strategic and political impact.
“In terms of broad revelations, there aren’t any that we see in these documents,” Gibbs said, pointing out that most of the period covered by the leaks was during the previous Bush administration.
Britain, which has some 9,500 troops in Afghanistan, said Monday it regretted the leak while Pakistan has said the reports were “skewed” and not based on the reality on the ground.
In Berlin, a defense ministry spokesman said releasing the documents “could affect the national security of NATO allies and the whole NATO mission.”
But WikiLeaks founder Assange defended the decision to publish the leaked files, saying they showed “thousands” of war crimes may have been committed in Afghanistan.
(with additional reporting by RAW STORY)