Yesterday The New York Times has confirmed what a former military intelligence officer told me earlier this week, that the unredacted documents released by WikiLeaks have put Afghans who assisted coalition forces in Afghanistan in danger. A Taliban spokesman confirmed they were looking through the documents in order to find the names of Afghans who assisted coalition forces so they can "punish" them (via Joshua Foust). Yesterday Secretary Robert Gates said that the leaks "may well damage our relationships and reputation in that key part of the world,” adding that "intelligence sources and methods, as well as military tactics, techniques, and procedures, will become known to our adversaries.”
Two things seem clear: Julian Assange acted recklessly, and judging by his recent statements, callously by not considering the lives of the people whose names he was exposing in pursuit of his anti-war agenda, and the administration really wants to make the WikiLeaks story about Assange and not Afghanistan. The documents released by WikiLeaks are clearly in the public interest, and will likely contribute to the American understanding of what is going on in Afghanistan beyond what we already know. The question for Assange is if what has been found so far is all there really is, whether interesting but not necessarily game-changing bits of information are really worth the lives of the people who have been exposed.
If the documents had been leaked first to a more responsible organization they would have been better handled and still be relevant to the public interest. People concerned about their effect on public support for the war would just be saying pretty much the same thing they are now. The war itself is still the more important issue. As Matthew Yglesias wrote yesterday in response to TIME's recent cover showing an Afghan woman who had been mutilated by the Taliban as an argument for staying in Afghanistan, "You go to war for reasons of national security. Those reasons either stand up to scrutiny or they don’t." Assange doesn't change that calculus any more than she does.