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Earlier Discussion

What do the leaked Afghanistan documents tell us? Add to ...

Was this confirmation of something you knew, or did it raise new questions for you?

12:08 Graeme Smith: For journalists, some of this information feels very cathartic. We knew in our guts that the official version was wrong, in some cases, but we didn't have evidence to support our hunches. For instance, every time a helicopter went down we were told that it was engine problems or a lucky shot with small arms. I mean, really? Every time? When we knew the Taliban had obtained the equivalent of old SA-7 heat-seeking missiles? So this allows us to go back and check the records of some events and see the discrepancy between internal and external military communications.

12:09 [Comment From safia: ]/b> have the documents brought us any closer to knowing whether prisoners were knowingly transferred into torture?

12:12 Graeme Smith: Hi Safia. I'll be honest, I haven't gotten all the way through the tens of thousands of documents. But I haven't seen anything so far that gives us that information. Remember, most of these records are short bulletins about incidents in the field. I'm skeptical about whether we'll get that sort of detail in the archive. But I was intrigued by some of the references: ANP handing over a prisoner to Canadian forces for unspecified "political" reasons, for example, or a mysterious transfer from a U.S. detention facility at Bagram into Canadian custody. In many ways, these records give us more questions than answers.

12:12 [Comment From lance:] The leaks seem to tell a comprehensive story of corrupt governance, civilian casualties, assassination squads, and shady war tactics. This message has not been the overarching theme of government statements and mainstream media reporting and editorializing. Why has the media, with all its embedded reporters, not given us a much clearer picture of the war, as depicted in the leaks? Journalists like yourself have done a great job; but media more broadly has let us down.

12:15 Graeme Smith: Hi Lance. Can you hear my big sigh, all the way from Islamabad? All I can tell you is that journalists have tried hard to give you the best information from Afghanistan. I've had friends killed or kidnapped in the process. You're right, the reporting hasn't always been great. We have lacked information from non-military sources, especially in the south and east of Afghanistan. Reporters without Borders called those areas a "black hole" of coverage. But the biggest obstacle is security. I don't want to die, so I don't travel into some areas to get a story. That's not a pleasant reality, but it's the main impediment to good journalism in this region.

12:16 [Comment From Glenn T: ] Whenever you see comments from the government and/or military regarding the leak they keep saying that this could put our solders in harms way. Is that true? What kind of information about the past could harm our solders in the present or future?

12:22 Graeme Smith: Hi Glenn. The military carefully guards what they call TTPs and BDAs. The first one, "Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures" is military jargon for stuff they do on a regular basis. So if the Taliban knows that the Canadian military typically does X in a situation such as Y, then that helps inform their own tactics. The other thing is "Battle Damage Assessments." Remember earlier in this chat, when I said the military was lying about why helicopters go down? Well that's probably how they justify their behaviour, feeling that if the Taliban knows exactly what methods are effective in bringing down an aircraft they're likely to try the same thing again. Personally I think it's a bit silly - the guy who shot the missile can probably see the spectacular fireball right in front of him, and doesn't need the Western media to inform him that it was a direct hit. But smarter people than me spend their entire lives thinking about this stuff, and that's why you see objections about these leaks.

12:24 Shane Dingman: One of the more cogent concerns I've seen expressed about the release of these documents was along the lines of: "This will cause a chill in the cooperation that Afghans give to Afghan and ISAF authorities." The worry being, Afghans might find their names published on the Internet as having been, according to the Taliban or other insurgents, collaborating. Your thoughts Graeme?

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