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Earlier Discussion

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

12:45 Shane Dingman: What about the reconstruction? There is some criticism out there that this document dump doesn't tell the good news of what the soldiers are doing in Afghanistan... but the Times went into detail on an orphanage that was built, and then seemingly either abandoned or milked by a corrupt official.

Did you see many examples of floundering reconstruction efforts? And again, did the documents support or undermine your thoughts on that area?

12:50 Graeme Smith: I'm glad you mentioned that, Shane. I loved that story about the orphanage. Not because it warms my heart to see an aid project go wrong, but because it confirms the suspicion that many journalists felt about these quick-impact projects. To observers in the field, it often seemed that the main idea of these initiatives was to hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony and publish something nice in a newsletter. But of course you rarely saw follow-up stories about what happened afterward, about how the donated goods were looted by corrupt officials and the building got converted into something else. So it was nice to see the complete picture. ... Now, it's true that overall the aid work in Afghanistan has had many positive effects. Child mortality is down. Women's healthcare has improved. These are not small things, and many lives have been saved. But especially in the combat zones, the so-called reconstruction often seemed more like a circus.

12:50 Shane Dingman: I've got two more reader questions that are related, somewhat, in theme: The first about what the nature of the information contained therein, and whether your thoughts on the Afghan mission have changed as a result of them...

12:50 [Comment From Adrienne: ]/b> I'm curious if ultimately, Mr. Smith, you believe this kind of information SHOULD be released to the public at some point, or whether this is information is too interesting to ignore but really shouldn't be in our hands in the first place.

12:50 [Comment From Neil Coligan: ]i> Graeme, does any of this make you wonder why we are in Afghanistan?

12:54 Graeme Smith: Hi Adrienne, I'm pretty sure you will never see a policy that allows this kind of archive to get released without censorship. There's just too much detail that could be considered harmful to military interests. But I do think it would be a good idea to go through this stuff with a black pen, sparingly redact the few details that need to be censored, and release the rest. It's an excellent record of history.

12:55 Graeme Smith: ... And hey there Neil, yes, reading this archive reminds me that we should think carefully before planning another foreign intervention.

12:57 Shane Dingman: OK, partly because this story has morphed somewhat into a debate about journalism, here are some very journalist-centric questions:

12:57 [Comment From Saleem Khan Saleem Khan: ] Hi Graeme. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said that by releasing documents of this sort, he is doing what the media doesn't. That doesn't seem to ring quite true. 1. There's a question of how WikiLeaks obtains these documents: Are they volunteered by whistleblowers or does WikiLeaks take a more active role? 2. How do you normally get access to these kinds of documents? 3. What considerations and restrictions do you have in reporting on documents or revelations you obtain?

1:02 Graeme Smith: Hi Saleem, you know, Mr. Assange has a point. I'm not sure a responsible media organization would behave quite as aggressively as Wikileaks. If this kind of material fell into the hands of The Globe and Mail, would we have a look to see whether some of it might get Canadian soldiers killed? I'll bet it's something we would carefully consider inside the newsroom, whereas Wikileaks seems to have a more purist view of what material should be available in the public domain. ... About your other question, I don't know how Wikileaks gets its material, but it's probably from the same people of conscience who give stuff to newspapers. There are always people inside any organization who want the truth to come out.

1:05 Graeme Smith: Anyway, thanks for hosting me, Shane. It's a fascinating trove of information. Hopefully our readers will help us understand it better, as they sift through the thousands of documents.

1:06 Shane Dingman: Yes indeed, we always encourage the readers to tell us when they think we don't know what we're talking about ... thanks for joining us Graeme, I know it's late at night from your location, so goodnight and good luck.

And thanks to all the readers who followed along and of to those who participated.

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