WikiLeaks may have missed summer reading lists, but I’m pretty sure there is enough material in the more than 250,000 cables to last everyone well into next year.
Much of the initial attention has centered on the collateral damage caused by WikiLeaks’ “nuclear” option in releasing the data dump without any redaction. To be sure, US government sources – from respected human rights activists to reward seekers – are now at personal risk. It’s a journalist’s job to protect sources and innocent civilians, and clearly that did not happen. But as I said in recent debate alongside Julian Assange, the US government also has its failures.
And right now I’m thinking about how they made sources out of just about everyone they spoke with, in many instances without their permission. That was obvious as I waded through the trove of US Embassy Doha cables related to my employer, Al Jazeera.
We may have been hailed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for doing real news when she spoke to the Senate this year. But thanks to WikiLeaks, we now know that, not even five years ago, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz was scaremongering to then-US Ambassador to Qatar that “Al Jazeera is killing Americans“.
The result? Under the Bush Administration, numerous US diplomats began cycling in and out of Al Jazeera. Senior network staff became targets of “information warfare”, and as they followed the Arab customs of offering tea and dates to visiting dignitaries, we now know the US ambassador was reading off a tightly prepared script of questions submitted by the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).
Even rank-and-file journalists were probed by the Americans’ passive elicitation. Doha-based US diplomats seemed to want grist to feed their White House audience on the “we’re-losing-Mideast-wars-because-of-Jazeera” narrative.
Surely the Qatari government was telling Jazeera staff what to say. Surely there was some Islamic agenda being pushed onto the screen. And surely Al Jazeera was giving unfair air time to those America was at war with. One can imagine how Fox News might react if the Qatari Embassy in DC made similar visits and inquiries into their television editorial practices. The word obsession comes to mind. Surely there were other things in the region that US diplomats would be better suited to cover!
To that end, and given my own role in the Transparency Unit’s release of the Palestine Papers, I naturally spent a good portion of the day reviewing what the US Consulate in Jerusalem has been writing all these years on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
It’s important to remind readers here what the Palestine Papers were. In January 2011, we published 1,600 sensitive negotiation files as recorded by the Palestinian Authority on the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. In the US equivalent, the Palestine Papers would be considered “Top Secret” given the subject matter and the fact that most meeting minutes read like verbatim FBI wiretaps.
WikiLeaks provided cables at the “Secret” level and below, documents authored by the US State Department overwhelmingly from its embassies abroad. I have not been able to discover much daylight between the Palestine Papers and the latest WikiLeaks disclosures.
Chief PLO Negotiator Saeb Erekat (his resignation in February did not appear to be genuine) was angered when we quoted his 2009 files where he acknowledged to the US envoy how the PA security forces have had to kill fellow Palestinians to establish the rule of law.
This is how its told in WikiLeaks’ US cables from 2009, except the descriptives (labelled “C” for confidential) come from the mouth of the man who ordered the killings.
Note that Consul General Danny Rubinstein uses quotations indicating the exact words of PA Security Force Chief Hazem Atallah: (C) Speaking about recent PASF accomplishments, Atallah became openly emotional. “What we did in the past two years is not easy,” he said. “We searched mosques–ask a Muslim what that means. In Qalqilyah, we opened fire and killed Palestinians–just because they were Hamas.” He continued, “We need to feel something, anything that says we are working together [with Israel], that we have the same future, for God’s sake.”
As the PA collaborated against its own people with Israeli security forces, including what appears to be acts of so-called “friendly fire,” allegations of torture became rampant. Again, the Palestine Papers showed how US General Keith Dayton, the man responsible for training the PA forces, himself knew that the Fatah loyalists he trained (with US tax dollars) were doing “torture”.
Here the US Embassy reports on the abuse while wondering out loud if its true. Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad, a darling of Bush Administration neocons – also embraced by the Obama Administration and US foreign policy elite – did his part to use bureaucratic, security, and financial mechanisms to weaken his rivals in Hamas, including those in Qatar he deemed supportive of them. This is nothing new if you read the Palestine Papers, but the WikiLeaks provides a most useful corroboration and extension of the historical record.
We closed our 4-day special coverage on the Palestine Papers by focusing on the Gaza War and the efforts by senior PA officials to bury the Goldstone investigation. How naive I was to think we’d have anything close to the last word. The American records clearly have a point of view, albeit one designated “S” or secret, including that the PA’s post-Goldstone capitulation threats to bring war crimes charges against Israel were all along a ruse.
Again, the US Consul General Danny Rubinstein writes in October 2009:
(S) Fayyad assessed that the ICC’s procedure for determining whether the PA could submit a claim was “a two year process”. “Tell the Israelis to lay off our backs,” he said. “We’re not even competent to submit a complaint. But in the wake of Goldstone, we can’t not pursue these sorts of claims against Israelis.” Still, he said, the ICC complain is going nowhere – “and neither is Goldstone.” He argued that the PA needed to use this time, while the ICC and Goldstone issues worked their way through the international bureaucracies to change the conversation and win back public trust.
(S) Fayyad remained pessimistic about the damage done by the Goldstone issue, which he termed “completely debasing” of the PA’s reputation. “Goldstone has really damaged us in a very lasting way,” he argued. He also reiterated assertions that the GOI released damaging stories about Abu Mazen to the Israeli press.
Where does it all end? My guess is that the PA will next accuse WikiLeaks and this article of coming out just ahead of the PA’s efforts to gain statehood at the UN.
When in doubt, it never hurts to blame those working at Al Jazeera.