The Guardian has Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, who does some incredible work. And then you have Afghan media outlets. We’re not sure of their reliability all the time. But in terms of reliable Western sources—if you’re going to call The New York Times reliable, and I think you can make an argument against that—there’s very little information coming out. Some of that is because of the danger, some of that is because people think it’s more dangerous than it actually is. Maybe [reporters] are afraid to do their job, or afraid to trust their Afghan colleagues.
It is obviously very difficult to get around. The trouble isn’t just the Taliban. It’s Afghan police, criminal gangs. Women have an advantage. At least if they’re not very large women, they can cover up and go wherever they want.
Women have an easier time getting around?
In general in the Muslim world, non-Muslim women are at an advantage. There’s like a force field around them, people don’t want to come too close. Jill Carroll maybe was an exception, but there haven’t been that many women who I know of that have been attacked. Maybe groped here and there. Men are just maybe more uncomfortable around women, or don’t even see them.
As someone who has embedded, managed to get around, and is familiar with what’s happening on the ground, do the documents give an accurate indication of the war?
In terms of Afghan security forces’ incompetence and corruption, absolutely. In terms of the bumbling nature of the American military, who may be more or less well intentioned—but the nature of being an occupied force means you’re going to be oppressing people no matter how nice you are—I think it accurately represents that.
Do you agree with some who have said that leaving the names of Afghan informants in some of the raw reports has put them in danger? Is this irresponsible?
The answer is “so what?” in part. Unless you’re a supporter of the war. If you’re trying to undermine the war then I don’t think it’s a catastrophic event.
But I think as a human being you don’t want to do things that can lead to other people suffering. Even I would say that WikiLeaks should have been more careful in concealing the names of people who could face violent retribution as a result of this. But let’s also remember that these are people who are collaborating with a foreign occupier that’s oppressing their fellow countrymen. In every situation like that—Algeria, Iraq—collaborators often suffer. Obviously, if the occupying country wants to preserve its collaborators, it has to take pains to protect their identities. The media and whatever you call WikiLeaks aren’t under the same obligation.
The argument that it’s revealing American information that could harm tactical strategies, that may be true, but WikiLeaks isn’t an American organization and they’re not beholden to American national security interests. Again, as somebody who thinks that war is wrong, and this war in particular—it doesn’t serve American interests, it doesn’t serve my interests—I think undermining that war in any way possible is a good thing.
Do you think retribution against Afghan informants is likely as a result of the leaks?
It’s plausible to assume somebody would get hold of some information that could lead to somebody getting killed as a result of this. They kill informants at such a high rate that a lot of these people are probably dead anyway.
On the other hand, I don’t think the Taliban has the Internet, the ability to sift through this information, at the village level. They do have people in Pakistan with access to the Internet who are quite good with it. But just as it’s difficult for the media to sift through all this stuff, it would be difficult for them. If you were a Taliban techie, you could go through this stuff; but I don’t think it would be easy to get it down to the village level.
What do you think the fallout will be?
They’re going to look for the leaker. Like much of the reporting, the fallout is going to be about whether or not these things should have been leaked, how they got leaked, how do we prevent leaks. That’s where the fallout is going to be.
Nir Rosen is author of the forthcoming book, Aftermath.