Lara Logan: Wikileaks Documents Tell the Wrong Story

The Duke of Kent visits the 1st Battalion The Scots Guards Battlegroup who are currently serving in Afghanistan, July 15, 2010. Buckingham Palace/Flickr/Ministry of Defense

What are we supposed to make of the Wikileaks documents?

Each of the three publications to which the documents were leaked led with a different headline and emphasized different issues.

The Guardian newspaper in the UK focused on civilian casualties, eager to point an accusing finger at the U.S. High up the article talked of "hundreds of civilian casualties," but lower down when they gave the actual figure apparently collated from the documents: it was 195. Even lower down, almost buried and just getting a single mention, was the fact that the Taliban was responsible for killing 2,000 Afghan civilians over the same period, according to the same documents.

I'm not sure why the Taliban killing innocent Afghans doesn't get the Taliban the same exposure and condemnation as it does when the U.S. is responsible. It does not seem to make any sense.

There is no question this is a grievous issue and any time an innocent life is taken, those responsible should be held to account.

I feel so strongly about this that I have chosen over the years to risk my own life in order to put a face on those innocent deaths. I did not want to be embedded during the invasion of Iraq - I chose instead to be among the Iraqi people on the receiving end of "shock and awe," specifically so that I would be there to show the reality of what is sometimes too conveniently called, "collateral damage".

And when American bombs mistakenly burned a family of Iraqi children, I was able to bring that reality into American homes with a report that showed the suffering of those innocent children. For me, it was the story that mattered the most of everything I did during that time. And I filed multiple reports every day, for every broadcast on CBS news, over a period spanning several months.

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I also chose to live with the Afghan soldiers on their frontline during the Taliban war, to see first-hand the U.S. bombing campaign through Afghan eyes. That meant watching Taliban targets being destroyed, but it also meant covering a village where a wedding was mistakenly hit and an entire family obliterated.

I shall never forget what it was like sifting through the ruins, collecting tattered pieces of a bloodied veil and the tiny, burned shoes of a baby, as I tried to piece together those final terrifying moments.

But it's clearly part of Taliban propaganda to expose any U.S. action that harms innocent civilians, and when it hasn't happened they engineer it or make it up.

That does not entitle the U.S. to a free pass. And they're never given one.

Whenever an incident in which the U.S. has caused innocent deaths is brought to light, the media does not hesitate to highlight that.

Yet the Taliban routinely and deliberately target civilians as part of their strategy. And they are rarely, if ever, called to account in the same way.

Why is that?

I wonder if Wikileaks would release thousands of documents - if they existed - that showed the extent of the Taliban and al Qaeda's evil doings? And would that generate a frenzy of media coverage?

Or do we just accept that these terrorists do terrible things, and accept their rationale that the U.S. is to blame anyway, for the reasons al Qaeda went to war in the first place?

AP Photo/Kevin Frayer

It seems increasingly that the U.S. is held responsible for everything, while no one else seems to bear any responsibility at all.

Has it been forgotten that with 9/11 it was al Qaeda that declared war on America and not the other way around? And it was the Taliban who chose not to hand over Osama Bin Laden to avoid war with the U.S., when they had that option.

I have another question. Why is it acceptable for Wikileaks to publish the names of all the Afghan civilians who have provided information to U.S. forces? Everyone knows that is a death sentence for those people. Is it up to Julian Assange, the owner of Wikileaks, and his team to decide which Afghans get a chance to live and which do not?

Does the U.S. military deserve a chance to protect their sources or not?

Apparently, Wikileaks does.

What foreign intelligence agency is going to feel comfortable sharing information with the U.S. military, when it seems likely their sources will be exposed and their information leaked?

As a journalist, I believe absolutely in freedom of speech and information. I grew up under emergency restrictions in a country where neither of those rights was guaranteed, and I was part of the struggle against that. It is not something I learned about - it is something I lived.

It is a slippery slope to suggest that sometimes there is a rationale for information not to be made public, and it goes against the grain. But it is a fine line that we walk all the time on the battlefield. Journalists in war time regularly withhold information that relates to operational security and other sensitive matters. Anyone who pretends they don't, and claims that they are somehow exempt from this standard, is lying.

And it's not just on the battlefield - it can happen in court cases, criminal matters, on the police beat, and oftentimes to protect a victim or not to jeopardize an investigation - to name just a few instances.

It seems, uncomfortably, that sometimes, some information does not need to be in the public domain. Even Wikileaks seems to subscribe to that, since their sources are secret and they decide what information and names to make public, and what to withhold.

I'm not sure why they chose not to protect those Afghan people. But I am certain these people are now at risk.

For what? A collection of first-hand, unverified reports that - no question - provide unprecedented detail on this war.

Yet somehow, they do not reveal anything that was not already known.

Should that be the headline? That some 76,000 documents spanning six years do not, in fact, contradict official accounts of how badly the war is going and how under-resourced the U.S. effort has been?

I've been covering this war long enough to remember a time when no U.S. commander in the field was willing to admit he did not have enough troops or resources. That was a "military-career-ender" and very frustrating because it blatantly contradicted the reality in front of the small group of journalists who were still paying close attention.

Had these documents been leaked then, the picture would have been a revelation.

Today, it reinforces the status quo and leaves me wondering, "who exactly does it serve?"

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Lara Logan is CBS News' Chief Foreign Correspondent.

  • Lara Logan

    Lara Logan's bold, award-winning reporting from war zones has earned her a prominent spot among the world's best foreign correspondents. Logan began contributing to 60 Minutes in 2005.

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