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Pakistan says Obama's drone speech too little, too late

Barack Obama's counterterrorism speech on Thursday has drawn mixed reviews here in the United States (here at FP, Rosa Brooks gave the address an A-, while Emile Simpson found it to be a "conceptual car crash") -- and reactions have been similar in the countries that may be most affected by the president's proposals.

In the Pakistani press, the takeaway from the speech was the Obama administration's position on drone strikes, which have targeted militants in the tribal areas along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. With a touch of optimism, Pakistani reports listed the revised criteria for drone strikes described in the speech and new "presidential policy guidance" as a major shift in U.S. policy. The reports also took special note of Obama's acknowledgement of the "thousands of Pakistani soldiers [who] have lost their lives fighting extremists."

For some in Pakistan, though, including the government's Foreign Ministry, the speech was too little, too late. The ministry issued a statement saying that, while officials agreed with Obama's comment that "force alone cannot make us safe," the Pakistani government "has consistently maintained that the drone strikes are counter-productive, entail loss of innocent civilian lives, have human rights and humanitarian implications and violate the principles of national sovereignty, territorial integrity and international law." In an op-ed in Dawn, Pakistani author Rafia Zakaria wrote that the speech would have been better two years ago. In the time since the May 2011 Osama bin Laden raid, she pointed out, terrorism in Pakistan has metastasized as groups like the Pakistani Taliban have been emboldened by airstrikes:

The United States delegitimised the Pakistani state by continuing its onslaught of drone strikes year after year. Unheeded by both Parliamentary resolutions that denied any tacit agreement on drones and the statements of UN Rapporteurs calling them illegal; the Predators continued to fly, releasing Hellfire missiles over Pakistani territory and treating Pakistani borders as arbitrary impediments to American strategy.... The Tehreek-e-Taliban made the same point as the Americans, that the Pakistani state was not able to protect its own people, that their invasive capacity to kill was greater than the government's capacity to protect and that the writ of the state simply did not apply.

Meanwhile, in Yemen, despite the prevalence of U.S. drone strikes in the country, the reaction has focused on Obama's comments about the Guantánamo Bay detention center, where Yemeni nationals make up the majority of remaining detainees. The most-read article on the Yemen Post website on Friday, titled "Gitmo detainees could be heading home to Yemen soon," led with:

Following weeks of an intense political debate between Yemeni and American officials regarding the fate of Yemen 56 cleared terror detainees in Guantanamo Bay prison, America's infamous terror penitentiary, US President Barack Obama said he is ready to resume the transfers of prisoners, hence ended his self-imposed moratorium. In a speech on Thursday at the National Defense University President Obama made clear he wished to reduce Guantanamo "detainee population" ahead of the potential closure of the facility altogether.

The article also noted the looming political fight in Washington, stating, "While the news will come as a relief to many Yemeni officials and the families of detainees, not all American officials agree with their president's decision." The Yemeni government issued a press release and the Yemen Post article quotes officials from the country's Human Rights Ministry confirming U.S.-Yemeni cooperation on a new rehabilitation program in Yemen for repatriated detainees.

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

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WikiLeaks hits back at documentary with 'annotated transcript'

Last week, I interviewed Alex Gibney, director of the new documentary We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks. Gibney told me he found it ironic that Julian Assange and supporters like Oliver Stone were attacking his film without having seen it. "The transparency organization won't see the film but feels free to denounce it. What does that tell you about evidence and truth?" he asked.

Well, someone from WikiLeaks has apparently now seen the film (or at least heard it -- more on that in a moment) and was not impressed. A full "annotated transcript" of the film was posted on WikiLeaks today in an attempt to correct "factual errors and speculation," accusing Gibney of selective editing and attacking the credibility of his sources, including collaborators-turned-critics like Daniel Domscheit-Berg and James Ball. As WikiLeaks argues:

The film implies – erroneously and when evidence is to the contrary – that Assange may be guilty of "conspiring" with Bradley Manning. This not only factually incorrect, but also buys into the current US government position that journalists and publishers can be prosecuted as co-conspirators with their alleged sources or with whistleblowers who communicate information to them. This is a dangerous proposition for all journalists and media organisations — not just WikiLeaks.

The film actually makes exactly the opposite argument, depicting the U.S. government as hypocritical for criticizing WikiLeaks but not the media organizations that were happy to publish its cables.

I was also curious to see Assange's account of his interactions with Gibney. The director claims the WikiLeaks founder said the market rate for an interview with him was $1 million, and asked Gibney to tell him what other interviewees were saying. WikiLeaks' version is, not surprisingly, a bit different:

[Assange] explained to Gibney that four factors played a role in the decision whether or not to participate:

  1. Security: Raw footage of WikiLeaks work could find its way into the hands of the US Department of Justice. This could endanger WikiLeaks staff.
  2. Financing: WikiLeaks had previously received an offer of £800,000 for its cooperation in a British documentary project. WikiLeaks rejected the offer for security reasons. In the film and in interviews, Alex Gibney distorts this conversation by attempting to portray Julian Assange as greedy. Yet in reality Assange rejected these offers because these were not in the greater interest of the organisation, despite the fact that WikiLeaks had already been under an arbitrary financial blockade for a year when this negotiation took place.
  3. Information: Gibney told Julian Assange that he would be interviewing members of the US government for the WikiLeaks film. Assange detailed the different forms that the continuing US persecution of WikiLeaks and its allies had taken. Assange said WikiLeaks was interested in understanding the progress of the US investigation into itself and its sources. Any information that Gibney picked up about the matter in the course of his interviews might be of interest to WikiLeaks.
  4. Impact: In an email pitching the documentary to WikiLeaks from 10th of March 2011, Alex Gibney said "while you know that many docs will be made on this subject, I have a sufficient global reputation (oscar, oscar noms, worldwide fans) and such a substantial budget for production, worldwide distribution and promotion that my documentary will reach an audience that will dwarf the reach of all the other documentaries combined". Julian Assange explained that the impact of the documentary was potentially problematic.
While Alex Gibney is happy to allow the false imputation Julian Assange demanded $1 million for an interview to remain in his film he is careful not to allow the same 'mistake' to appear in the film's pre-publicity material:
New York Times correction: December 21, 2012: "An article on Thursday about the coming documentary "We Steal Secrets" and other films about WikiLeaks and Julian Assange referred imprecisely to a comment that Alex Gibney, the maker of "We Steal Secrets," says in the film about Mr. Assange's demands for money in exchange for collaborating on it. While he says that he rejected the demands, and that the market rate for an interview was $1 million, he does not specifically say that he rejected a demand from Mr. Assange for a $1 million fee for an interview."
Source: Click here.

WikiLeaks has co-operated in other productions, including a film by the well respected Academy Award nominated film maker, Laura Poitras, which will be released later this year. Another film, co-produced with Ken Loach's 16 Films, will be released shortly.

 

WikiLeaks also claims that the film defames Bradley Manning and depicts him as a "crude gay caricature," a bit of a strange criticism for a film that's overwhelmingly sympathetic to the imprisoned whistleblower. 

Interestingly, the transcript WikiLeaks posted doesn't include any of Manning's own words, which were featured extensively in the documentary. In the film, transcripts of Manning's chat logs appear on the screen as text rather than in the audio. This has led to a bit of a back-and-forth on Twitter, with Gibney and co-producer Jemima Khan accusing Wikileaks of doing some "selective editing" of its own:

 

 

Judging from the responses on Twitter, WikiLeaks supporters seem to be celebrating the annotated transcript as a definitive takedown of the film. This is all a little ironic given that, while the film is undoubtedly harsh on Assange, it's pretty sympathetic to the ideological goals of WikiLeaks itself. A lot of folks seem to be having trouble making a distinction between the two.