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Tuesday, 27 July 2010

The Afghan "war logs" have been curiously absent from the headlines of Australian newspapers, who have long been acclimatised to a pall of silence used by our military to suppress the flow of information about their activities in foreign theatres of war. It's almost as if the media in this country has been anaesthetised by this kind of studied neglect so that they fail to respond when real and copious intelligence comes to hand.

The Guardian, the liberal UK newspaper, was one of three international news outlets to receive the documents, sometimes also referred to as the Afghan "war diaries", ahead of their release by Wikileaks on Sunday. Its coverage has been better than anyone else's, including that of The New York Times, another favoured news outlet which received the docs early.

What is clear is that the US and Australian governments regret the leak.

It is also clear that the full story will only come out in time as journalists read through and decipher the 90,000 documents and detect patterns and themes suitable for reporting in their newspapers.

Just having access to the documents is not enough. You need time to make sense of a resource so vast that a dozen reporters woking for weeks would only just arrive at a complete understanding of their ramifications. The military will be relying on this obstacle of time. In the meantime, they will also be looking at ways to shut down Wikileaks.

When the "Pentagon Papers" were released by The New York Times in 1971 - the last time a leak of this size occurred in the US - the administration took legal action against the whistleblowers. This time, WikiLeaks is a tougher target because it is based outside the US and because it has a high profile. Any action against founder Julian Assange - who says he likes "crushing bastards" - would be widely reported.

Australia has just been exposed to a two-part ABC Four Corners program on our soldiers operating in Afghanistan. It was a bland and anodyne, controlled and well-scripted example of reporting compared to the stories now appearing with the "war logs", which claim among other things that Pakistan's secret service has been aiding the Taliban and that the US runs a special "black" hit squad to carry out extrajudicial assassinations in Afghanistan.

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