Although we clearly exhausted the Wikileaks topic in class yesterday and the media has obsessed over it for far too long, I want to take one more approach that has been overlooked by those making arguments for and against it. As we know, the documents leaked were mostly reports that are generated by patrol leaders as they conduct debriefs after a mission. They pass on all raw data they collected from citizens, leaders and sources and pass it on to the intelligence shop to analyze it and connect the dots with other intel that has been collected. Major incidents such as Troops in Contact (TIC), IEDs, VBIEDs, market bombings and the like are also passed on in the same debriefs where the format does not require an in-depth explanation of the cause of every civilian casualty or fatality unless it is controversial and an investigation is opened. Civilian casualties do occur frequently and are a sad and tragic byproduct of war as it often has an emotional impact on the soldiers involved.
The Rules of Engagement given to soldiers are created by senior leadership to provide strict guidelines for proper escalation of force and it strictly defines when it is okay to use it. Unconventional warfare is fought in a highly complex environment where the enemy blurs the line everyday and so leaders must give their soldiers reassurance that they will be protected as long as they abide by the ROE. A split second of hesitation by a soldier is all it takes for something to go horribly wrong and even the most highly trained forces will make the wrong decision from time to time. This reassurance is the best way to uphold the integrity of our soldiers though as it helps eliminate the desire to use drop guns (a spare AK-47 carried around by a unit to place by an accidental civilian casualty), lie about events, and cover up the truth. ROE is not a fix all but it keeps most soldiers in line.
This relates to the Wikileaks documents because of the unfiltered access the public now has to these raw briefs. They don’t know that commanders have thoroughly reviewed the events or what the exact circumstances were on the ground. All that is known is a number of casualties and a best estimation of how it happened. The potential for public outcry as they delve into these reports could have a dramatic impact. How much would it take to convince the right Congressman that an investigation should be opened up?
We risk the loss of trust that is placed on military leaders to police their own and to create effective tactical guidelines to minimize casualties. This degradation of trust is passed down the line as soldiers no longer feel that reassurance when they follow the ROE. They worry instead about how the public thousands of miles away would react if they don’t view his actions as proper. We defeat the purpose of the ROE and increase risks to our soldiers when we blur the military/civilian lines as leaking raw debriefs has.