From today's report from the Department of Self-Awareness Department, Stephen Hayes, on why captured Iraqi documents haven't been released to the public:
The main worry, says DiRita, is that the mainstream press might cherry-pick documents and mischaracterize their meaning. "There is always the concern that people would be chasing a lot of information good or bad, and when the Times or the Post splashes a headline about some sensational-sounding document that would seem to 'prove' that sanctions were working, or that Saddam was just a misunderstood patriot, or some other nonsense, we'd spend a lot of time chasing around after it."
This is a view many officials attributed to Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Steve Cambone.
Yes, Steve Cambone was worried about cherry-picking of documents to mischaracterize their meaning. You could see how that might be a problem Steve Cambone would be familiar with, you know what I'm saying?
It's clearly a legitimate fear. If those documents were made public, you might start seeing articles like this:
THE FORMER IRAQI REGIME OF Saddam Hussein trained thousands of radical Islamic terrorists from the region at camps in Iraq over the four years immediately preceding the U.S. invasion, according to documents and photographs recovered by the U.S. military in postwar Iraq....The photographs and documents on Iraqi training camps come from a collection of some 2 million "exploitable items" captured in postwar Iraq and Afghanistan.
And nobody would want to see journalists cherry picking a few documents out of 2 million "exploitable items" in order to create a misleading impression, now, would they?
To be serious for a moment, I actually agree with Bill Kristol on this:
Let us--all of us--read the mass of documents captured after the fall of the Saddam regime. Stephen Hayes's reporting, including his article in this issue, suggests to us that these documents would confirm the argument for a terror connection. But let everyone make up his own mind, based on his own reading of the documents.
So: The U.S. government should release the documents. It should authenticate documents where possible, and then release them promptly, as they are authenticated. Or, if that is too onerous a process--and lots of time has already gone a-wasting--it should simply release all the documents, perhaps with whatever is known about their provenance and likely authenticity, and let news organizations, experts, and others make their own judgments.
Of course, they're in Arabic, so translation issues arise. But overall, that would be great.
I don't think Kristol is really serious - he pretends to think that this would support Hayes's reporting about links between Iraq and al-Qaeda because it makes a nice rhetorical point and makes that reporting seem stronger than it really is. What I think he and Hayes really want is privileged access to a nice, steady stream of carefully selected documents which bolster their case: as long as Hayes gets his fix of leaks, I suspect that "full public release" will not be a high priority for the Weekly Standard.
But who knows what people "really" think? Not me. I say take Kristol at his word: give all researchers access to the documents, with appropriate FOIA and intelligence safeguards. It would give cherry-picking opportunites galore for partisans on both sides, sure, but so what? They do that anyway. I would much rather that everyone has equal access to the documents than leave it the way it is - where Stephen Hayes and others sympathetic to the neo-conservatives at the Pentagon get privileged access to documents that help them out, and nobody else does. Access to those documents would level the playing field, and make it easier to discover the truth, whatever that might be. Selfishly (on behalf of my profession), it would be an unbelievable windfall for scholars, and for everyone who wants to understand how a mukhabarat state worked and works.
Who would it hurt? Well, other than hurting Hayes and his crowd, because it would end their monopoly on the leaks, it might hurt American counter-insurgency efforts if the documents were made public (as opposed to exploited internally), and it would almost certainly prove very damaging to lots of individual Iraqis compromised by information in the files. How should such concerns matter compared to the urgent need to score domestic political points? Ask the Weekly Standard.