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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

Help for Afghanis “Outed” by Wikileaks

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The website Wikileaks, which exists to make public "sensitive material," recently published the Afghan War Diary, a collection of 75,000 classified documents from the U.S. military detailing ground-level operations in Afghanistan.  Among the information released are names and villages of Afghanis who assisted the United States.  Now, Newsweek magazine reports that a Taliban spokesman has threatened vengeance against the exposed "collaborators."  A few days after Wikileaks published the documents, numerous tribal elders received threatening letters.  One elder was murdered.  The magazine reports:

The frightening combination of the Taliban spokesman's threat, [Tribal Elder] Abdullah's death, and the spate of letters has sparked a panic among many Afghans who have worked closely with coalition forces in the past....  [There are] reports of Afghans rushing to U.S. and coalition bases in southern and eastern Afghanistan over the past few days, seeking protection and even asking for political asylum.

A Taliban fighter checks out Wikileaks.

(To be fair to Wikileaks, there is a debate about whether the leaked documents have made any difference.  Some argue that the Taliban already know the "collaborators."  Wikileaks has confidential U.S. documents, but not confidential Taliban documents, so Wikileaks does not know whether the Taliban was aware of all the collaborators listed in the exposed documents.  Given this lack of knowledge, it seems to me that the failure to redact the Afghani names from the leaked documents was incredibly irresponsible.)

What then can be done about Afghanis who have been "outed" by Wikileaks?  One possibility is the Afghan Allies Protection Act, which authorizes 1,500 visa each year for Afghanis "who have been employed by or on behalf of the United States Government in Afghanistan on or after October 7, 2001, for a period of not less than one year, and who have experienced or are experiencing an ongoing serious threat as a consequence of that employment."  Whether the people named in the Wikileak documents were employed by or on behalf of the U.S. government for at least one year is an open question.  If not, this law will not help them. 

If it turns out that the Taliban's threats are serious, Congress should consider amending the law to permit endangered Afghanis to come to the U.S., at least temporarily, even if they do not satisfy all the requirements of the Afghan Allies Protection Act.  It's good policy to show our allies that we protect them, especially when they were endangered by our own security failing.  More than that, protecting such people is the right thing to do.

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  1. Todd Gallinger's Avatar
    Even if the names of collaborators was already available to the Talibam and other groups, the Wikileaks posting certainly made it more available and easily searchable. Weighing the values of disclosure and keeping such information secret is a difficult thing to do. However, the US has an obligation to protect the safety of all those who have assisted it's efforts in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Any program which would allow translators and other local agents immigration to the US should be a high priority of the Administration and Congress.
  2. Jason Dzubow's Avatar
    Hi Todd - Thanks for the comment. I hope you are well. If there is a program to help Afghani translators etc., I hope it is better managed than the program to assist Iraqis. I (and others) have had real problems getting anything done through that program. My guess is, this is not a high priority.
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