Who knew that Hillary may actually, albeit grudgingly, admire the imprisoned Bradley Manning and asylum-seeker Julian Assange? This new nugget of information is buried deep within the pages of New York Times reporter David Sanger's "Confront and Conceal", a book which garnered attention mainly because of its scoop that the United States is conducting a secret cyberwar against Iran's nuclear program.
According to Sanger, a Tunisian blogger and activist named Sabi Ben Gharbia was gleeful that the cables sent from the American embassy contained scathing criticism of President Zine El Abedine:
"President Ben Ali was an American ally, sporadically cooperative in counterterrorism initiatives. But cooperation came at a high cost: Americans had to look the other way when it cameto Ben Ali’s habit of throwing challengers in jail and giving his family the first crack at his favorite sport, looting the national economy. Since Ben Ali had been in power for twenty-three years, Ben Gharbia figured the cables would be rich with anecdotes of excess. He was not disappointed. WikiLeaks yielded a gold mine—mostly about stolen gold.
"Ben Gharbia and his colleagues translated and posted seventeen of the cables describing Ben Ali’s most outrageous behavior. More would follow. TuniLeaks made it clear that behind the high walls of the American embassy, diplomats had long been disgusted by Ben Ali’s corrupt regime. In a June 2008 cable wonderfully entitled 'What’s Yours Is Mine' (Who said diplomats have no sense of humor?), the American ambassador at the time, Robert Godec, wrote, 'Whether it’s cash, services, land, property, or yes, even your yacht, President Ben Ali’s family is rumored to covet it and reportedly gets what it wants.' He wasn’t kidding about the yacht: Ben Ali’s nephews had, in fact, expropriated the beautiful pleasure craft of a French businessman. The cables showed that, years before the Arab uprisings, signs of discontent with Ben Ali were well known. 'It is the excesses of President Ben Ali’s family that inspire outrage among Tunisians,' Godec wrote. “With Tunisians facing rising inflation and high unemployment, the conspicuous displays of wealth and persistent rumors of corruption have added fuel to the fire.…"Thanks to the sudden transparency previously lacking in American diplomacy, the Tunisians finally realized that the regime was vulnerable. Within a month, Ben Ali had fled the country. Like wildfire, revolutions erupted in Egypt and throughout the Middle Eastern region. Sanger writes:
“I’m not sure the vegetable vendor killing himself all by itself would have been enough,” Clinton told me later. “I think the openness of the social media, I think WikiLeaks, in great detail, describing the lavishness of the Ben Ali family and cronies was a big douse of gasoline on the smoldering fire.” Given how furious Clinton had been at the publication of the State Department cables—an understandable reaction, given the huge breach of secrecy, the embarrassing phone calls she had to make explaining the leak to world leaders, and the expulsion of a handful of her ambassadors—it was a surprising statement. When American diplomats had raised the issue of WikiLeaks to me, it was usually to chew out the Times for risking American national security. (Clinton expressed her displeasure to me too, as we prepared the publication in November 2010 of “State’s Secrets,” the Times’ series drawn from the WikiLeaks revelations.) But with the passage of time, she had finally found a leak she liked—an obscure set of her own department’s cables that, by revealing the excesses of a brutal and corrupt dictator, may have helped ignite the most massive democracy movement in the Middle East in anyone's memory.Meanwhile, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange remains holed up in the Equadorian embassy in London, seeking political asylum to avoid probable prosecution in the United States under the Espionage Act. Private Bradley Manning, the original source of the cables, remains holed up in a military jail cell while his court martial proceeds at a snail's pace. You think maybe attorneys should subpoena Hillary as a witness for the defense? You think Assange and Manning should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, or at least a Pulitzer, instead of being reviled and ridiculed and imprisoned?
I think Hillary's admission is the biggest scoop in Sanger's book, but I have yet to find anyone writing about it as such. Here is one review outlining the top five "reveals."
Most of the book, incidentally, is a fawning synopsis of President Obama's foreign policy: a light footprint instead of nation-building invasions and occupations. Sanger is obviously a government insider, constantly referencing intimate conversations with Administration higher-ups, cozy dinners with generals and national security honchos, global press junkets, being summoned to the West Wing for emergency briefings. If Congress or Attorney General Holder are serious about investigating the "leaks" in his book, they won't have to try very hard. Sanger's main source appears to be Obama national security adviser (and former banking lobbyist) Thomas Donilon, and the rest of the book's material comes from a veritable Who's Who of government VIPs -- some named, some anonymous. Sanger also has obvious cachet with the president himself. I would rate the book as part pretty good investigative journalism, but mostly run-of-the-mill stenography. And that's being generous. The working title might have been "Conspire and Canoodle."
To give credit where it's due, though, Sanger does, in fact, characterize Obama's drone strikes as "assassinations" and likely war crimes, because they are in violation of an order signed by President Gerald Ford. If Obama rescinded the order, he did it behind closed doors. Maybe we'll find out in the next tell-all. Sanger described his tome as a narrative of Obama's first term, the implication being that he fully expects a second.