Week In News: WikiLeaks, Rangel

Host Guy Raz speaks with James Fallows of The Atlantic about the leak of thousands of secret Army documents to the website WikiLeaks and the ethics charges against Democratic Rep. Charlie Rangel of New York.

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GUY RAZ, host:

We're back with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

Secretary ROBERT GATES (Department of Defense): The battlefield consequences of the release of these documents are potentially severe and dangerous and may well damage our relationships and reputation in that key part of the world.

RAZ: Defense Secretary Robert Gates from a briefing yesterday speaking about the 91,000 secret Army documents obtained by the website WikiLeaks.

James Fallows of The Atlantic is with me as he is most Saturdays.

Hi, Jim.

Mr. JAMES FALLOWS (News Analyst, The Atlantic): Hello, Guy. Welcome back.

RAZ: Thanks very much. Jim, the chairman of Joint Chiefs, Mike Mullen, went so far as to say that the people behind WikiLeaks, and I'm quoting him, might already have on their hands the blood of a young soldier or that of an Afghan family. A pretty strong suggestion.

Mr. FALLOWS: Yes. And all the more remarkable given that it came in a tweet that Admiral Mullen sent out. And I think that, increasingly, as we move into the second week and, you know, that will be a long time of assessing what these documents actually mean, it raises what is an uncomfortable moral question about this whole enterprise in Afghanistan.

Obviously, anybody who's leading a war effort, as uniformed military officers are doing and a sitting president, they have to be careful in talking about blood on anybody's hands because they're making these decisions. But probably, the morally most tangled aspect here is going to be those Afghans who have decided to help U.S. and NATO forces over previous months and years and now are being named, you know, without their knowledge. And already, there are reports of them being singled out for retaliation by the Taliban.

This has happened before when the U.S. has been in Vietnam and in Iraq and elsewhere and then has withdrawn, but it's a genuine moral issue.

RAZ: I mean, in other words, it's happened in places where there have been locals who have supported U.S. forces by giving them intelligence. They sort of have been hung out to dry.

Mr. FALLOWS: And if we think a generation back, essentially this was one reason why there were so many refugees let in from Vietnam. These were people who knew they were in jeopardy because they'd help the U.S. effort. And even despite the very large number of Vietnamese who arrived, there are a lot who were there who were, you know, killed, who were put in prison and who suffered consequences.

This is an inevitable part of an occupying army because we're not going to stay there forever, but I think it's worth as draw downs are contemplated in both Iraq and Afghanistan recognizing this consequence and some of the people left behind.

RAZ: Mm-hmm. Jim, moving on to domestic affairs. This week, as you know, the House Ethics Committee laid out its case against Congressman Charles Rangel, the New York Democrat, 13 charges in all.

Now a subcommittee is recommending a reprimand, but - I don't know if you saw this last night. President Obama was on CBS and he was speaking about Charlie Rangel in the past tense. Take a listen.

President BARACK OBAMA: I think Charlie Rangel served a very long time and served his constituents very well. But these allegations are very troubling. And, you know, he's somebody who's at the end of his career, 80 years old. I'm sure that what he wants is to be able to end his career with dignity. And my hope is, is that it happens.

RAZ: Obviously, Jim, President Obama not mincing his words there. Another Democrat, Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California, also faces a possible ethics trial for allegedly misusing her office. Why do you think the House is pushing these cases now?

Mr. FALLOWS: Well, you know, President Obama is sometimes criticized for being too indirect. There was nothing indirect about his signal to Congressman Rangel. I think it illustrates the political dimensions at this moment. A midterm election obviously is coming up. The Democrats are in trouble. Congress, in general, was unpopular in opinion polls. So it's not good for the Democrats to have two of their prominent members and awkwardly two of their leading members of the Black Caucus in ethics trouble at the same time.

But as often been the case, there's a mismatch between the local popularity of certain officials and their difficulties in the national level. I think Mayor Curley of Boston who was - who won an election while he was in jail...

RAZ: Right.

Mr. FALLOWS: ...and served part of his term as mayor also in federal prison illustrates it. So it would be convenient for the Democrats, I think, if these things were taken off the plate before the election.

RAZ: Finally, Jim, for most of us in the United States, I think we're happy to see the back of July. It seems as if it was the hottest month on record, although, you know, people in places like Los Angeles, where it was unseasonably cool, might not feel that way.

It was hotter than the Dust Bowl month of July 1936 on average across the country. And then there's the story of the phytoplankton, which I think is really scary.

Mr. FALLOWS: Yes. This is a study from a university in Canada going back over decades to measure the concentration of these, you know, the smallest elements of the marine food chain and saying there's been a very significant fall, perhaps as much as 50 percent over the last half-century or so, and positing that this was due to rising temperatures and changing conditions in the oceans.

We all know that a hot month doesn't necessarily mean a changed climate, but there have been so many indications, almost all in the same direction. I think probably, to me, most alarmingly recently this marine study to suggest that perhaps, it's time to ramp up the national - international attention to doing something about the sources of climate change.

RAZ: That's James Fallows. He's national correspondent for The Atlantic. You can read his blog at jamesfallows.theatlantic.com.

Jim, thanks so much.

Mr. FALLOWS: Thank you, Guy. My pleasure.

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