The Release of Al Qaeda Documents by US Military Academy is a Disgrace to Academia


The US Military Academy at West Point, a tax-supported university that drains precious dollars from the US economy has released 197 pages of documents stolen from Usama bin Laden’s home by SEAL team marauders on May 1, 2011. The West Point scholars who released this information have violated a basic code of academia that virtually every graduate student is taught. Do not accept and do not benefit from stolen or ill begotten primary sources. This information does not belong to the United States and certainly to those who released it. It was obtained illegally and without permission in a home invasion.

During the home invasion, personal property of the Bin Laden family and perhaps others were taken. No inventory was given to Pakistan, the host country; permission from Islamabad was not sought nor granted. Documents acquired in this manner should not be used by professors even at war-loving postsecondary institutions such as West Point. If I were ever given documents that were stolen and illegitimate in its acquisition, I would not use them. Provenance is as important as substance. The acquisition of primary-source material in this manner is equivalent to West Point professors breaking into a library, archive or somebody’s house and stealing documents to use in a report.

Note the press with its fawning liberal reporters, have not even questioned the process by which the Bin Laden documents were obtained. Well I do and I believe the unprofessional and perhaps illegal release of these thumb-drive musings and letters should lead to a full-scale investigation of the scholars who accepted, studied and released these documents. I believe it does constitute academic misconduct that should precipitate a full-scale investigation, with all due process afforded under AAUP guidelines.

Shame on West Point! Shame on the unprofessional and egregious misuse of primary source documents.

Update: I received a comment from an academic-freedom activist who asked me about the furtive release of the Pentagon Papers and whether I would have supported their publication. Absolutely. Daniel Ellsberg and Tony Russo should have received Nobel Peace Prizes for their 1971 revelation of the genocide in Vietnam. Yet they were not academics although highly educated who laboured for the quasi-Air Force sponsored think tank of the Rand Corporation. Mr Ellsberg in particular worked on this secret history that was ordered by Secretary of Defense Robert Strange McNamara. So in a sense he was releasing his own work yet recognising the security classification that was breached and I think ethically in this manner. Furthermore it was the mainstream press, New York Times, St Louis Post-Dispatch, Boston Globe, Washington Post and over a dozen others who published the secret defence-department history of the Vietnam War. I am unaware of any academic involved in the acquisition, release or publication of these materials.

I was asked by the critic of my latest blog in an email whether I would have suppressed the Wikileaks revelations and whether that should be construed as illegitimate dissemination of classified data. Absolutely not. Anything that exposes the inner-sanctum of the racist, hyperpower should be lauded and eagerly perused by the public. You bet I would honour Julian Assange and PFC Bradley Manning, war hero, for their revelation of top-secret diplomatic cable. Anything to thwart or roll back the empire.

However, once again, these courageous citizens of the world are not academics affiliated with a postsecondary institution. I would aver that university or college professors should be held to a higher standard of restraint when releasing stolen documents than journalists, internet activists, and soldiers with a conscience. If a professor uses stolen documents, the presumption should be it is unethical. Maybe there might be exceptions but I don’t see any right now. Here we have a murdered international figure, Usama bin Laden, shot to death in a thrill kill without access to counsel, due process or a presumption of innocence. The killers steal his personal property in a nation they were not given permission to enter. The property ends up at the US Military Academy and academics there read it, transcribe it and publish it.

I construe these publications that were not subject to external peer review for verification to be a serious breach of academic integrity and one that brings obloquy to the military academies, or at least to West Point. Shame and dishonour should envelop those who use stolen documents in this manner to advance either their academic careers or even WORSE the policies of the US. Professors should be independent and not in-house acolytes who do the bidding of their imperial masters!

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