In the biggest leak of military secrets in history, WikiLeaks, the whistleblower website, has released 400,000 secret US files detailing every aspect of the war in Iraq to several international media organizations, which was published on October 22, 2010.
A huge trove of secret field reports from the battlegrounds of Iraq sheds new light on the war, including such fraught subjects as civilian deaths, detainee abuse and the involvement of Iran.
The secret archive is the second such cache obtained by the independent organization WikiLeaks and made available to several news organizations.
Like the first release, some 92,000 reports covering six years of the war in Afghanistan, the Iraq documents provide no earthshaking revelations, but they offer insight, texture and context from the people actually fighting the war.
The Iraq War documents were made available to The New York Times, the British newspaper The Guardian, the French newspaper Le Monde and the German magazine Der Spiegel on the condition that they be embargoed until now.
WikiLeaks has never stated where it obtained the information, although an American Army intelligence analyst, Pfc. Bradley Manning, has been arrested and accused of being a source of classified material.
A close analysis of the 391,832 documents helps illuminate several important aspects of this war. It purport to show that commanders failed to investigate torture and killings by Iraqi police and soldiers.
They also claim that a helicopter gunship involved in the shooting of journalists also shot insurgents after they tried to surrender, and reveal 15,000 previously unknown civilian deaths.
Prisoners were shackled, blindfolded and hung by their wrists or ankles and then whipped, punched, kicked and given electric shocks, it is claimed. Six of these episodes allegedly ended with a detainee’s apparent death.
The abuse includes rape, torture using electric drills and whipping with metal hoses, wire cables and chains — a brutality from which the Americans at times averted their eyes.
As it did with the Afghan war logs, many U.S. news sources have redacted or withheld any documents that would put lives in danger or jeopardize continuing military operations.
Names of Iraqi informants, for example, have not been disclosed. WikiLeaks said that it has also employed teams of editors to scrub the material for posting on its Web site.
WikiLeaks has been under strong pressure from the United States and the governments of other countries but is also fraying internally, in part because of a decision to post many of the Afghan documents without removing the names of informants, putting their lives in danger.
They also came under the fire from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who said they could imperil the lives of U.S. and British soldiers.
Mrs Clinton said that ‘in the most clear terms the disclosure of any information by individuals and or organisations which puts the lives of United States and its partners’ service members and civilians at risk.’
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange told CNN that the documents show ‘compelling evidence’ of war crimes’ by the U.S. led coalition and the Iraq government. He rejected claims that his work was endangering anyone.
The new leak is believed to come from the same dissident U.S. army intelligence analyst who earlier this year is alleged to have leaked a tranche of 90,000 logs chronicling bloody encounters and civilian killings in Afghanistan.
Finally, the documents appear to show that the US military did keep records of civilian deaths, despite earlier denials that any official statistics on the death toll were available.
The logs showed there were more than 109,000 violent deaths between 2004 and the end of 2009. They included 66,081 civilians, 23,984 people classed as “enemy”, 15,196 members of the Iraqi security forces, and 3,771 coalition troops.
Iraq Body Count, which collates civilian deaths using cross-checked media reports and other figures such as morgue records, said that based on an analysis of a sample of 860 logs, it estimated that around 15,000 previously unknown civilian deaths would be identified.
Pentagon spokesman Marine Corps Colonel Dave Lapan said: “We deplore WikiLeaks for inducing individuals to break the law, leak classified documents and then cavalierly share that secret information with the world, including our enemies.”
“We know terrorist organisations have been mining the leaked Afghan documents for information to use against us, and this Iraq leak is more than four times as large,” he added.
He continued: “The only responsible course of action for WikiLeaks at this point is to return the stolen material and expunge it from their websites as soon as possible.” WikiLeaks says it has deleted names that might result in reprisals.
The Ministry of Defence said it would investigate any new evidence of abuse in the files. But human rights campaigners are outraged at the new claims and are calling on the U.S. to mount a full investigation into what their soldiers knew about the abuse.
Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa director Malcolm Smart said: “The files add to our concern that the US authorities committed a serious breach of international law when they summarily handed over thousands of detainees to Iraqi security forces who, they knew, were continuing to torture and abuse detainees on a truly shocking scale.”
“These documents apparently provide further evidence that the US authorities have been aware of this systematic abuse for years, yet they went ahead and handed over thousands of Iraqis they had detained to the Iraqi security forces,” he said.
The United Nations special rapporteur on torture Manfred Nowak also said there was now a duty on the U.S. administration to investigate whether its officials were involved in or complicit in torture.
“President Obama also has an obligation to deal with past cases,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme. ‘There is an obligation to investigate whenever there are credible allegations torture has happened – and these allegations are more than credible – and then it is up to the courts.
“First there must be an independent and objective investigation. It is then up to the courts on the one hand to bring the perpetrators to justice and also on the other hand to provide the victims with adequate reparation for the harm they have suffered.”
p.s. Now you can browse the entire 400,000 pages of incident reports, which cover a time period from January 2004 to December 2009, here at Wikileaks. Is it right or wrong to publish documents obtained by WikiLeaks? What do you think?! [via Spiegel (DE), BBC, The New York Times, The Guardian (UK)]