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WikiLeaks defends release of Iraq war documents

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has defended the unauthorised release of 400 000 classified US military documents on the war in Iraq, saying they revealed the “truth” about the conflict.

The mass of documents from 2004 to 2009 offer a grim snapshot of the conflict, especially of the abuse of Iraqi civilians by Iraqi security forces.

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“This disclosure is about the truth,” Assange told a news conference in London after the whistle-blowing website published the logs on the internet.

“The attack on the truth by war begins long before war starts, and continues long after a war ends,” he said, adding that WikiLeaks hoped “to correct some of that attack on the truth”.

He claimed they revealed around 15,000 more civilian deaths than were previously known about.

The heavily redacted logs appear to show that the US military turned a blind eye to evidence of torture and abuse of Iraqis by the Iraqi authorities. Assange said the documents showed the war had been “a bloodbath on every corner”.

Washington and London warned that releasing the documents could endanger the lives of coalition troops and Iraqi civilians, although the rights ministry in Baghdad said the logs “did not contain any surprises”.

In an announcement which could further concern the United States, WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson said the website would soon release a further 15 000 secret files on the war in Afghanistan which had been held back for line-by-line reviewing and redacting.

WikiLeaks enraged Washington by releasing 92 000 documents on the Afghan war in July, and drew criticism from rights groups who said the inclusion of Afghan informants’ names put lives at risk.

The files published Friday contain graphic accounts of torture, civilian killings and Iran’s hand in the Iraq war, documenting years of bloodshed and suffering following the 2003 US-led invasion to oust dictator Saddam Hussein.

In one document, US military personnel describe abuse by Iraqis at a Baghdad facility that was holding 95 detainees in a single room. It says “many of them bear marks of abuse to include cigarette burns, bruising consistent with beatings and open sores… according to one of the detainees questioned on site, 12 detainees have died of disease in recent weeks.”

Other reports describe Iraqis beating prisoners and women being killed at US military checkpoints.

WikiLeaks made the files available several weeks ago to selected newspapers and television channels, including Al-Jazeera, Le Monde, The New York Times, Der Spiegel and The Guardian. British newspaper The Guardian said the leaks showed “US authorities failed to investigate hundreds of reports of abuse, torture, rape and even murder by Iraqi police and soldiers whose conduct appears to be systematic and normally unpunished.”

It said “US and UK officials have insisted that no official record of civilian casualties exists but the logs record 66 081 non-combatant deaths out of a total of 109 000 fatalities.”

The Guardian said WikiLeaks is thought to have obtained the material from the “same dissident US army intelligence analyst” who is suspected of leaking the material on Afghanistan. WikiLeaks has not revealed its source.

US soldier Bradley Manning, 22, is in US custody facing charges he gave WikiLeaks classified video showing a July 2007 US Apache helicopter strike in Baghdad that killed several people. He is also suspected of possible involvement in the leak of classified documents related to the war in Afghanistan.

On Iran’s role in the Iraq conflict, the latest files show Tehran waging a shadow war with US troops in Iraq and Tehran allegedly using militias to kill and kidnap US soldiers.

The documents describe Iran arming and training Iraqi hit squads to carry out attacks on coalition troops and Iraqi government officials, with the elite Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps suspected of playing a crucial role, The New York Times and The Guardian reported.

Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers told the London news conference that some of the deaths documented in the reports could have involved British forces and could now be the subject of legal action in British courts. “Some of these deaths will be in circumstances where the UK have a very clear legal responsibility,” he said.

The US-based Human Rights Watch called for Iraq to probe mistreatment by its own forces, and said the US should investigate if it committed wrongdoing by transferring prisoners to Iraqi hands.

A Pentagon spokesman said the documents were “essentially snapshots of events, both tragic and mundane, and do not tell the whole story.” Britain’s Ministry of Defence also condemned the unauthorised release, saying it made the job of British and allied troops “more difficult and more dangerous”.

Other top leaks obtained by WikiLeaks

  • 2007: The site publishes “Camp Delta Standard Operating Procedures,” a 238-page US Army instruction manual from 2003 for the prison at Guantanamo Bay. The detailed manual, which states rolls of toilet paper, among other things, could be given to detainees as rewards, was criticised by rights groups.
  • 2008: In September, during the 2008 US presidential campaign, the content of Sarah Palin’s personal email account was hacked and some email screenshots were posted on WikiLeaks. The manager of the McCain-Palin campaign, Rick Davis, called the leak “a shocking invasion of the governor’s privacy and a violation of law” in a statement.
  • 2008: WikiLeaks posted on its website a list of more than 10 000 names — including addresses, telephone numbers and occupations — of members of Britain’s British National Party (BNP). At least one police officer was fired as a result from the leak, as British police and prison officers were banned from joining the BNP in 2004. The party threatened legal action against whoever had published the list.
  • 2009: In November, the site began publishing what it said were hundreds of thousands of pager messages from the day of the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington. WikiLeaks did not reveal how it had obtained the pager messages purportedly from telecommunications companies, but technology blogs said at the time they appeared to be genuine.
  • 2009: WikiLeaks was among the websites to publish controversial documents and email exchanges between researchers at the Climate Research Unit at Britain’s University of East Anglia, one of the world’s leading climate centers. The leak was seized upon by climate change sceptics who said the emails supported their cause, sparking a global row later dubbed “climategate.” An inquiry later cleared the researchers of any wrongdoing.
  • 2010: In April, WikiLeaks released a video of a US military Apache helicopter strike in Baghdad three years ago which killed two Reuters employees and a number of other people. The gun camera footage included audio conversations between Apache pilots and ground controllers in which they identify the men in a Baghdad street as armed insurgents and ask for permission to open fire. Wikileaks said it obtained and decrypted the video “from a number of military whistle-blowers” but did not provide any further information about how it got hold of the footage.
  • July 25, 2010: WikiLeaks published nearly 77 000 classified US military documents — Pentagon files and field reports spanning from 2004 to 2010 — on the war in Afghanistan and said it will soon publish another 15 000. The documents reveal details of civilian victims and supposed links between Pakistan and the Taliban insurgents, infuriating the Pentagon and shining the spotlight on WikiLeaks.

– AFP

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