Whistleblower website Wikileaks released its “Iraq War Log” on October 22. This featured almost 400,000 classified US military documents that provide a detailed, if incomplete, record of the US occupation of Iraq from 2004 (a year after the invasion) until January 2010.
The log revealed high level US military documentation of serious war crimes the US and its allies have committed in Iraq, including massacres of civilians and systematic torture.
The release follows Wikileaks release on July 26 of a similar log of classified US military documents from Afghanistan, and the release on April 5 of video footage taken from a US Apache helicopter that was shooting Iraqi civilians.
In the disturbing video, the US soldiers can be heard talking as though they were playing a video game as they killed a dozen people, including two Reuters journalists.
The Pentagon, US government officials and much of the media have attacked Wikileaks. They have alleged the log’s release threatens the security of the US and its allies, and puts the lives of soldiers and Iraqi collaborators at risk.
Pentagon spokesperson Geoff Morrell said on October 22: “The bottom line is, our forces are still very much in danger here as a result of this exposure, given the fact that our tactics, techniques and procedures are exposed in these documents, and our enemies are undoubtedly going to try to use them against us, and making their jobs even more difficult and dangerous.”
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange disputed this. He told Democracy Now on October 26 that, despite having made similar claims after the release of the Afghanistan material, “the Pentagon stated last week that it could find no incidents of an Afghan who had been adversely affected by this release or the injury to any US troops”.
“The reality is”, Assange said, “that the only thing at risk here is the reputations and the jobs of those individuals who put troops in harm’s way in Iraq and who put Iraqi citizens in the middle of a civil war.”
Some US legislators are tabling amendments to espionage laws to target whistleblowers. Others have called for cyber-warfare against Wikileaks. Much of the media response has focussed on smearing Assange personally.
Morrell dismissed the contents of the leaks as “snapshots”. Former British prime minister Tony Blair, one of the main instigators of the invasion of Iraq, told the October 27 Folha de Sao Paulo: “All this information was already known.”
This is an extraordinary statement. It is true most of the revelations in the leaks have been reported before.
These include the high civilian casualties from airstrikes and ground-strikes; occupation soldiers killing civilians at checkpoints and shooting insurgents who had surrendered; crimes by unaccountable US “security contractors” (mercenaries); and the routine torture (and frequent extrajudicial killing) of detainees by Iraqi authorities with the knowledge of US forces.
What is new is that the leaks show official US military documentation of these crimes. Previously, political and military leaders of the occupying powers had vehemently denied such crimes.
British journalist Robert Fisk, who has been reporting the crimes in Iraq since the invasion, told ABC’s Lateline on October 28: “What the field reports do prove is that the Pentagon was lying at the time and we were right. But what they’re trying to say is, ‘Oh, it's an old story! We all knew about that.’
“But the Pentagon was denying it all through those years.”
Assange told Democracy Now: “Three-quarters of those killed at checkpoint killings, according to the United States military itself, were civilians, and only one-quarter, according to the US military internal reporting, were insurgents.”
He described some of what the Pentagon had dismissed as “snapshots”: “A little girl on the street … who would frequently go to collect candy and so on from US troops, one day a tank goes past, and for an inexplicable reason, a shooter comes out of the US tank and blows her away.
“There are just so many of these incidents … In one incident, after a car was shot up and examined, according to these internal US military reports, the man killed was a doctor delivering a pregnant woman to the hospital.”
Among the most damning of the revelations is the gruesome catalogue of Iraqis detained by US forces and handed over to Iraqi forces, who severely tortured them. It proves the US military was fully aware this was occurring.
The government and military has tried to avoid responsibility for violence perpetrated by Iraqis themselves, but such actions occurred under a US-led occupation. Even after the much vaunted US “withdrawal” from Iraq in August, 50,000 US soldiers and 100,000 US mercenaries (“contractors”) remain in Iraq.
The routine brutality by the client state installed by the invaders makes a mockery of claims that the war was for democracy and “liberation”.
Moreover, the failure of US military personnel to stop torture by their Iraqi clients was policy. Typically the reports are marked: “No investigation necessary.”
The context is provided by a document called “Frago 242”. Assange explained to Democracy Now: “Frago 242 is a classified order that … the US military not intervene in these cases of Iraqi police and Iraqi officials committing torture.
“We can also see cases where people have been deliberately handed over to some of the most abusive police groups in Iraq, in what looks to be an intentional sort of torture laundering, a sort of internal torture rendition in Iraq.”
Wikileaks does not reveal its sources. In May, a US army intelligence analyst who had become disillusioned with the war, Private First Class Bradley Manning, was arrested in Baghdad. Manning was charged with the unauthorised use and disclosure of classified information.
The Apache helicopter video was specifically mentioned and after the Afghanistan files were released by Wikileaks in July, he was named as a “person of interest” in their leaking.
He has been held in solitary confinement in Kuwait since his arrest, and faces up to 52 years in jail if convicted. Manning has denied leaking the material.
Regardless of whether Manning was responsible for any leaks, it speaks volumes for the nature of US imperialism and its wars that it is those suspected of exposing war crimes, rather than those who commit them, that face prosecution.
The new round of information published by Wikileaks has provoked a new round of condemnation of Wikileaks by corporate media commentators and pro-war politicians.
The real source of their attacks is not a hypocritical concern for the “security” of soldiers occupying Iraq or Afghanistan — the easiest way to protect them would be to withdraw them from the illegal wars they have been sent to fight.
What upsets the pro-war establishment is that Wikileaks has exposed, once more, the brutal nature of these wars and the lies used to justify them.