WikiLeaks defends its release of classified documents on Iraq War

WikiLeaks released nearly 400,000 classified reports detailing more than 100,000 deaths in the Iraq War, some 60 percent of which were of civilians. WikiLeaks also intends to release thousands more documents on the war in Afghanistan.

Lennart Preiss/AP
Julian Assange, founder of the WikiLeaks website, at a press conference in London, Saturday, Oct. 23. WikiLeaks revealed previously secret files on the Iraq war, which in the biggest leak of classified information in US history suggest that far more Iraqis died than previously acknowledged.

WikiLeaks – the controversial classified information clearinghouse – is defending its release of what it calls “The Iraq War Logs” against charges that it is undermining the security of American and coalition forces. In addition, the organization intends to release thousands more classified documents dealing with the war in Afghanistan.

The most recent WikiLeaks disclosure covers the Iraq War for the period from the beginning of 2004 through 2009.

Based on “SIGACT,” or “Significant Activity” reports by US military personnel, the 391,832 individual reports (the largest such release of classified documents in US history) “detail events as seen and heard by the US military troops on the ground in Iraq and are the first real glimpse into the secret history of the war that the United States government has been privy to throughout,” according to WikiLeaks.

Related: Five bombshells from WikiLeaks' Iraq war documents

The reports detail 109,032 deaths in Iraq. These include 66,081 “civilians,” 23,984 “enemy” insurgents, 15,196 “host nation” (Iraqi government forces), and 3,771 “friendly” (coalition) forces. Some 60 percent of the total is civilian deaths.

“For comparison, the 'Afghan War Diaries', previously released by WikiLeaks, covering the same period, detail the deaths of some 20,000 people,” states WikiLeaks on its web site. “Iraq during the same period, was five times as lethal with equivalent population size.”

Pentagon officials and US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton have condemned the release of such information.

“Our fear here is that the release of this classified information will give our enemies the opportunity to mine that database, to look for how we respond to certain situations,” Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told CNN. “If they can see patterns of behavior, our tactics, our techniques and our procedures, the capabilities of our equipment, response times, how we cultivate sources, this is all information which should never be in the public domain.”

“We know in the aftermath of the Afghan document leak, the Taliban and others spoke publicly, encouraging their members to mine that database,” Mr. Morrell said. “Our intelligence confirmed that fact. Now you will have virtually half a million classified secret documents in the public domain which our enemies clearly intend to use against us and that could threaten the lives of American forces not just in Iraq or Afghanistan but around the world.”

In July, WikiLeaks released 70,000 documents related to the Afghanistan war. A junior US Army intelligence analyst, Private First Class Bradley Manning, was arrested in May and charged with the unauthorized use and disclosure of classified information. He is being held in the US Marine Corps brig at Quantico, Virginia.

Since then, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Afghanistan leak did not reveal any sensitive intelligence sources or methods.

That’s essentially the point made by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange regarding the latest report on Iraq.

“While there may have been legitimate reasons to keep many of these reports secret at the time they were made, that time has passed,” he said in an interview with Sky News. “The attempt to keep them secret is an attempt to keep the public record sanitized and keep the American administration from being criticized.”

"In our release of our 400,000 documents about the Iraq war, the intimate detail of that war from the US perspective, we hope to correct some of that attack on the truth that occurred before the war, during the war and which has continued on since the war officially concluded," Mr. Assange said at a press conference in London Saturday.

As reported by the British newspaper the Guardian (one of several news outlets that received an advanced look at the WikiLeaks information), the new logs detail how:

• 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.
• A US helicopter gunship involved in a notorious Baghdad incident had previously killed Iraqi insurgents after they tried to surrender.
• More than 15,000 civilians died in previously unknown incidents. 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.

Related: Five bombshells from WikiLeaks' Iraq war documents

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