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WikiLeaks to release another bombshell on war in Afghanistan

An Iraqi woman walks past a U.S. soldier on patrol in the Sheikh Ali Muslim Sunni neighbourhood in Baghdad in March, 2007.

PATRICK BAZ/Patrick Baz/AFP/Getty Images

WikiLeaks will soon release another batch of 15,000 classified American military documents relating to operations in Afghanistan, following through on what Julien Assange, founder of the online whistle-blowing group, called its commitment to public disclosure of "the intimate details" of war.

Mr. Assange spoke at a London press conference to highlight the group's publication of nearly 400,000 field reports from U.S. soldiers on violence and torture they witnessed or heard about in Iraq from early 2004 to the end of 2009.

WikiLeaks published more than 70,000 files on its website, mainly battlefield reports, on the Afghan war in July. The material was also shared in advance with several news organizations, which published their analysis of the revelations simultaneously. The same procedure was followed with the latest Iraq material.

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The nearly 400,000 documents are "Sigacts," military jargon for reports of significant activity, covering a period between the start of 2004 and the end of 2009.

The material was given ahead of time to a handful of international media outlets, as well as the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a British not-for-profit organization, which shared it with Al-Jazeera, the Qatar-headquartered cable news channel. By agreement, the organizations kept the contents of the documents secret until Friday, when they went public.

The media organizations took different tactics in reporting the contents of the files, and had widely varying assessments of their significance. Al-Jazeera highlighted the deaths of some 109,000 people, The Guardian picked up on reports of the torture of detainees in the custody of Iraqi soldiers and police, while The New York Times laid out many more of the incidents described in the documents in detail.

The new documents "are in a similar vein," to the previous ones, Mr. Assange said in an interview with Sky News, and consist of "the subcategory mainly involving intelligence."

The release of such documents, which in the case of the first Afghanistan batch included names of Afghan informants and others cooperating with American forces, has been condemned by the Obama administration.

Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, among other officials, said disclosure of the documents puts American soldiers and their allies at risk.

Mr. Assange and his WikiLeaks colleagues brush off such accusations, saying they vet the material they release to minimize that danger.

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The new Afghan documents to be disclosed "contain no information that could be harmful to individuals," said Krisinn Hrafnsson, an Iceland journalist working with the group. He said they had been held back from the first massive batch of military reports to edit out names or other identifying information that could put military personnel or people working with them in danger.

Asked whether the WikiLeaks disclosures have had any impact, Mr. Assange said he expected "concrete results" over time because the leaks generate more press and public attention to on how the United States or NATO conducts the war.

"It's not that the U.S. is not taking it seriously," he said, although the official reaction "is to frame the material as if it was of no consequence."

The newly released Iraq files mainly concern purported brutality by Iraqi security agencies against fellow Iraqis that some human rights activists argue should have been stopped or investigated by British and American occupation forces.

Mr. Assange said their disclosure does not put lives at risk. "While there may have been legitimate reasons to keep many of these reports secret at time they were made, that time has passed," he said in the television interview. "The attempt to keep them secret is an attempt to keep the public record sanitized and keep the American administration from being criticized."

Detainees' descriptions of torture by electrocution, sodomizing and beatings recall the methods used by Iraqi police and security forces during the time of Saddam Hussein. Other reports note the deaths of Iraqi civilians at checkpoints and in other contact with American soldiers during their occupation and suppression of the Iraqi insurgency.

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A Pentagon spokesman said the type of reports are raw information from the ground, or "snapshots" of events.

According to WikiLeaks, more than 109,000 deaths are documented by the Iraq files, including 66,000 identified as civilians.

John Sloboda, who runs a group called Iraqi Bodycount that attempts to document and name Iraqi civilians who died following the American invasion in 2003, said the records released added to his account of civilian casualties.

"Day by day secretly soldiers all over Iraq have been writing detailed reports of violence they have witnessed or been told about," he said, speaking at Mr. Assange's side in London. "It's all stored away on these logs."

In an interview with the BBC, Manfred Nowak, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture, called on President Obama to launch an independent investigation of the reports of abuse in Iraq.

"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," he said.

No matter what number is ultimately used for civilian casualties in Iraq, it is not likely to satisfy Iraqis who insist that the full scale of the violence under their own government is still being kept secret.

"For Iraqis, these are not revelations," said Asma al Haidari, an Iraqi human rights activist told the Qatar-based satellite television channel, Al Jazeera. "This is worse than the Holocaust because … it involves people brought in by the U.S. as their tools."

A British lawyer said he would push for an independent judicial inquiry of whether Iraqi civilian deaths and abuse involved people who had been detained or in the custody at one point by British forces in Iraq.

"Some have been killed by indiscriminate attacks on civilians or the unjustified use of lethal force," said Phil Shiner, a British lawyer whose Public Interest Lawyers firm in Birmingham, has pushed for an official judicial inquiry into alleged killings of civilians in Iraq by British forces. "Others have been killed in custody by UK forces and no-one knows how many Iraqis lost their lives while held in British detention facilities."

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About the Author
Foreign Editor

Susan Sachs is a former Foreign Editor of The Globe and Mail.Ms. Sachs was previously the Afghanistan correspondent for the newspaper, and covered the Middle East and European issues based in Paris. More

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