Whistle-blowing website Wikileaks on Friday released nearly 400,000 classified US military files chronicling the Iraq war from 2004 through 2009, the largest leak of its kind in US military history.
The documents themselves are known at the Pentagon as 'SIGACTs,' raw field reports chronicling "Significant Action" in the conflict as seen by US forces on the ground in Iraq.
According to an initial review of the documents and reports by other media that have had access to them for at least 10 weeks, the broad themes from the "Iraq war log" attracting the most attention are: prisoner abuse, civilian deaths, the Iranian influence on militants in Iraq, Blackwater's involvement in civilians' killing, and Iran's detention of American hikers.
Besides accusations to US authorities of abuse of Iraqi prisoners by Iraqi police, WikiLeaks says there are also cases of abuse of prisoners in US custody. WikiLeaks' reports detailed 109,032 deaths in Iraq, composed of 66,081 'civilians,' 23,984 'enemy' (those labeled as insurgents); 15,196 'host nation' (Iraqi government forces) and 3,771 'friendly' (coalition forces).
Britain's Bureau of Investigative Journalism says it found documents detailing new cases of alleged wrongful killings of civilians involving Blackwater. Blackwater is a firm that has now changed its name to Xe Services and that saw its reputation badly damaged by a 2007 incident in which its security guards were involved in a shooting that killed 14 civilians.
Documents in the WikiLeaks file also show that US officials privately believed the three American hikers detained in Iraq last year were on the Iraqi side of the border, not in Iran as Tehran contends. Iran is still holding two of them and the document says Iranian leadership hoped to benefit from the incident by focusing the nation "on a perceived external threat rather than internal dissension."
Although the documents appear to be authentic, their origin could not be independently confirmed, and WikiLeaks declined to offer any details about them. The Pentagon has previously declined to confirm the authenticity of WikiLeaks-released records, but it has employed more than 100 US analysts to review what was previously released and has never indicated that any past WikiLeaks releases were inaccurate.
WikiLeaks was criticized for not redacting the names of informants in a July release of almost 77,000 documents from the Afghan conflict. This time, it appears to have removed the names of people, countries and groups from the searchable database.
The group describes itself as a public service organization whose mission is to "protect whistle-blowers, journalists and activists who have sensitive materials to communicate to the public."
The military has a continuing investigation into how the documents were leaked. An Army intelligence analyst stationed in Iraq, Spc. Bradley Manning, was arrested in connection with the leaking other classified material to WikiLeaks.
Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell called the release "shameful" and said it "could potentially undermine our nation's security."
He said about 300 Iraqis mentioned in the documents are "particularly vulnerable to reprisal attacks" and that U.S. forces in Iraq are trying to protect them.
WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange told CNN that the documents show "compelling evidence of war crimes," both by the US-led coalition and the Iraqi government. Such comments from Assange have drawn controversy in the past.
Assange rejected claims that his work was endangering anyone.
WikiLeaks says it provided unredacted versions of the reports weeks ahead of time to several news organizations, including the New York Times, Le Monde, The Guardian and Der Spiegel. It gave several other news organizations access to a searchable, redacted database hours before its general release Friday.
Amnesty International today called on the U.S. to investigate how much US officials knew about the torture and other ill-treatment of detainees held by Iraqi security forces after the evidence in the Wikileaks released files.
“We have not yet had an opportunity to study the leaked files in detail but they 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,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“The USA failed to respect this obligation in Iraq, despite the great volume of evidence, available from many different quarters, showing that the Iraqi security forces use torture widely and are allowed to do so with impunity. The information said to be in these documents also underscores the urgent need for the Iraqi government to take concrete measures to end torture, ensure the safety of all detainees, and root out and bring to justice those responsible for torture and other serious human rights abuses, however senior their position,” Smart added.