U.S. Army Spc. Justin Towe scans his area while on a mission with Iraqi army soldiers from 1st Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 4th Iraqi Army Division in Al Muradia village, Iraq, March, 13, 2007 by U.S. Military
Iraq War Logs from Wikileaks were made public yesterday and document 109,000 deaths, including 66,000 civilian deaths, of which 15,000 were previously unknown. The more than 390,000 field reports from US military reveal the truth about the Iraq War from 2004 to 2009, which Wikileaks’ Julian Assange hopes will correct attacks "on the truth that occurred before the war, during the war, and which [have] continued on since the war officially concluded."
A press conference convened in London on Saturday, October 23rd, focused on the huge body of evidence that Wikileaks has put into the public domain as a result of the leak (video of the full press conference: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3). It illuminated the Logs, which, like the previously leaked Afghanistan War Logs, The Guardian, Der Spiegel, and the New York Times were all granted access to so that coverage could be released simultaneously and so that the coverage would provide detailed insight into the reports.
Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers in the United Kingdom, a firm that has acted on behalf of Iraqis claiming they were tortured or the victim of indiscriminate military attacks, explained how the released evidence can be broken into three key categories:
-Unlawful killings of civilians, indiscriminate attacks or the unjustified use of lethal force against civilians
-Horrendous abuse and torture of Iraqis by the Iraqi National Guard or the Iraqi Police Service
-Torture of Iraqis whilst in UK custody (presumably, whilst in the custody of US and other coalition forces custody as well)
Shiner stated, "Some of the circumstances will be where the UK had a very clear legal responsibility. This may be because the Iraqis died under the effective control of UK forces–under arrest, in vehicles, hospitals or detention facilities." The death likely fall under the jurisdiction of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Grand Chamber could take legal action. That, according to Shiner, would be especially likely if the Grand Chamber found that when UK forces have authoritative control of Iraqis the Convention has jurisdiction over their action.
One example of indiscriminate killing given by Shiner involving a little girl in a yellow dress being fired at by a rifleman in a UK tank while she was playing in the street would likely not fall under the Convention. Shiner suggested lawyers might be able to get courts to argue that Common Law in UK could provide some remedy and give credence to launching a judicial inquiry into the legality of all deaths detailed in the Iraq War Logs.
In terms of abuse and torture by Iraqi National Guard or the Iraqi Police Service, Shiner’s statement highlighted a fragmented order ("Frago 242"), which the US and the UK appear to have adopted as a way of excusing them from having to take responsibility for torture or ill-treatment of Iraqis by Iraqi military or security forces. This, according to Shiner, runs "completely contrary to international law" and "it’s well known that there’s an absolute prohibition on torture" and "it may never be used."
"The US and UK forces cannot turn a blind eye on the basis that it wasn’t their soldiers that were doing the torture and that’s what happened," stated Shiner. They have an "international obligation to take action to stop torture" and "that they did not makes them complicit."
As far as torture of Iraqis by US and UK forces goes, Shiner said there appeared to be many instances where Iraqis died in UK custody and were certified as dying of natural causes. None of the deaths had been investigated, many were hooded and abused and his law firm does not accept the Ministry of Defense explanation that these deaths all have an innocent explanation.
Shiner explained hundreds of Iraqis have been complaining for a long time about ill-treatment and torture, often a result of coercive interrogation by UK interrogators in secret facilities run by the Joint Forward Interrogation Team. The evidence of torture would help promote support for a formal inquiry into the detention policy and practice used by forces in southeast Iraq.
Daniel Ellsberg, known for leaking the Pentagon Papers on the Vietnam War, flew from the US to stand in support of Julian Assange and others in the WikiLeaks coalition, which released the reports. He said he had been waiting to see something like this for forty years and suggested that if he was the "most dangerous man in America" than Julian Assange might be, to US officialas, "the most dangerous man in the world."
According to Ellsberg, President Obama has started as many prosecutions for leaks as all previous presidents put together: three prosecutions, Bradley Manning being the latest. That is because, prior to President Obama and President George W. Bush, presidents didn’t think they could use the Espionage Act to prosecute whistleblowers. They thought that using the act to halt whistleblowing would be viewed as unconstitutional and a violation of First Amendment rights. But, after 9/11 and with the current Supreme Court, President Obama has no problem with "mounting a new experiment" to "change the relationship between press and sources." Now, press has to know taking leaked information means risk of prison. (*For more, see Glenn Greenwald’s previous coverage of the Obama Administration’s war on whistleblowers: "What the whistleblower prosecution says about the Obama DOJ").
Up to this point, the US has no Official Secrets Act while the UK does. What might be worth noting is the possibility of some type of Official Secrets Act criminalizing the leaking of information being passed as a way to combat the effectiveness of WikiLeaks in getting the truth about wars into the press and in the hands of millions of people around the world.
Also, Ellsberg made a distinction about the Iraq War that because the justification for invasion by US forces was based on lies the civilian casualties may not only be considered victims of a war of aggression but the non-civilian casualties reported may be victims of a war of aggression because "they were fighting foreign occupiers."
Assange and Shiner both communicated their dissatisfaction with how the press has previously handled not only stories related to WikiLeaks but also stories related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in general.
In response to a question about whether the Iraq War Logs were putting lives at risk and if he was concerned, Assange responded, "I’m worried that the press chooses to credibly report statements like that from the Pentagon. In fact, the Pentagon would not have been able to review our materials in those few hours. It’s simply logistically impossible. And, we also have strong confidence in our redaction process."
Shiner asserted, "Yes, the press are the ones who allow [torture] to be covered up" because the press simply do not run the stories. He added, "You’re obsessed with what we might’ve done in Pakistan or what we might have done in Guantanamo Bay. I say to you, "Wake up and have a look at what is happening at our High Court next month on November 5th about what we actually did. We intend to open that and reveal actual material about the way we interrogated people."
And, Assange concluded that "Iraq is now cool in the public imagination" so this dump is already being received differently than the Afghanistan War Logs.
"The news is already less defensive about what has been revealed," said Assange.
The general tone of news coverage may be less defensive, but the US continues to regard the actions of WikiLeaks as criminal or reckless. Hillary Clinton and a number of military officials condemned the release of the documents. And, the US press has been warned to not produce news coverage of the document dump.
UN special rapporteur Manfred Nowak declared the US has an obligation to investigate torture claims, specifically claims that military handed over Iraqi detainees knowing they might be tortured or killed. One would like to believe Obama would uphold human rights and international law and open an inquiry into what these leaks reveal like several European countries are doing and will do in the coming weeks, but that simply would run contrary to the preemptive attacks on WikiLeaks the Obama Administration and the military have made before even looking over the contents of the dumped documents and the picture of the war the documents reveal.
Currently, the Iraq War Logs, which are available to the entire world, can be viewed individually in their raw form at War Logs or Diary Dig. War Logs is accessible and one can log in and rate each individual report suggesting what reports deserve more investigation and what reports are insignificant. Diary Dig, the location that allows for searches of the documents, is tremendously overloaded and may not be accessible until traffic dies down over the next few days.