The MoD has joined the US in condemning Wikileaks for the largest ever leak of classified files, as human rights campaigners call for an investigation into thousands of unreported civilian deaths.
The biggest security breach in history, some 400,000 individual logs – written by American troops in combat – tells the story of the Iraq war between 2004 and 2009.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said the WikiLeaks website had been reckless and was putting the lives of British military personnel in danger.
The documents were leaked by whistleblowers’ website WikiLeaks and obtained by Channel 4 News via The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) ahead of an exclusive report in Iraq’s Secret War Files on Channel 4’s Dispatches on Monday at 8pm.
Channel 4 News accessed the data in the classified documents via The Bureau of Investigative Journalism but has been unable to independently verify their authenticity.
Warning: You may find some of the details in this report and the accompanying video disturbing.Channel 4 News has been unable to independently verify the authenticity of the documents.
The Pentagon said the leak endangers US troops and threatens to put some 300 Iraqi collaborators at risk by exposing their identities.
It has dismissed the files as “ground-level” field reports from a well-chronicled war with no real surprises. The Pentagon added: “We deplore WikiLeaks for inducing individuals to break the law, leak classified documents and then cavalierly share that secret information with the world, including our enemies.”
US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said it was for the War Department to answer, but she added: “I do have a strong opinion that we should condemn in the most clear terms the disclosure of any classified information by individuals and organisations which puts the lives of United States and partner service members and civilians at risk – threatening our national security and the national security of those with whom we are working.”
Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971, said that US President Barack Obama “is making clear threats to anyone who deals with these logs and even anyone who reads it”. He appeared alongside WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange at a press conference in London following the mass release of the secret war logs.
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange however, maintains that the documents show evidence of war crimes. At a press conference today, Mr Assange said: “This disclosure is about the truth”.
Mr Ellsberg added: “Whoever leaked this has acted honourably in revealing a clear crime against the peace – a war of aggression.
“Democracies don’t start wars unless there are lies so maybe if we uncover the truth we may be able to prevent further wars.”
The 391,831 US army Sigacts (significant activities) logs describe the apparent torture of Iraqi detainees by the Iraqi authorities, and reveal how the US authorities allegedly failed to investigate hundreds of reports of abuse, torture, rape and murder by Iraqi police and soldiers.
There are reports of prisoners being shackled, blindfolded and hung by wrists or ankles, being whipped, punched, kicked and electric shocked – resulting in six prisoner deaths.
Amnesty International has called on the US to investigate how much its officials knew about the alleged torture and maltreatment.
A spokesman for Amnesty said: “These documents apparently provide further evidence that the US authorities have been aware of this systematic abuse for years, yet they went ahead and handed over thousands of Iraqis they had detained to Iraqi security forces.”
Phil Shiner, a human rights lawyer, said at the press conference held by Wikileaks in central London today that British forces were involved too.
He explained: “There appear to be many cases other than that of Baha Mousa, where Iraqis died in UK custody and were then certified as dying from natural causes.
“None of these deaths have been investigated, many of these Iraqis were hooded and abused and my law firm does not accept the Ministry of Defence’s explanation that each and every one of these deaths has a innocent explanation.”
He said we “simply cannot say the abuse is down to a few bad apples – it’s horrendous. I say to you (the press) wake up ahead of the inquiry in November to the way the UK interrogated people”.
There is unprecedented devil in the detail. John Sloboda
He said he will press for a full inquiry into unlawful killings, torture and Iraqi deaths in UK custody.
The leaked reports contain multiple logs of the abuse of detainees by coalition soldiers, including two reports from 2008 of two Shia men being punched and kicked by unidentified British troops. There is no record of any formal investigation.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said: “If any new evidence comes to light as a result of this information we will consider it.”
He pointed out that Britain’s role in Iraq is already being scrutinised by the Iraq Inquiry and the Baha Mousa Inquiry.
John Sloboda from Iraq Body Count, a London-based group that monitors civilian casualties, added: “Victims of this war and the taxpayers who paid for it deserve better. There is a right to know.”
Mr Sloboda added: “There is unprecedented devil in the detail”. The newly revealed deaths come from small incidents, he said, killing one or two people at a time. “Every day all over Iraq”, he said.
The leaked Iraq war files reveal that the civilian toll could be 15,000 higher for the six year period than previous estimates suggest – now exceeding 150,000.
In all 109,032 deaths are logged in the leaked Iraq “Sigacts”, via the military acronym “KIA” for “killed in action”. Of these deaths, the logs show 66,089 were civilians – just under two-thirds – in the six year period.
The logs show that US troops were killing significantly more civilians than insurgents at checkpoints. Under the military’s special rules of engagement, known as “escalation of force” (EOF), a vehicle approaching a military checkpoint is required to slow down, stop and be searched.
Mr Assange said: “That tremendous scale should not make us blind to the small human scale in this material. It is the deaths of one and two people per event that killed the overwhelming number of people in Iraq.”
In EOF incidents between 2004 and 2009 the data shows that four times as many civilians (681) were killed at checkpoints as insurgents.
“There are reports of civilians being indiscriminately killed at checkpoints… of Iraqi detainees being tortured by coalition forces, and of US soldiers blowing up entire civilian buildings because of one suspected insurgent on the roof,” Wikileaks said in a statement.
In one log we can see that a doctor driving a pregnant woman to hospital, at speed, was shot. Analysis by TBIJ shows 13 coalition troops were killed in these incidents.
Toby Dodge, a political scientist and former adviser to General Petraeus and Tony Blair, told Channel 4’s Dispatches: “A cold analytical eye on this clearly, I think, indicates that far too many Iraqi civilians are being killed for no reason.”
The United Nations special rapporteur on torture, Manfred Nowak, said the US administration has a duty to investigate whether its officials were involved in or complicit in torture.
“President Obama also has an obligation to deal with past cases,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
“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.
“First there must be an independent and objective investigation. It is then up to the courts on the one hand to bring the perpetrators to justice and also on the other hand to provide the victims with adequate reparation for the harm they have suffered.”
The logs also suggest that Al Qaida’s top commander Abut Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian associated of Osama bin Laden, may have escaped Iraq due to a slip up by British forces.
An operation to capture Zarqawi fell apart in March 2005 when a British helicopter ran out of fuel and had to return to base, files revealed by Wikileaks suggest. The mistake may have given Zarqawi 15 months grace to expand al Qaida’s operations throughtout Iraq, The Observer newpaper has reported.
He was eventually captured in June 2006 and killed by a US air strike north of Baghdad. However, during that period his fundamentalist Sunni supporters were behind some of the worst atrocities aimed at Iraq’s Shia majority – including the bombing of a sacred Shia shrine in February 2006 that led to a wave of revenge killings.
Exclusive: surrender and die
A leading international lawyer tells Channel 4 News that if these records are accurate, there is prima facie evidence of the possibility of war crimes and it should be investigated by the US military.
Read more here: Secret war logs - surrender and die