WikiLeaks Documents Reveal Death Count, Torture

The classified reports put the Iraqi civilian death toll higher than reported.

October 23, 2010, 4:06 PM

Oct. 23, 2010— -- The whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks released a trove of classified reports that it said documented at least 109,000 deaths in the Iraq war, more than the United States previously has acknowledged, as well as what it described as cases of torture and other abuses by Iraqi and coalition forces.

"The reports detail 109,032 deaths in Iraq, comprised of 66,081 'civilians'; 23,984 'enemy' (those labeled as insurgents); 15,196 'host nation' (Iraqi government forces) and 3,771 'friendly' (coalition forces)," WikiLeaks said in a statement regarding the documents' release. "The majority of the deaths (66,000, over 60 percent) of these are civilian deaths. That is 31 civilians dying every day during the six-year period."

At a news conference in London on Saturday, WikiLeaks said it would soon publish 15,000 additional secret Afghan war documents.

"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," said WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

The new documents covered 2004 through 2009, WikiLeaks said, with the exception of May 2004 and March 2009.

A review of the documents by Iraq Body Count, an advocacy group that long has monitored civilian casualties in the war, found 15,000 previously unknown civilian deaths, according to WikiLeaks -- a detail first reported in The Guardian newspaper, one of a handful of international news organizations that got an advance look at the documents.

The U.S. military long has maintained that it does not keep an official death tally, but earlier this month following a Freedom of Information Act request, the Pentagon said some 77,000 Iraqis had been killed from 2004 to mid-2008 -- a shorter period than that covered by WikiLeaks.

Besides the different time periods, the New York Times, which also saw the WikiLeaks documents early, noted that "some deaths are reported more than once, and some reports have inconsistent casualty figures."

Al Jazeera, which also got an advance look at the documents, reported a total of 285,000 war casualties on its Arabic-language website, a number that included both dead and wounded. It also reported that the documents said 681 Iraqi civilians were killed at U.S. checkpoints, 180,000 Iraqis were arrested during the war and 15,000 Iraqis were buried without being identified.

The massive leak of 391,832 documents at 5 p.m. ET yesterday, which WikiLeaks billed as "the largest classified military leak in history," followed WikiLeaks' similar but smaller release on the war in Afghanistan.

The new release was anticipated by the Pentagon, which has warned that publicizing the information could endanger U.S. troops.

"We strongly condemn the unauthorized disclosure of classified information," said Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell prior to the documents becoming public.

Morrell said the documents "expose secret information that could make our troops even more vulnerable to attack in the future. Just as with the leaked Afghan documents, we know our enemies will mine this information looking for insights into how we operate, cultivate sources and react in combat situations, even the capability of our equipment. This security breach could very well get our troops and those they are fighting with killed."

Amid such criticism, WikiLeaks said this time it "undertook the arduous task of redacting any piece of information contained that might lead to the identification of any innocent Iraqi."

The Pentagon said the documents it expected would be released include tactical reports from late 2003 to 2010 containing brief unit-level observations of what those units saw on a daily basis.

Those documents included descriptions of attacks on Iraqi security forces and U.S. forces, detainee abuse, civilian casualty incidents, IED blasts, discussions with Iraqis and inquiries into socio-political relations, according to Department of Defense spokesman Col. David Lapan.

Sources that saw the WikiLeaks documents in advance reported no major revelations, but said taken together they could be read as a secret history of the war written from a troop's-eye-view of the conflict.

WikiLeaks collectively referred to the trove as "The Iraq War Logs" and seemed to suggest they did contain revelations.

"There are reports of civilians being indiscriminately killed at checkpoints, such as speeding to get a pregnant woman to hospital; of Iraqi detainees being tortured by coalition forces; and of U.S. soldiers blowing up entire civilian buildings because of one suspected insurgent on the roof," WikiLeaks said in its statement.

"There are over 300 recorded reports of coalition forces committing torture and abuse of detainees across 284 reports and over 1,000 cases of Iraqi security forces committing similar crimes," WikiLeaks added. "There are numerous cases of what appear to be clear war crimes by U.S. forces, such as the deliberate killing of persons trying to surrender."

On ABC's "Good Morning America" this morning, Morrell was asked about the reported detainee abuse from Iraqi forces -- including beatings with rods and torture with boiling water and acid -- and the U.S. Strategy for handing over control to Iraq.

"Let me remind you of the scope of these documents," Morrell said. "It covers a period dating from 2004 to 2010. Obviously we've seen much improvement over that span in terms of the capabilities of the Iraqi army as well as the Iraqi police department."

"Our policy has always been when we witness or find evidence of abuse we are to report it up the chain of command, we're not going to have a guy at the ground level, who's out in the field, conduct an investigation on the site or intervene with their intermediaries in the Iraqi army."

The documents also included evidence of state-sanctioned torture by the Iraqi government, new evidence of Iraqi government death squads, and Iran's involvement in funneling arms to Shiite militias, according to the international news outlets that reviewed them before their release.

ABC News did not begin to review the nearly 400,000 documents firsthand until after their release.

As the details on the documents emerged, the main WikiLeaks site was down for "scheduled maintenance," but the 400,000 documents later could be searched by categories on a specially created Wikileaks page.

WikiLeaks' release comes at a critical time, as U.S. troops begin a staged withdrawal from Iraq. All 50,000 remaining U.S. troops in the country are expected to leave by the end of next year.

As occurred with the Afghanistan documents, the Iraqi war documents were initially thought likely to contain the names of Iraqis who cooperated with U.S. forces -- though it was not immediately clear if such names survived WikiLeaks redaction effort.

In July, WikiLeaks published a raft of secret documents from Afghanistan that the website obtained from a single rogue soldier, Army Spc. Bradley Manning, who had access to secret intelligence contained on military computers.

Among the documents Manning leaked was a classified video showing an Apache helicopter attack in 2007 that killed civilians and two Reuters news photographers. Manning is currently in a military brig near Washington, D.C., awaiting a court martial.

The Afghanistan documents contained the names of locals who cooperated with U.S. forces, and it was expected the Iraqi war documents likely would contain such names, as well.

The Pentagon has continued to express concerns about WikiLeaks releasing unredacted information containing such names because of the potential harm the individuals might face from insurgents.

"Our concern is mostly with the threat to individuals, the threat to our people and our equipment," said Lapan.

After WikiLeaks released 70,000 documents in July relating to the war in Afghanistan, the Pentagon quickly set up a 120-person task force to review the documents for potential damage. Lapan has said that in anticipation of a release of Iraq War documents, that same task force has spent the past few weeks reviewing a database of 400,000 "significant acts" from the war in Iraq.

Lapan said the task force looked for names of Iraqi individuals that might be included in the documents and passed this information to U.S. Central Command Centcom, which presumably would pass them on to U.S. forces in Iraq.

Despite the military's concerns that individuals would be threatened following the publication of the Afghan documents in July, the Pentagon said no such cases had been recorded.

"I don't have any information that from the first 77,000 documents that any individuals were killed. But then again I don't think we have perfect knowledge either," Lapan said.

The investigation into the leaked Afghan war documents has focused on Manning, who worked as an Army intelligence analyst in Iraq. He is now under military detention in the Washington, D.C., area under charges that he a classified video showing an Apache helicopter attack in 2007 that killed civilians and two Reuters news photographers.

The Pentagon has slammed WikiLeaks for its actions.

"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," the Pentagon said in a statement. "We know terrorist organizations have been mining the leaked Afghan documents for information to use against us and this Iraq leak is more than four times as large. By disclosing such sensitive information, WikiLeaks continues to put at risk the lives of our troops, their coalition partners and those Iraqis and Afghans working with us. The only responsible course of action for WikiLeaks at this point is to return the stolen material and expunge it from their websites as soon as possible."

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